Oriole of the Day: Brutal closing stretch spoiled Paul Fry’s once-strong 2021
In less than a month, Orioles pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Sarasota, Florida, to mark the start of spring training. Yet, there remains uncertainty as to whether that will happen as planned with the league’s owners continuing to lock out the players as the two sides plod toward a new collective bargaining agreement.
But as the lockout marches on, so too does Oriole of the Day, The Baltimore Sun’s series examining each member of the 40-man roster’s 2021 season and what’s ahead for them in 2022, assuming the league and the players’ union eventually come together.
Left-hander Paul Fry, briefly deemed the closer, was manager Brandon Hyde’s most trusted reliever early in 2021. But an epic collapse down the stretch, fueled by an evaporation of his command, saw Fry’s ERA spike above 6.00 as he ended the year in Triple-A.
2022 Opening Day age: 29
2021 stats: 6.08 ERA, 47 1/3 innings, 60 strikeouts, 1.521 WHIP, 27.9 K%, 16.3 BB%, 0.6 fWAR
Under team control through: 2024
2021 in review
Number to know: 17. In his final 10 outings before his demotion, Fry allowed 17 earned runs while recording only 17 outs, an ERA of 27.00. He issued 15 walks, five fewer than he had surrendered all season to that point. After allowing only one extra-base hit all season entering August, he gave up five in that brutal stretch, three of them being home runs.
What was good: That Fry was as bad as he was in August and still finished with a positive WAR by FanGraphs’ calculation speaks to how effective he was for much of the year. Fry entered August with a 3.35 ERA, but 10 of the 15 earned runs he allowed came in only three outings. Without them, he had a 1.19 ERA. Through July, Fry struck out exactly a third of the batters he had faced, the sixth-highest strikeout percentage among left-handed relievers, according to FanGraphs .
What wasn’t: To dive more into his closing stretch, Fry’s lack of fastball command seemed to be what did him in. Before those last 10 appearances, Fry’s fastball was pitched for a strike nearly two-thirds of the time, according to Statcast. His strike rate with the pitch then dropped to about 50%, and opposing hitters stopped chasing it, with the out-of-zone swing rate on his fastball dropping from 17.8% to 5%. That allowed them to sit and do damage on his slider, slugging 1.286 an against offering that Fry had given up a .159 slugging percentage on beforehand.
Looking ahead to 2022
Likely 2022 role: Left-handed reliever
What’s projected: Given that Fry was the Orioles’ longest tenured pitcher before his demotion, it figures they’ll give him every chance to earn a spot in their bullpen whenever spring training arrives. Projection systems ZiPS and Steamer see Fry improving on his dreadful final numbers from 2021, though both estimate a still-concerning walk rate of at least 11.9% to accompany a dip in strikeout percentage.
A step forward: Fry would be well served to simply pitch better against the Tampa Bay Rays. They were the opponent for five of his final 10 outings, scoring multiple runs off him each time. He ended the year with a 34.71 ERA against Tampa Bay — the highest ever for a pitcher who faced an opponent as many times as Fry did the Rays — and a 2.95 ERA otherwise. That disparity, paired with Fry’s decline in chase rate and opponents’ success against his slider in his last month in the majors, suggests the Rays might have been picking up something against him that other teams were not.
Three up, three down
This series is ordered based on the WAR, as measured by FanGraphs, each member of Baltimore’s 40-man roster produced in 2021. The past three players featured in the series were Anthony Santander , Trey Mancini and Rougned Odor . The Orioles due up next are Keegan Akin, Jorge Mateo and Dillon Tate.