The optics here don’t look great. Cubs sign Yu Darvish over the weekend so the Cardinals respond with...Bud Norris? According to Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic, the Cardinals have signed the righty reliever. According to Chris Cotillo, it is a major league deal.
Norris was a mostly-league-average starter for the Astros and Orioles from 2009 to 2014 before taking on a swingman role in 2015 and 2016 for the Orioles, Padres, Braves, and Dodgers. As a starter during those two years, he wasn’t very good, putting up a 4.67 FIP and 5.94 ERA in 147 innings. As a reliever during those two years, he wasn’t very good either, putting up a 4.51 FIP and 5.33 ERA.
Last year, though, Norris pitched pretty well out of the bullpen for the Angels. He put up a 3.90 FIP and 4.21 ERA with the FIP being about 10% better than league average. He struck out a career-high 28% of batters thanks to a change in his pitch mix.
Prior to 2016, Norris almost never threw a cutter. He dabbled with one in 2016, and then threw more than a third of the time last season. It is not a whiff-heavy pitch, though 16% is certainly adequate, per Brooks Baseball. When contact is made, the result is a ground ball 56% of the time. His best swing and miss pitch is still a slider, but that pitch gets hit hard a decent amount of the time as well and the cutter added a decent weapon.
Unfortunately, Norris was not healthy for all of last season. He was placed on the disabled list twice last season due to right knee inflammation. In the first half, Norris was elite, striking out 33% of batters with a 2.96 FIP and 2.23 ERA. As the injuries took their toll, Norris’ season unraveled and he put up a 5.22 FIP and 7.01 ERA in the second half as his strikeout rate plummeted.
If Norris had finished the season healthy, he would have been in line for a nice payday. He did not so he watched as every decent reliever signed multi-year deals as he remained a free agent until the middle of February. Norris turns 33 next month, and he does have a bit of a history for sticking his foot in his mouth. As it stands, the signing is a fine one as the Cardinals add another potentially good reliever at a presumably low cost.