Every year, baseball fans across the country discuss the merits of their teams’ Opening Day roster. The reality is that the Opening Day roster matters very little to teams that aren’t really contenders. The roster that you really look forward to as a non-contending team is the post-trading deadline roster. Who has been traded? Who has been brought up from the minors? Who is playing every day? Are you starting to see glimpses of the future that can carry into the next season? Those are the important questions, not “who will start the 4th game of the season?”
That being said, when you are a team going nowhere and you have young players that are already in or about to be in the majors, they should be brought up immediately (unless of course you are gaming the service time system for a few weeks).
Last year, the Orioles gave us a potential glimpse into the future by bringing up a lot of young players and giving them playing time in a shortened season. One of those players was Keegan Akin.
Akin has been a guy who has certainly come through the system with question marks attached. For the most part, those question marks have centered around his command and control. Akin, a second-round pick out of Western Michigan in 2016, threw 376 minor league innings. In those innings, he only gave up 327 hits. His K rate was 9.9 and his HR rate was 0.9. His career ERA was 3.78 and that was hurt by the 4.73 ERA in the 2019 AAA season, which saw inflated offensive stats throughout the league. In fact, that 4.73 ERA was 6th best in the league. His MiL walk rate was 4.1 – obviously too high and cause for concern.
Last year, he started eight games for the Orioles and appeared in two others, throwing 25.2 innings total. 22.1 of those came in his six starts and the remaining 3.1 in his two relief appearances. As a starter, his ERA was 4.03 and as a reliever, it was 8.10, for a combined ERA was 4.56.
However, when you look deeper into his stats (and we are, of course, talking about a small sample size, so you have to take that into consideration), his numbers look a lot better. His K rate was 12.3. His walk rate was a very respectable 3.5 and his HR rate was about 1.0. He had a FIP of 3.27 and an xFIP of 3.85, so his “actual ERA” was unlucky and that was also evidenced by a .358 BABIP. He had a fWAR of 0.8 in just 25 innings, which is really solid for such a small sampling of innings. He also threw 64.4% of his pitches for strikes and had a swinging strike % of almost 22%, both well above average.
This spring, we have seen Akin struggle. His ERA is 10 and he struggled mightily to get through a few innings in yesterday’s start vs Pittsburgh. There has been a growing sentiment amongst Orioles fans that he should start the season in the minors. I just don’t understand this thought process. First of all, he isn’t blocking anyone from being in the rotation. Some want to mention Bruce Zimmermann and that’s fine but Zimmermann should be in the rotation regardless of the presence of Akin. Jorge Lopez shouldn’t even be in consideration for the rotation and we certainly shouldn’t do irrational things like make decisions based off of a few meaningless spring training innings. We don’t know what he is working on. We aren’t seeing the games to know how the wind is affecting things or how poor the defense is, etc.…We also haven’t seen him throwing on the side or in the B games or anything like that. These are all things that enter into the decision.
Akin has nothing left to prove in the minors. He performed well down there and did it at the highest levels. By all accounts, he performed well at the camp last year and came to the majors and more than held his own. In a year where the team is going nowhere, you give him the ball every 5th day and see if he can do it or not. If, at some point, we have five better starters than him and those guys are part of the future, you then can determine what to do with him but even at that point, he should be in the bullpen, not AAA. There is a fallacy amongst fans that you can only learn at the minor league level. That’s just wrong. And that is heightened by the fact that supposed pitching guru, Chris Holt, is the pitching coach for the Orioles now. We should want Akin working with him.
Many scouts have pegged Akin as a reliever, the belief being that he doesn’t have enough command and control to get through a lineup multiple times and that he isn’t pitch efficient. All of these things are very valid concerns and could play out to be his downfall. There isn’t any denying that but we aren’t close to being able to make that decision as of yet.
Leave the kid alone, make him your 3rd or 4th starter and just let him work things out.
In a season going nowhere, this is exactly what you should be doing.