As we discussed Monday night on the Bird Talk podcast, the Orioles were running an 8 man bullpen leaving the team with only 3 bench players.  One of these bench players is backup catcher Taylor Teagarden, leaving the team with only 2 players who could be substituted into the game easily. Managers don’t like to use their backup catchers as pinch hitters because of the fear of their starting catcher getting injured.

When Nolan Reimold came down with a minor hamstring injury, that left the team with only 2 reserves. Something had to give, and today it did. Earlier today, the Orioles traded Luis Ayala to the Atlanta Braves for left handed reliever Chris Jones.

Chris Jones was originally drafted in the 15th round of the 2007 draft by the Cleveland Indians out of high school. In 2011, the 24 year old was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Derek Lowe. He has a career 3.58 ERA across 356 innings in the minors. Jones has started games sporadically through his career, but his last start came back in 2010. It’s safe to say he’s a reliever at this stage of his career. He spent all of 2012 at Double-A Rome in the Braves system, and will be assigned to Double-A Bowie in the Orioles system.

Dan Duquette said that Jones’ K/9 rate being improved in 2012 was one of the things that he liked about him. And it did improve from the mid 8’s to 9.15 last season. But where Jones really excels is against left handed batters. His K/9 rate over the last 2 seasons versus lefties was an excellent 10.1. Versus righties, it was only 7.83 K/9.

Over the last two seasons, lefties have hit only .194/.287/.248 against Jones. Right handers have had a much easier time against him with a triple slash of .294/.346/.418.

Since I haven’t seen him pitch personally, here’s an excerpt from a scouting report on him from Ethan Purser of Braves blog Capitol Avenue Club, which he was kind enough to allow me to use:

Deception is the name of the game for Jones. He throws across his body from a low three-quarter arm slot, making it extremely hard for same-handed batters to pick up his release point. His fastball sits in the average range, but the deception created by his delivery, his ability to manipulate the pitch in all quadrants of the zone, and his ability to sink and cut the pitch with ease aid in creating an offering that is more valuable than the radar gun suggests. His upper-70s breaking ball will vary in shape and can get slurvy on occasion, but when he locates it to the glove-side effectively, the pitch elicits plenty of swings-and-misses and weak contact from lefties. He does have trouble locating this offering on a consistent basis, however.

Combining the statistics and the scouting information, Jones looks like he will be a LOOGY (left handed one out guy) in the majors. While a player is in his 0-3 years of team control and doesn’t have to be paid arbitration salaries, that kind of pitcher can have a decent amount of value to a club. After arbitration kicks in, a LOOGY isn’t as valuable because they can be found pretty easily on the free agent market. Just this past offseason, the following left handed relievers were signed cheaply on the free agent market: Pedro Filiciano, J.P. Howell, Bill Bray, Mike Gonzalez, Darren Oliver, and Manny Parra.

Chris Jones has the ability to provide a small amount of value to the major league club, but this trade was really about two things. One, the club wanted to keep T.J. McFarland, who couldn’t be sent to the minor leagues as a Rule 5 selection. Two, the Orioles wanted to keep him while going back to a normal 7 man bullpen, which would allow the team to call up Chris Dickerson from AAA. With Nolan Reimold nursing his hamstring injury, the team needed another option that could play in the outfield. Reimold is scheduled to DH in the game tonight, and Steve Pearce is just not a good fielder.

It will hurt the Orioles bullpen slightly to lose Ayala, but Ayala is eminently replaceable. His innings can easily be given to Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland. Ayala got outs through movement and command, not stuff and velocity. There are a number of similar relievers on the market each winter. I don’t think his loss will affect the bullpen much, though losing his personality might be felt more than the loss of talent.

Courtesy of Roch Kubatko, here are Dan Duquette’s thoughts on the trade:

“Also, we like Chris Jones, who we got in the trade. He made a big step last year in Double-AA in the second half of the year. You can see that in his walk/strikeout ratio. He struck out almost 10 batters per nine innings. He also saved a couple games late in the year, so he’s very good against left-handed hitters but also a very capable pitcher. We see him as a left-handed reliever in the big leagues. That’s the job that McFarland will be doing for us on the current staff.

“It was really a move to free up a spot on the current roster for McFarland. Ayala did a nice job for us, but we decided to go with a younger pitcher on the current major league team, and we made a trade for another young left-hander to go in our pipeline for the future.”

The Orioles needed to open up a bench spot for another outfielder, and wanted to keep T.J. McFarland on the major league roster while doing it. Trading Luis Ayala for a minor league LOOGY in Chris Jones who doesn’t need to be on the 40 man roster accomplishes both goals. Chris Dickerson will be activated before tonight’s game in Boston, giving Buck another option off the bench, while also having the ability to fill in against right handed pitching.

Kevin Ebert
Kevin Ebert

Kevin was the owner of the Orioles blog Eutaw Street Blues. He had operated the site since the beginning of the Orioles magical 2012 season. He tends to focus on sabermetric analysis of the Orioles and their minor league affiliates. He balances his analysis between what he sees with his eyes and what the analysis of the data says. The Columbia, MD native attended the University of Colorado at Boulder while obtaining a Bachelors of Science degree in Business Administration. He also attended Loyola University Maryland obtaining the degree of Masters of Business Administration. When Kevin is not reading or writing about baseball, he finds time to work at M&T Bank.