Baltimore Orioles: Bryan Baker’s fastball has found another gear
Without question, the main constant throughout the first half of the Baltimore Orioles’ 2022 season has been the stellar performance of their bullpen. The group heads into Wednesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays tied for the MLB lead in WAR (according to FanGraphs), third in ERA, and sixth in FIP despite lacking the pedigree you may expect from a bullpen of this caliber.
Besides Dillon Tate (whom the Rangers selected fourth overall in 2015), this O’s bullpen is a collection of waiver claims, minor league free agents, and converted starters. While not receiving the same plaudits as Jorge López or Félix Bautista, Bryan Baker has stood out in his own right and emerged as yet another bullpen option to whom Brandon Hyde can turn, even more so in the month of July.
Bryan Baker was a waiver claim from the Blue Jays last November and has surprised Birdland with a recent uptick in fastball velocity, most notably during his appearance on July 22nd against the Yankees, wherein he touched 100 miles per hour for the first time this season and threw six fastballs with greater velocity than any previous four-seamer he’d thrown up to that point.
Bryan Baker – now with extra velo!
Through April, Bryan Baker’s four-seam fastball had an average velocity of 93.3 MPH. In July, the very same pitch was averaging 97 MPH. While it’s common to see a pitcher experience an uptick in velocity as the season progresses, a jump of nearly four miles per hour is rare.
Baker’s xWOBA when throwing the heater is a slightly above average .341 and places him 236th out of 514 pitchers who have thrown at least ten four-seam fastballs in 2022. His heater has a .302 xWOBA in the month of July though, which coincides with the uptick in velocity. This begs the question: what’s gotten into Bryan Baker?
Not as much as it would seem, honestly. Baker’s fastball spin rate has remained within a range of 30 RPM all season. His extension towards the plate is virtually identical. However, a closer look reveals two small tweaks that may be how Baker has extracted more velocity out of his body.
Baker appears to have made slight alterations to his release point, raising it slightly and shifting it almost four inches horizontally. The slight vertical tweak doesn’t correlate with the horizontal shift, so what else happened? Behold, a video comparison!
The first is a 95.1 MPH four-seamer that Bryan Baker threw to Mariners second baseman Adam Frazier on May 31st. The second, a 98.1 MPH heater to Aaron Judge from last Saturday. A keen eye will spot the slight shift in vertical release point, but check where his back foot is; Baker has moved from the first base side of the pitching rubber to a spot closer towards the middle, which would explain the stark difference in horizontal release point from earlier in the season to now. One could hypothesize that this shift helps prevent Baker from “falling off” the mound and away from the plate, which gives him more engagement from his lower half that could explain why his fastball upgraded to a V8 hemi.
Bryan Baker’s continued improvement has been one of the many feel-good stories in a July that’s seen the Orioles break the .500 barrier, and yet another testament to the work that Chris Holt and the rest of the player development staff have been doing to get the most out of their arms, but time will tell if Baker’s reinvigorated fastball becomes his new norm.