Orioles Acquire Bud Norris and his Platoon Problems

Bud Norris is heading to Baltimore, it looks like. Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Orioles will send the Astros the much-traveled LJ Hoes along with a second prospect and a draft selection to Houston in exchange for Norris, who is under team control through 2015. At first, it may seem like a flawed prospect isn’t much to pay for a proven, cost-controlled starter who has struck out over 21% of the batters he’s faced so far in his career, but on the other hand, Norris has deep flaws that make his acquisition less of a steal and more of a gamble.

Even focusing just on his strikeout rate, Norris is already in decline. In 2010, he threw 93.6 mph and struck out 23.1% of the batters he faced. This year, he’s down to 92.4 and 16.6% respectively. From what we know about pitcher aging curves, his velocity loss fits the pattern.

Some starters manage to avoid losing the strikeouts along with the gas. Some focus on a new pitch. Norris has, for many different reasons. It just hasn’t worked out.

Norris throws a fastball or a slider more than 90% of the time against right-handers. Those are his two best pitches. The problem is, of course, that the slider has a platoon split and isn’t very useful against lefties. That’s why Norris’ FIP is a full run higher against lefties over his career. His walk rate doubles because he’s trying to put that slider in very specific places, and his home run rate is 20% worse against lefties because when he misses those spots, the ball gets punished.

He does have a changeup, and he throws it to lefties. Last year, he threw it around 10% of the time to lefties, and this year, it’s more like 18%. He knows about the slider, and platoon splits, so he’s giving it a go. Too bad, because now his strikeout rate against lefties has tanked (20.1% career, 12.5% this year), and he’s giving up even more home runs to lefties. The changeup gets about half of the whiffs of a league average changeup. He’s always used his sinker more against lefties, a little like Justin Masterson. Except that Norris’ sinker gets fewer whiffs *and* fewer ground balls than his changeup.

He’s 28 years old, and even trying new tricks isn’t helping. Bud Norris has a weakness against lefties. By our park factors, Norris is leaving a park that augments homers by lefties by 2% and going to one that augments the same by 24%. That’s a little scary.

Bud Norris has a reliever’s arsenal, and even if he is projected to be slightly better than the man he may replace in the rotation — Jason Hammel — he would be an iffy start against a lefty-heavy team in September. In October, he’s more likely to move to the bullpen than anyone else in that rotation. He may even be in the bullpen next year, when Kevin Gausman is a year more developed, and Dylan Bundy is on his way to the big league team.

The only mitigating factor is that the cost wasn’t high. LJ Hoes was the fith-best prospect on Marc Hulet’s Orioles list going into the season, but he’s played in the corner outfield this year, and since he doesn’t have any power, and even his work on the basepaths is problematic, he just doesn’t fit the plate profile to be a major league right fielder. So he’s on the move again.

The Astros will also get a second prospect — Josh Hader has been discussed, but his medicals may or may not require a substitution — and that can always change things, and the value of the pick they receive is also hard to suss out completely, but continues the asset collection plan that Jeff Luhnow and his team have had in place.

The Orioles? They just wanted to work around the peripheries, improve their depth, and leave their core prospects intact. They did that, but don’t expect Norris to be any kind of savior. He’s a decent enough back-end starter, but there’s not a ton of extra value here, and long term, he might be best served converting to bullpen work.

In the end, this was an exchange of flawed pieces. Norris’ platoon problems and declining strikeout rate suggest that he won’t help the Orioles that much, while the prospects they gave up weren’t likely to be part of their success in the near future either. The Astros collect more youth while the Orioles make a marginal improvement and hope it works. This is the 2013 trade deadline in a nutshell.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


41 Responses to “Orioles Acquire Bud Norris and his Platoon Problems”

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  1. leeroy says:

    but what’s his ERA against lefties?

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    • Uninterested Cat says:

      I don’t know if that’s a running joke here, but that MS commercial annoyed me from the beginning given the completely nonsensical concept of an ERA against lefties.

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      • juan pierres mustache says:

        im glad to hear that other people have noticed this. they couldn’t spend ten seconds asking anyone who’s watched baseball if that sentence makes sense?

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      I always like to imagine that ad ending with the guy who goes after him getting a bad player because he just jumped on ERA quickly to sign him with his fancy quick apps, while the other guy actually took time to look at stuff like strikeouts like he said in the ad and realizes they dodged a bullet.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    I think the Astros got Hoesd.

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  3. ettin says:

    Always remember: Stro’s before Hoes

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  4. Scribe62 says:

    How can a player like Hoes who was drafted in 2008 by the Orioles and stayed in their organization five years be “much traveled?”

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  5. steve. says:

    Flawed pieces pfftt…its a #1 for a minor leaguer going nowhere with the O’s~!! this is a great trade for Baltimore!

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  6. Monty says:

    Kind of a strange trade. After weeks of everyone speculating about his upside and what kind of return he would fetch, the Astros ended up giving up to Baltimore for not much. Sure he will probably struggle in Camden and in the AL East, but it’s a deal definitely worth making for Baltimore. While Houston adds some more youth and a semi-intriguing player. Makes sense for both sides, but could end up as a lose lose proposition each way.

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  7. FeslenR says:

    Don’t get it from the Orioles’ side, the Astros did well to get something for Norris an “ace”.

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  8. shibboleth says:

    The move to a contender might spark a little extra mustard/intangible whatever. I know it’s not measurable so it’s not really discussed here. Hammel just hit the DL, too.

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    • Ashitaka says:

      “spark a little extra mustard/intangible whatever.”

      Thoughtful, sabermetrical analysis at it’s finest.

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  9. ERodCal says:

    Rumor is that Giants would have given up Belt for Norris -is that a better deal or did the Astros take the right package. Seems like Belt is done in SF as Bochy seems to really love Pill who at 29 is coming into his own.

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    • oira79 says:

      I live in SF. You guys have no idea what you’re talking about. People wear giraffe gear on their heads because they like “Baby Giraffe” Belt. Brett Pill is up as an extra bat. The Giants are committed to Belt.

      Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy may or may not understand OBP. But this is San Francisco, home of the tech industry. Parts of your computer, and many of your phone’s apps, were developed here. Fans here understand numbers.

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  10. ERodCal says:

    Also most Giants fans seem to hate Belt so surprised he was not dealt.

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    • Baltar says:

      I have stopped following the Giants because their management makes me apopletic (even though they lucked into 2 championships).
      I’m surprised Belt is hated. If he hasn’t panned out, I blame it on Bochy’s extreme mishandling of him in 2011.
      I hope Belt gets a chance somewhere else as the equally mishandled Schierholtz has.

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      • ERodCal says:

        It just seems most Giants fans have never heard of this site, and don’t believe in WAR and media does not buy into this view (basically that obp is important in a nutshell), so Belt gets no support.

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      • Petruchio says:

        It’s almost comic to blame a player’s career trajectory on inconsistent playing time when he was a rookie. That said, Brandon Belt is the owner of over 1,000 PA in MLB since, and we have a good idea of what he is now – a perfectly average MLB 1B. Unfortunately, an average 1B isn’t what the Giants bargained for when they promoted him, even if that’s what other teams see when they look at him for trade. Belt is supposed to be a superstar to compliment Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval, but it’s become increasingly clear that his “upside” is mostly narrative fancy. He’s basically a poor man’s James Loney…and the Dodgers wisely felt they could upgrade over Loney at 1B. I wouldn’t be surprised if San Francisco does the same.

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        • Your feelings about Belt seem to be shaped by the completely unrealistic expectations you had for him when he came up to the big league level. Nobody was expecting Belt to be a superstar. His upside was that of an above average everyday first baseman. He seems to have hit his mid-level projection thus far. Most of his numbers look about what you’d expect, except his plate discipline has been worse than I expected, though more on the walk side than the strikeout side.

          I agree about the inconsistent playing time excuse, but I will say this: Bochy needs to stop playing Belt like he’s a platoon player. He’s arguably a better hitter against left handed pitchers.

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        • Petruchio says:

          I’m a Dodger fan. I can relate. LA put up with James Loney for years, hoping he’d break out and be the superstar we dreamed he could be, but it never happened. Even his success in Tampa falls far short of what he could have been. And, Loney is a much better player than Belt is.

          The Giants are only keeping Belt around because they see superstar potential. It’s the same with Justin Upton and Arizona, even though Towers hated Upton’s guts. That breakout will never happen, and Belt will likely be moved once a more promising 1B prospect enters their system. San Francisco has apparently already considered trading him twice.

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  11. I know Norris has problems but for a guy with another 2 years of control, it doesn’t sound like the Astros got much. Norris in 2014 (and probably 2015) was going to be far better than whatever else will be in the Astros rotation. The idea of a tear down and rebuild is fine, but how long will it take? If I was an Astros fan I wouldn’t bother paying to watch any games until they start to win again.

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  12. Steve Holt says:

    I don’t think that Hoes is the cornerstone of this deal. Hades looks like an interesting guy. Of course, TINSTAPP.

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  13. BirdsOfAFeather says:

    We should have traded Bundy for Lincecum. I didn’t know Norris had these problems before this article, but I definitely didn’t want – nor was expecting – him on the O’s.

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  14. Oh, Beepy says:

    If it helps, look at this as “Bud Norris for one of the first few picks after the first round in next years (quite strong) draft”

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  15. Dylan says:

    Brian Matusz dominates lefties and can go multiple innings. If a team wants to load up on lefties against Norris, can’t the Orioles just pitch him for a few innings, then have Matusz pitch the next few innings? It will force the other team to either leave in Matusz against lefties or burn their bench.

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    • siggian says:

      Several problems with this. The first one that I see is that Norris would need to survive those first few innings without giving up too many runs. The second is that even if you squeeze five innings combined out of Norris and Matusz, you are still into the bullpen fairly early.

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    • malkusm says:

      Better yet, let’s amputate the throwing arm of one of them and attach it to the other. Which one do you think has more composure?

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  16. chongo says:

    Don’t care. Gonna see what Bud does with better run support today.
    YOLO!

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