The Orioles made a seemingly uninteresting waiver claim yesterday, picking up RHP Austin Brice after he was DFA by the Angels, who grabbed him earlier in the offseason from the Reds. On the surface, there isn’t anything particularly exciting about Brice. He has some MLB experience, having thrown 84 innings of 5.68 ERA ball and is still pretty young at 26 years old. It’s hard to get excited about a guy who has been given a significant MLB opportunity and hasn’t produced. However, in this case, I think Brice could be useful.
Brice is a RHP who throws 5 pitches from a low ¾ arm slot, a sinker, a four-seam fastball, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. He was a starter as recently as 2016. He was converted to relief midseason 2016 in AA and was dominant enough to get a cup of coffee in the majors a few months later. Coming up through the minors, his best pitch was a tight breaking curveball with some depth at 78-81mph. The 4S fastball sat 94-96 in relief and the sinker was 93-95 with a little sink and some armside tail. The slider was was cutterish in the upper 80s with little to no depth and mild gloveside bite. He also had a below average changeup in the mid-80s.
In his brief 2016 debut, he was still throwing a separate slider and curveball. The curveball averaged a 2714 RPM spin rate, placing him 58th of the 437 pitchers who threw the pitch that year. By 2018, the curveball’s average spin rate was down to 2606 RPM and it was being thrown harder (82-84) and had much less depth. Basically, the slider and the curveball had kind of merged into one slurvy pitch that was less than the sum of its parts. A plus curveball and average slider turned into an average slurve. It the graphics below, you can see how the movement qualities of the slider and curveball overlap in 2018. Velocities of the two pitches are also very similar. In practical terms, the pitches have lost the value of being separate offerings.
In addition to losing the integrity of his breaking balls, Brice throws his sinker entirely too much. He threw the pitch 47.5% of the time in 2018. The sinker is effective in getting ground balls but gets hit really hard (92.3 avg exit velocity in 2018) and doesn’t miss bats. He even uses it 25% of the time when he has hitters in a two strike count. That’s a mistake when he has three other pitches that generate whiffs at a significantly higher rate.
There are some tools for Elias’s staff to work with including a 4S fastball averaging 95mph that misses bats, a high spin curveball, and solid command. I’d imagine he’d see more success focusing on the 4S fastball/true CB combo with some sinkers against LHB and the slider as a late count surprise pitch. The movement qualities of the curveball should help the 4S fastball play up. He does lack a weapon against left-handers and the stuff is good, not great. The upside isn’t big, but I think he’s a couple small tweaks away from a useful career as a multi-inning middle reliever. If he can be fixed, he’s controllable through 2024.