The Baltimore Orioles have surged towards the top of the AL East standings, thanks in large part to a potent bullpen. Their bullpen added an interesting piece in Shintaro Fujinami this week, acquiring the rookie reliever from the lowly Oakland Athletics. Fujinami’s numbers look awful on the surface, with a 8.58 ERA and 1.66 WHIP, but there are some reasons for optimism here.
Why Baltimore Orioles fans should be excited about Shintaro Fujinami
First, Fujinami cost the Orioles just one prospect, Easton Lucas, a well-performing lefty reliever already in Triple-A. While Lucas is likely to be a big league piece, he probably would not make a huge difference for Baltimore. Fujinami on the other hand, is a risk Baltimore needs to take, as bullpen help becomes more and more important as the season winds down. Since being moved into the bullpen, Fujinami has pitched to a 5.51 ERA, striking out 38 batters in 32.2 innings. Tess Taruskin, a prospect analyst at FanGraphs, projected Fujinami as a nasty multi-inning reliever at the beginning of the season, pointing to his shaky command as an almost red flag.
Indeed, Fujinami’s command has been bad this season, walking 12.8 percent of the batters he has faced, which ranks in the eighth percentile of the league. But, with a fastball that reaches triple-digits regularly, Fujinami is a potentially lethal part of a contending bullpen. In addition to his fastball, Fujinami has a devastating split finger, which batters have hit just .222 against this season. Interestingly enough, Fujinami has rapidly increased the usage of that split finger, from just 9.7 percent in June to 31.9 percent in July. Could this new approach yield strong results? Mike Petriello of MLB.com pointed to the better results in July on Twitter the day Fujinami was traded.
At worst, the Baltimore Orioles took a swing on a hard-throwing reliever, surrendering a minor leaguer who likely is not in their immediate plans. Should this deal work however, Fujinami is a cheap addition to an already fearful bullpen. Expect more trades like these as we quickly approach the Trade Deadline … and don’t think the Orioles are even close to being done wheeling and dealing.