When the Orioles first acquired Bud Norris I wrote about what kind of pitcher he was and what O’s fans could expect as he became a key player in the starting rotation. Not much has changed since then, and much of what I wrote about his repertoire holds true. My ultimate conclusion was:
Bud Norris is an interesting acquisition for the club. He’s not a sure thing to perform in the AL East, but I think that he has good enough stuff to be an upgrade over the alternative options the club had in-house. He’s also an intriguing arm in the flexibility he gives the team, especially considering the unique nature of the two wild card format.
Jeff Long – Who is Bud Norris
This season though Norris has pitched pretty well, certainly better than one might expect based on his portion of last season with the Birds. After being acquired by the Orioles Norris threw 50.1 innings over 11 starts, posting a 4.80 ERA in the process. This was more or less what people expected from him – below league average performances. His FIP though suggested he was better than that performance, as it was nearly a full run lower at 3.82. That continued a successful season for Norris whose FIP through his first 21 starts for Houston was a solid 3.87.
Upon joining the O’s Norris’ strikeout rate skyrocketed, with him striking out more than 10 batters per nine innings with the O’s. His walk rate went up as well, but his overall K/BB rate improved upon joining the birds. Norris’ poor ERA results was likely a result of some bad luck, for example a BABIP of .382.
This season however Norris’ stats have seemingly done a 180 degree turn. Norris is striking out a career low 5.90 batters per nine innings so far in 2014. This is a big red flag, but Norris has also lowered his walk rate significantly to a career low 2.50 batters per nine. While the drop in strikeout rate is concerning, Norris’ 2.36 K/BB ratio this season is actually better than his career average.
It’s not because his pitch mix has changed significantly. In fact, Norris is throwing the same pitches at roughly the same rates as he did last season as you can see below:
There are a couple of things going on here. One is that Norris is throwing more first pitch strikes this season, going from 55.6% in 2013 with the O’s to 61% so far in 2014. At the same time his swinging strike rate is down more than 3%, which explains at least part of the drop in strikeout rate.
Norris has been a bit lucky when it comes to BABIP so far in 2014 which is why his FIP suggests he’ll have some regression in his ERA. Then again, I don’t think we can expect Norris to regress this much in the swinging strike department, so even a marginal improvement would be huge for him. This is especially true if he can keep his walk rate down at the same time.
Bud Norris is due for some regression if you look at his BABIP and expect those balls in play to go for hits more often. Then again, his career low walk rate is some reason for optimism, especcially if he can raise his strikeout to career average levels.