It’s November 16th. The days are shorter, the weather is frigid, and despite the MLB season being over, there is still plenty going on in baseball, especially for the Minnesota Twins. The team has already released several unnecessary players, re-upped platoon player Kyle Garlick, added four players to the 40-Man roster, and are busy with free agent inquiries (especially at shortstop).
Despite this activity, there remains a lot to be done. The team releases new jerseys on Friday, the same day they must make several key decisions on players in arbitration, and of course, free agency looms large. One of the consensus needs for the Twins? Pitching.
That’s completely understandable, especially considering the team’s pitching collapsed last year, with Dylan Bundy leading the team in starts, seven players making starts, and a bullpen that collapsed time and time again. But the situation in 2023 is already looking drastically different, and a pitcher who could have a big impact on that is Bailey Ober.
Could Minnesota Twins starter Bailey Ober be primed for a breakout year in 2023?
Last season, the team’s health, particularly in the pitching department dramatically altered the team’s rotation. The Minnesota Twins 2021 Opening Day rotation of Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober, Chris Paddack, Dylan Bundy, and Chris Archer honestly could have been pretty solid if they hadn’t got hurt.
Unfortunately, they did and now the rotation will look drastically different to start 2023, with the current projection of Sonny Gray, Tyler Mahle, Kenta Maeda, Joe Ryan, and Bailey Ober offering five solid pitchers (with Josh Winder, Louie Varland, and Simeon Woods Richardson bringing impressive depth). If Bailey Ober takes another step forward, this rotation could go from very good to very great.
I’ll preface things with this: Bailey Ober has limited MLB experience. Since being called up in 2020, Ober has started 31 games, and he’s only pitched 148.1 innings. But if you look at that stretch as if it were one season (31 games is roughly what a good starter pitches), his numbers are actually really impressive:
- 148.1 IP, 3.82 ERA (3.94 FIP), 108 ERA+, 1.146 WHIP, 147-30 K-BB ratio
For a 27-year old with little big league experience, that’s impressive, and for a fourth or fifth starter, that’s exactly what you want: limited walks, sub-4.00 ERA, and decent strikeouts. He’s no ace, but that’s not what the team is asking for. Why then, is not he getting talked about? Those numbers are extremely solid.
Well for one, his velocity isn’t great. Ober’s fastball sits around 92, which is good, but it won’t blow anyone away (very close to Sonny Gray’s fastball). Some of his analytics also suggest regression, so then why roll with him as the fifth guy?
If he stays healthy, he can roll, and when he gets on that roll, he’s near impossible to stop. Just look at his first ten starts in 2021 compared to his last ten starts in 2021 (he made 20 total starts):
- First 10: 43.1 IP, 5.19 ERA (5.36 FIP) 9.4 K/9, 2.7 BB/9
- Last 10: 49 IP, 3.31 ERA (3.84 FIP), 9.4 K/9, 1.1 BB/9
That’s an astonishing leap, and that near 9.4-1.1 K-BB ratio in the second half of games is better than Justin Verlander’s ratio this year as the Cy Young winner. Now, you might decry this as a small sample size, and you’d be right. It’s ten games. But in eleven games this year, Ober’s numbers were even better than his last ten games in 2021:
- 2022: 56 IP, 3.21 ERA (2.92 FIP), 8.2 K/9, 1.8 BB/9
His analytics also showed that in 2022 he had two stellar pitches in his arsenal, with his curveball (.095 batting average, .143 slugging percentage allowed) and his slider (.188 batting average, .261 slugging percentage allowed) putting away batters. When healthy in 2022, he looked incredible.
Now I’m not saying that Bailey Ober is all of sudden going to be an ace. I’m not saying that he makes the 2023 rotation perfect. It’s a very good group, but if they can add a Carlos Rodon or Justin Verlander, the Minnesota Twins should go get one.
With that being said though, if he can stay healthy enough to get comfortable, the Twins have a great arm in Bailey Ober, one who might just surprise some people with his ability and become a breakout stud as part of next year’s much-improved group of starters.