Wind: 12.91 m/h
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde gravitated to an unfamiliar reliever in 2020, and I never really understood why.
Watching Cole Sulser take the mound in high leverage situations gave me many a night with heartburn and indigestion. Then a 30-year-old rookie, Sulser was a nobody. There was no hype, no scout backing his potential. He was just a guy.
So when I watched Sulser get rocked outing after outing in 2020, I wondered exactly what kind of blackmail this veteran minor leaguer had over Hyde. I mean, Sulser registered a 5.56 ERA in 19 appearances, walking almost as many batters as he struck out. Sulser saved five games in 2020 but blew three other opportunities.
I even authored a column earlier this spring about Orioles reliever Tanner Scott, saying, “The days of Cole Sulser pitching the ninth need to come to a close.” I was just about done with the guy.
Good thing Sulser doesn’t listen to 26-year-old sportswriters.
Since being recalled to Baltimore on April 18, Sulser has dominated opposing hitters. He’s not just getting outs — he’s mowing down lineups with ease.
Through 12.2 innings, Sulser has allowed just two earned runs while striking out 20. His strikeout rate is up 23 percentage points from last season (42.6 from 19) and is among the league’s best.
Sulser’s fastball-changeup combo has kept hitters off balance. His fastball velocity is average, but his horizontal and vertical movement on the pitch is among the league’s best. Sulser has allowed just one hit on his changeup all season, a pitch that he’s added more than four inches of vertical drop to this year.
Maybe the biggest difference from last season is Sulser’s ability to throw strikes. He walked 17 percent of batters faced in 2020 but has walked just one batter in 2021.
When Sulser has been hit, he’s been hit hard — Sulser’s average exit velocity and barrel percentage is among the league’s worst. But he’s missing bats more often than he’s being knocked around, limiting damage. Sulser ranks in the 80th percentile in both expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) and expected ERA (xERA).
As a unit, the Orioles’ bullpen has been quite good. Sulser has been a part of that and the O’s need him to be moving forward. Baltimore has been forced to use the bullpen early and often, pushing Hyde and general manager Mike Elias to pluck pitchers from Triple-A Norfolk’s roster on several occasions.
At this rate, Sulser is not only doing his best to ensure he isn’t a part of that roster churn that will affect the O’s roster all summer, but he’s potentially locking himself into a bigger role moving forward.