Brewers Add Daniel Norris To Deepen Their Bullpen

After addressing their offensive needs with their acquisition of Eduardo Escobar earlier this week, the Brewers turned their focus to their pitching staff. Their starting rotation has been the best in the majors but their bullpen has been merely good. They added some depth to their relief corps on Friday by trading for Daniel Norris, sending RHP Reese Olson to the Detroit Tigers in return.

Norris had worked out of the rotation for much of his career but recently made the transition to full-time relief work in 2020. Across 51 relief appearances over the last two seasons, he’s posted a solid 3.39 FIP that’s been somewhat hidden by an ugly 5.89 ERA this year. Like you would expect with any starter transitioning to shorter outings in relief, Norris’s fastball velocity has really benefited. He’s averaged 92.7 mph on his four-seam fastball during these last two campaigns, the highest velocity he’s seen on his heater since 2017. He’s also simplified his pitch mix, entirely cutting out his curveball and focusing on his slider and changeup as his two secondary options.

His changeup has consistently been his best pitch throughout his career but he never threw it more than 19% of the time before last year. He upped the usage of that pitch to 30.6% last season and is throwing it around a quarter of the time in 2021. He’s able to get a phenomenal amount of vertical movement with the pitch — the 37.7 inches of drop sits in the 86th percentile for changeups. That’s led opposing batters to pound the pitch into the ground at an extreme rate; 70.8% of the balls put in play off his changeup have been grounders, the 10th-highest mark for a changeup in baseball. And if a batter isn’t hitting a ground ball off the pitch, they’re likely swinging and missing with a 36.6% whiff rate. The increase in usage of that pitch has helped Norris push his ground ball rate up to 51.7% during these past two seasons.

Norris should give the Brewers bullpen a little more length in the middle innings. Josh Hader and Devin Williams have again combined to create a potent one-two punch in the eighth and ninth, but the bridge to those two has been somewhat inconsistent. Brad Boxberger, Brent Suter, and Jake Cousins have been fine, but adding another option for the sixth or seventh should really help.

The Brewers have also emphatically stated that their pitching staff will face some stiff innings limits after the shortened season last year. With Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta each getting closer to that ceiling, adding Norris could give the Brewers an option to save some innings for the stretch run. With his history as a starter, he could piggyback some starts to ensure their best starters are fresh for the playoffs. His longest outing this season has been just two innings and his highest pitch count is 45 pitches, but Milwaukee has proven they can be flexible and innovative with their pitching staff usage.

Olson was the seventh-ranked prospect in the Brewers system and their second-ranked pitcher. He was a 13th-round pick out of North Hall High School (GA) back in 2018. Now 21 years old, his fastball velocity has spiked after the lost season in 2020. That increase in velocity better compliments a deep repertoire of secondary pitches. Here’s Eric Longenhagen’s writeup from the Brewers top prospect list:

[Olson’s] two-plane, 85-87 mph slider and power changeup, which rests in about the same velo range, are both plus pitches while Olson’s upper-70s curveball is merely above-average. I still have some trepidation regarding Olson’s delivery. He’s a stiff-legged, tightly-wound athlete with more mechanical violence than is typical for a starter, but even if those visual biases turn out to be meaningful, we’re talking about a high-leverage and/or multi-inning relief piece here based on how his stuff looks right now.

He provides a rebuilding Detroit team with another solid pitching prospect in a system already deep with arms.

Jake Mailhot is a contributor to FanGraphs. A long-suffering Mariners fan, he also writes about them for Lookout Landing. Follow him on Twitter @jakemailhot.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
2 years ago

This is a really rich return for a guy with a 4.30 xERA. The FIP is better but it’s not fantastic either. He was way better last year, though, so maybe the Brewers think they can unlock that. Because this year’s edition of Norris is a low-leverage arm.

baseball bettormember
2 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

sure but the Tigers just got a lottery ticket so it’s a minor deal for both IMHO.