(GAME DATE — Jan. 1, 2020) — The Ohio Oxen have loosened their purse strings in an attempt to bolster their pitching staff, spending big to re-sign the team’s first 20-game winner, Rusty Rowe, and landing former Milwaukee Hops right-hander Ricardo Perez.
The addition of free agent Max Maher who signed a 2-year deal will also bolster the bullpen, providing an efficient lefty reliever who had an ERA of 2.60 out of the bullpen for Chicago last season.
GM Dylan Maccarone seems intent to throw money at the team’s perennial pitching deficiencies, and he did so in a big way, inking the largest free agent deal this off-season with his 7-year deal for Perez, totaling more than $166 million.
Perez might be seen as a bit of a risk for that kind of spending, but many analysts agree with the signing and discount the lackluster record Perez has had in his first five Bull League seasons, chalking them up to having played for the Battle Creek/Louisville/Milwaukee franchise that has historically had terrible defense since the expansion club formed in 2012.
Last season, Perez threw a solid 235.2 innings in 34 starts, with 19 of those as “quality” starts, meaning at least 6 innings with 3 or less earned runs. He notched his second shutout last year, and completed 5 games, proving he has the longevity and endurance for the starter role. His 4.06 FIP is considered adequate, and if he is able to bring the walks down and avoid as many home runs in the larger Ohio stadium, his ability to prevent runs should improve.
Perez ended 2019 with a 6 game win streak, his longest of his career so far, and he looks to continue it into 2020 in an Oxen uniform. With Platinum Glove catcher Tyrone O’Saurus behind the platter, Perez could have a lot of help improving those defensive stats and preventing runs.
ROWE BACK WITH THE TEAM
Rusty Rowe left for free agency at the end of last season, but was lured back by a 5-year, $99.55 million deal finalized just today. Rowe first joined the Oxen in 2017, going 9-6 with 1 save, crafting a 4.00 ERA and collecting 111 strikeouts.
The next season, he was converted to a reliever for the majority of the year, going 4-5 with 8 saves, making just 1 start in 32 games. His WHIP shot up to 1.53 (from 1.29 the year before), but he struck out batters at a pace of 13.2 per 9 IP.
But the trade off was not seen as worth it, and last season he was put back into the rotation, where he flourished, rewarding the Oxen with 20 wins, becoming the first Oxen pitcher to do so. His ERA floated down to 3.87, and he managed 232.1 innings on the year over 32 starts. Rowe’s quality starts totaled 22, for an impressive rate of .688.
At 31-year-of-age, Rowe will reliably starting games for the Oxen until he is 36, and should at the very least command a slot in the top half of the rotation during that time. So far he has shown durable resilience to injuries. One thing holding him back from being a truly awesome starter is his lack of a third pitch. His change up leaves a lot to be desired. But his splitter essentially does the job as an off-speed pitch, and he executes it almost flawlessly.
MAHER TO IMPROVE PEN
Ohio’s first big off-season signing, 9 days ago, was Maher, a 33-year-old southpaw who played for the Pit Bulls last year, and did three solid seasons in Montreal before that.
While Chicago had him bouncing between the rotation and the bullpen last season, it was clear where his best innings came from, as his 6-1 record and 6 saves in relief reflect. As a starter, he was 0-5 and his ERA shot up to an obscene 13.32, compared to just 2.60 as a reliever. Maher was especially useful against left-handed batters, who hit .271 against him last year.
Max has two Bull Cup rings to his credit, both earned with the Metros (though in 2014, the year he was traded, he did not play any games at the Bull League level). A sidearm fastballer with a crisp circle change pitch, Maher will undoubtedly take a leadership role among the hollowed-out Oxen bullpen, which saw the departure of Marty Melvins, Chris Soundgarden, and closer Chris Kimbrough to free agency.
With three big pitcher signings, Ohio is well on its way to buying a 2020 playoff spot. But will it be enough? They have the offense, no question. But more pitchers might be needed for the playoff hopefuls.