Twins

Bailey Ober Is Reaching His Full Potential

Photo Credit: Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Bailey Ober gave up eight runs in his 2024 debut on Easter Sunday in Kansas City. A start like that never looks good, but it also skews his overall production for a considerable amount of time until a larger sample size either makes his debut a distant memory or justifies it. Ober left Kansas City with a 54.00 ERA, which didn’t drop below 5.00 until his third start on April 14.

Since that start, Ober has shown everyone that he’s consistently reaching his full potential in the Minnesota Twins rotation. He put everything he’s capable of on display in Sunday’s start in Toronto. Ober went 6.1 shutout innings, giving up just 1 hit in a 5-1 win to clinch Minnesota’s sixth-straight series victory.

It’s been an up-and-down ride for the College of Charleston alum through his first four seasons in the big leagues. In 2021, Ober had a limited run of 20 starts and 92.1 innings with a 4.19 ERA. The Twins were playing it safe with his workload because Ober had only pitched 78.2 innings in 2019. It was more of the same in 2022 when his groin injury led to multiple trips to the injured list, and he only made 11 starts. Despite pitching just 56 innings that season, Ober posted a career-best 3.21 ERA.

Ober started the 2023 campaign in Triple-A due to Minnesota’s influx of veteran depth last year. The Twins called Ober up on April 23, and he recorded a 3.43 ERA in a career-high 144.1 innings. Ober’s 2.97 ERA from his callup in late April to July 1 last season was highly encouraging. It looked like he had taken his game to the next level and locked himself into a Twins rotation mainstay for the long term. But from July 1 to the end of the 2023 season, Ober’s production ballooned into a 3.86 ERA, and he had a brief demotion to St. Paul to rest his arm.

But aside from his lackluster debut, Ober has been excellent on the mound this season. His 2.16 ERA since April 1 is the ninth-best in baseball among starters who have thrown over 40 innings in that span. Ober has erased his bad opening outing and now has a much better-looking 3.77 ERA.

Ober has allowed fewer runs over his last seven starts, but is it sustainable? His 2.23 FIP since April 1 doesn’t suggest regression is around the corner. He has only allowed 2 home runs in this stretch after giving up 3 home runs in Kansas City. Ober will always be a flyball pitcher and must limit the long ball. A 1.05 HR/9 throughout his seven starts this season is an excellent clip for the fly ball pitcher Ober to be at.

There isn’t much swing-and-miss stuff in Ober’s arsenal. His fastball averages 92.1 MPH, while a 24.4 whiff rate is a career-low for Ober and below league average (24.8 percent). He makes up for that by using his top-of-the-league extension to give hitters less time to see the ball as it heads toward home plate.

Attacking the zone has been Ober’s strength. He has a 49.3 percent career zone rate, and it’s at 50.1 percent so far in 2024. Finding strike one early has also helped Ober. He has a career-high 69.5 percent first-pitch strike this season. Even when he leaves the zone, hitters are biting. Ober’s 31.8 percent chase rate is well above the 28.4 percent league average. His 64.7 percent chase contact means that opposing hitters consistently make weak contact, and Ober’s 88.2 MPH average exit velocity ties a career low.

Ober’s development has come during a season when the Twins desperately needed stability in the group. Losing two established veterans, Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda, meant they would rely on pitchers like Ober to fill that production.

Fans want to watch Pablo López take the mound and get double-digit strikeouts every start while throwing 95-plus MPH. But even if it isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as watching a dominating ace, Ober can use his length to his advantage and consistently get outs without overpowering stuff. He isn’t a No. 1 starter on a playoff rotation. Still, Ober has proven he can be an extremely solid No. 2-3 option on a good rotation.

It may not look like the Twins have a good rotation, considering they have a 4.13 ERA from the starting rotation, 19th in the league. However, Minnesota’s rotation ranks best in baseball with a 26.1 strikeout percentage and a 5.1 percent walk rate. Ober is doing his part by putting up his career-best 4.9 percent walk rate in 2024, which is well below league average (8.4 percent).

The biggest concern with Ober over the rest of the season will be his arm’s durability. In the first half of 2023, Ober had a 91.4 MPH average velocity on his fastball. The good news is that even when he struggled, his fastball velocity still stayed the same in the second half of 2023. Also, coming off of a 144.1-inning season a year ago, the hope at Target Field has to be that he has learned how to navigate through the grind of the 162-game season.

It’s going to be location and keeping the ball inside the ballpark. Ober lives high in the strike zone and can frustrate opposing lineups when he’s on. However, he’s homer-prone when he misses his locations. Currently, Ober’s 29.1 percent flyball rate would be a career low, even if it is still well above the 23.5 percent league average.

Bailey Ober has overcome a rough opening outing to become one of Minnesota’s top starting pitchers in 2024. The potential has been there the last couple of seasons, but it has been just out of reach. Now, the nearly 7-foot Ober has a chance to show he can consistently become an upper-rotation starting pitcher.

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