The Twins have a lot of returning starting pitching going into 2023, though none of their arms carry too much confidence to be leaned on. Keep your fingers crossed that they bring in a new name that isn’t another Bundy or Archer type, but doing so will push some arms out of the Opening Day rotation. Bailey Ober may be the top candidate to be bumped from a starting role.
Bailey Ober has missed tremendous time in his career due to injury. In 2021, he blew his previous career high in Innings Pitched out of the water with 108. After looking like he had built a foundation to push off of, he followed it up with just 60 innings to date so far in 2022. The fallout from his lost season is that even if healthy in 2023, the Twins will have to handle him with kid gloves yet again. A jump in innings from 60ish to the mid-100s seems like a bit of a stretch.
Also worth considering is that the likelihood that he’ll get healthier with age after having such a colorful injury history is incredibly low. Moving into a bullpen role where inning count won’t be an issue may be advantageous.
Maximizing Pitch Mix
Ober has a pitch mix that’s begging to be simplified, particularly in regard to his changeup. Each of his pitches gets a modest amount of whiffs, but the changeup is the one that has been crushed so far this season. The pitch has allowed a .391 BA and .522 SLG with expected numbers backing up these results. A move to the bullpen could mean he drops this pitch altogether.
Plenty of pitchers go this route, and in Ober’s case with two definitive breaking balls, his splits in short stints against lefties shouldn’t be a disaster. His fastball may also play up higher, as we often already see awkward swings due to his size and extension on the pitch. Adding any more velocity in a transition could turn it into a legitimate weapon.
The Clock is Ticking
It may be a surprise to some, but Ober is already 27 years old. Look no further than top prospect Matt Canterino for an example of how time can catch up. The Twins toyed with Canterino as a starting pitcher through recurring injuries until his elbow finally fully gave way. He’ll now miss much of the 2023 season and will return at nearly 26 years of age having never established an innings floor or reached the majors.
Ober is a less extreme example. He’s surpassed 100 innings in a season and made the majors, but it still seems like expecting a full starter's workload could become a futile effort very soon. He could similarly pull up with a significant injury one of these days if he continues to be pushed. A move to the bullpen doesn’t negate that chance, but it may pay off to change up what hasn’t worked to this point in his career while still providing value to the Twins. It also may take until 2024 if everything goes well for him to build up to even 150ish innings to be a starting pitcher, at which point he’ll be 29 years old. If he keeps losing seasons to injury as he nears his 30s, time is bound to eventually run out.
Should the Twins actively look to move Ober to the bullpen next season? Not necessarily. He’s been relatively effective as a #3 or #4 starter and even that caliber of pitcher has been hard for the Twins to develop. That being said, in theory, the Twins have a returning staff of Tyler Mahle, Sonny Gray, Kenta Maeda, Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober, and eventually Chris Paddack with several younger pitchers from AAA in the mix. If the Twins can bring in another quality starting pitcher, somebody is going to lose out. There’s a case to be made that Ober is the prime option.
Would you agree with a move to the bullpen for Ober? Has he shown enough to get one last shot in the rotation?