Who Is Bud Norris? A PITCHf/x Profile
Six innings, 8 Ks, just 2 earned runs – both from the long ball. Generally speaking, I’ll take it when my starting pitcher gives me 6 innings and gives up half as many hits as he had strikeouts. Bud Norris’ first start as an Oriole was promising, and shows the type of pitcher he can be for the O’s. Granted, it was against the Astros who ran out a lineup of guys that they might have found at the local softball leagues (or Baltimore’s minor leagues), but it was impressive nonetheless (from a results standpoint).
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To give you a quick idea of what we’re looking at with Norris I’ll defer to BrooksBaseball’s “Pitch Repertoire At-A-Glance” feature:
Bud Norris has thrown 11,628 pitches that have been tracked by the PITCHf/x system between 2009 and 2013, including pitches thrown in the MLB Regular Season and Spring Training. In 2013, he has relied primarily on his Fourseam Fastball (93mph) and Slider (85mph), also mixing in a Sinker (93mph) and Change (86mph). He also rarely throws a Curve (82mph).
Norris is, essentially two different pitchers. Eno Sarris took a deep look at this on Fangraphs, and his analysis of Norris’ platoon splits is a must-read. To summarize, Norris basically throw two pitches to right-handed batters, and four to left-handed batters. Below are his charts for righties and lefties respectively.
You don’t need to be an expert to see the Norris essentially throws Fastball – Slider to righties, while leaning more heavily on the Sinker & Change-Up when facing lefties. This is more of a, throwing things at the wall and hoping it sticks, as Norris has traditionally struggled against left-handed batters with a .300/.365/.494 triple slash. When it comes to command, Norris excels when pitching to the right side of the plate from the catcher’s POV. To prove this point I’ve included 5 charts below, all from BrooksBaseball showing Norris’ performance in various zones:
RHH – Batting Averages Against
LHH – Batting Averages Against
RHH – Whiff Rates
LHH – Whiff Rates
It Really shouldn’t be a surprise that this portion of the plate is crucial to Norris’ success as that is where he typically throws his slider, which is by far his best pitch. In fact, you can see just how concentrated the use of the slider is for Norris in the heat map below showing the number of sliders thrown to each zone for batters from both sides of the plate.
Keith Law’s analysis of the trade mentioned something interesting with regards to Norris’ slider, that I’ll touch on a little later in this post:
Several front-office execs told me they view Norris as a potential setup guy who would likely reach the upper 90s with a plus slider in that role. However, he at least offers durability in the rotation and can fill in while Hammel is out.
Before I get into the value that Norris brings to the Orioles, I want to touch on some areas where he can improve. The first area where some consistency might help Norris is with his positioning on the pitching rubber. His horizontal release point has changed not just from year to year, but even month to month this season. If the O’s staff can help solidify his placement it could help him with repeating his delivery.
Additionally, Norris can be incredibly predictable with his pitch mixes. Take a look at his pitch usage chart below:
As you can see, Norris falls into a few very predictable patterns. For example, when behind in the count there’s a better than 50% chance you’ll see a fastball. This is not incredibly useful for righties as they typically only see two pitches anyway. For lefties though, there’s a 73% chance that they’ll see a 93 mph pitch when ahead in the count (52% fastball, 21% sinker).
Ideally a better mix of pitches would keep hitters more on their toes and allow Norris to keep batters off balance. Granted, this is easier said than done, but it’s something that he can work on during his time in Baltimore.
Bud Norris is essentially a league average starter, and presents a great option as a 4 or 5 starter in a rotation looking to make the playoffs. He has the talent to put up a 4 ERA in the AL East, with the possibility to be better than that if everything breaks right. He might struggle from time to time, and could be hurt by the long ball.
Getting back to Keith Law’s note in his analysis of the trade, there’s also the potential for Norris to be a late inning reliever should the club not need his services in the rotation. His stuff would profile nicely in the bullpen, and he could truly be a special reliever if he were moved into the bullpen. Should Jim Johnson be moved in the offseason for prospects, the O’s might have just acquired their closer for next year.
Speaking of the playoff race this year, I expressed some concerns about the O’s methodology in acquiring players I felt would have difficulty in providing positive value over the duration of the second half. Last year it was Thome, and this year K-Rod.
Duquette’s acquisition of Norris however does not fit that mold, and actually makes a lot of sense for a team in the O’s position. For this season, they’ve managed to increase their playoffs odds more than any other team according to Dan Szymborski. His ZiPS projection system says that the O’s increased their playoff odds by 3%, nearly double that of the next closest team. They’ve also improved their flexibility for next season, as they can use Norris as either a steady option at the back of the rotation OR a back-end of the bullpen arm. Both are valuable, and will be important for a team that continues to get better each season. Norris’ acquisition could make players like Jim Johnson and/or Jason Hammel expendable which frees up resources to resign key players like Davis or Machado.
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 was the owner of the Orioles blog Warehouse Worthy, which focused on making advanced statistics a part of the conversation for the average fan. Outside of baseball, Jeff is a graduate of Loyola University where he received his Bachelor’s and Master’s in Business Administration. The Maryland native currently works for an Advertising Agency in downtown Baltimore. Previously a contributor to Beyond the Boxscore, he joined Baseball Prospectus in September 2014. You can reach him at [email protected]