On July 31st, 2013 the Orioles traded OF L.J. Hoes, LHP Josh Hader, and their 2014 competitive balance draft pick to the Astros for RHP Bud Norris. Norris is predicted as of now to be in the Orioles 2014 starting rotation. I had not thought much of Norris or his place on the team until I read this (NSFW language). I believe Norris would be better out of the pen, but the Orioles do not appear to be ready to sign two starting pitchers to fill out their rotation (they have to sign at least one first). I was however, fine with him being placed in the rotation. However, that article opened my eyes to Norris’ struggles with the Orioles that I had somehow forgotten. I delved further into the numbers to see if anything else can be said about Norris from his limited time with the Orioles.
I used Norris’ second half numbers for this article. It is not perfect, because he made two of those starts with the Astros, but it is much easier to compare his stats to the rest of the league. Norris pitched to an ERA of 5.10 in the second half of 2013, good for the 115th worst ERA among starting pitchers with at least 50IP in the second half. For the peripheral statistics crowd, he finished 105th in Field Independent Pitching (FIP), and 79th in Expected FIP (xFIP). Norris did not produce great results for the Orioles. I broke down Norris and his numbers into the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly to figure out why.
Norris struck out a lot more people in the second half than in the first, his K% jumped over 6% in the second half to 22.9% good for 29th out of 130 starting pitchers. His K/9 in the second half was 9.3, good for 12th in the MLB. Striking out people is the optimal way to get someone out because it is always an out, so strikeouts are good thing. Also, his Infield Flyball Percentage (IFFB%)—a good indicator of producing weak contact—jumped in the second half by 8% to 16%, good for 8th highest in the second half. While a small sample size for IFFB%, he did produce some weaker contact in the second half. His GB% and FB% remained relatively the same.
Also, Norris had a relatively high BAPIP all year long, and it went up 22 points in the second half to .348 good for 8th highest in the majors among starters in the second half. This indicates a possibility of some bad luck for Norris that manifested itself in the second half rather than the first half. Although, his Line Drive rate was relatively high all year and it went up in the second half, so he gave up some solid contact as well.
Norris walks way too many batters. His walk rate and BB/9 both increased in the second half as well. He posted the 13th highest BB% and the 10th highest BB/9 among starters in the second half. Also, Norris doesn’t go particularly deep into games and especially did not with the Orioles. He only threw 62IP good for an average of 5.2IP per game started in the second half. Also, his HR/FB rate jumped almost 7% in the second half to 12.9% good for 25th highest out of 130 starters.
He strikes out a lot of batters and walks a lot of batters so he ends up throwing too many pitches and chases himself out of the game early. Not only that, the homeruns on top of the walks leads to Norris giving up chunks of runs which is what most likely caused his high second half ERA.
The worst part of Norris’ game by far is his crazy awful splits against lefties. Being a right-handed pitcher, one would assume a slight disadvantage for Norris against lefties, but he is very lopsided. To keep it simple, right handed batters hit a .284 wOBA against Norris (a very solid number for a pitcher) while left handed batters hit a .387 wOBA against Norris. For some context, a .387 wOBA is the same number Freddie Freeman posted last season. That number was good for 13th highest in the majors. He is objectively horrifyingly awful against lefties. This makes it very hard for him to start, because teams can stack the lefties against him and Norris appears to have very little to battle them back with in his arsenal. This is far and away the weakest part of Norris’ game.
In conclusion, Norris has some upside, but has some major flaws as well. He basically put up 2012 starter Tommy Hunter numbers as an Oriole last year. He got there in a different way, but at the end of the day bad splits and high homerun rates are the doom of each pitcher as a starter. The only way Bud Norris improves in 2014 is he develops a pitch to get lefties out at a greatly higher rate and figures out how to walk less people. He can still give up homeruns and be an effective pitcher, think Chris Tillman, but he cannot let people on base for free and must get lefties out if he is going to give up homeruns.
All that being said, the expectations for Bud Norris should not be very high. He likely is who he is at this point. He’ll be decent, but not spectacular. He probably will not win the Orioles many games and he may cost them some. However, anything can change. The Orioles have a new pitching and bullpen coach this year and maybe a new set of eyes can fix what ails Bud Norris. That is always the best thing about baseball, you will just have to wait and see.