When he took the reins of the Baltimore Orioles front office in the winter of 2018, Mike Elias marked a robust analytics department and pitching development as two main tenants of the overhaul the franchise has since undergone during the last four years.
The front office has exhibited an innate ability to utilize their analytical prowess to not just improve and attempt to optimize the players currently in the organization, but also find pitchers (generally with explosive fastballs and/or high strikeout rates) from other clubs who the O’s believe are misused or miscast. The revamped player development department utilizes this newfound wealth of data in hopes of turning these players into valuable major league contributors, and early results suggest they know what they’re doing.
Dissecting the five nastiest individual pitches thrown by Orioles hurlers
Both the Orioles rotation and bullpen are stocked with players that have seen upticks in velocity, increased quality of secondary stuff, or both during their tenures with the club. Bryan Baker started throwing 98 earlier this summer, seemingly out of nowhere. Austin Voth has seen his breaking ball improve dramatically since being claimed off of waivers in June.
Everywhere you look, an Orioles pitcher is hurling some sort of pitch that looks genetically modified, but a few stand out above the rest. Without further adieu, let’s dissect the filth.
5. Cionel Perez’s four-seam fastball
You only need a short glimpse of Perez’s fastball to understand why the Orioles claimed him off of waivers from the Cincinnati Reds last December despite having nearly as many walks (20) as innings pitched (24) in 2021.
An exemplary case of the O’s recent player development success, Perez has harnessed his heater and emerged as one of Brandon Hyde’s most dependable late inning options. Only four left-handed pitchers have a higher average fastball velocity than Perez, whose average four-seamer comes in at 96.9 MPH (ranking in the 91st percentile of all qualified pitchers regardless of throwing arm).
Batters are hitting just .236 off of Perez’s four-seamer in large part because pairs his elite velocity with over a foot of vertical break, otherwise known as a “rising” or “riding” fastball. This is over an inch more break than four-seam fastballs from other pitchers with similar velocity and release points (known slightly more simply as movement vs. average), ranking in the 80th percentile of fastballs that have been thrown enough by their pitcher to qualify for the list.
4. Félix Bautista’s splitter
A mountain of a man with a triple digit fastball and a splitter that could tap into new lithium reserves if thrown into the dirt enough compels a referendum on what is considered fair in the game of baseball (an aside: The Referendum is a potentially dope nickname, just saying).
Tony Gonsolin, Taijuan Walker, and Kevin Gausman are the only three pitchers to have produced more run value with their splitter than Bautista. The fact that Bautista is even close though, is remarkable; the three above him are starting pitchers who have each thrown at least 300 more (and in Gausman’s case, over 600 more) splitters than Bautista has so far this season.
Big Félix’s splitter derives a great deal of its effectiveness the velocity he generates. Secondary pitches generally become more effective the harder they are thrown, and only 10 pitchers throw their splitters with a greater average velocity than Bautista’s 88.4 MPH. Combine this with over 28 inches of vertical drop and you get a splitter that has the lowest expected batting average (.077!) of its contemporaries.
3. Joey Krehbiel’s changeup
I took a look at Krehbiel’s changeup a few months ago and can happily report that the thang is still thangin’.
As Krehbiel lacks elite velocity (which still seems crazy to say about a guy who throws 94), his changeup acts as the glue which holds his arsenal together. He throws the change virtually as often as he does his fastball, and justifiably so; it’s a wicked pitch!
Hitters are batting just .154 with a .292 slugging percentage when Joey Krehbiel goes off-speed, good for a -7 run value that ranks fifteenth out of 344 qualified changeups. The pitch nosedives from north to south, making squaring up the offering a daunting task for opposing hitters. Krehbiel’s changeup features slightly over three feet of vertical break, which is 4 inches more movement than changeups of similar velocity and release point. It’s the type of stuff that makes even talented hitters like Randy Arozarena look like they’ve never swung a bat before.
2. Félix Bautista’s four-seam fastball
You knew the big man was gonna appear on this list more than once with the stuff he’s cooking up, and it’s no surprise that his fastball shows up at number two on the list.
Let’s start with the obvious: Félix Bautista throws his fastball insanely hard. Only six pitchers have a higher average fastball velocity than Bautista’s 99.0 MPH, making any occasion in which he doesn’t hit triple digits look like an outlier. Nearly a quarter (24.3%) of swings at his alien four-seamer made contact with nothing but air.
His fastball isn’t dominant just because it flirts with the sound barrier, which is evident when comparing it to four-seamers with similar velocity and release points. Of the 12 pitchers whose four-seam fastballs average 98 MPH or greater, Bautista’s additional 1.3 inches of break versus average ranks third behind Cardinals reliever Ryan Helsley and Braves rookie Spencer Strider. The horizontal movement isn’t elite but above average compared to similar four-seam fastballs and still impressive for a ball traveling that rapidly. Fèlix’s four-seamer is a baseball Rembrandt that should continue to baffle hitters for years to come.
Of all the pitches Orioles arms throw, which is the most effective?
1. Dillon Tate’s sinker
Dillon Tate doesn’t have the cool nickname, a shirt with his head superimposed onto Omar from The Wire’s body, or a Bellagio-worthy light show of an entrance accompanied by the former’s infamous whistle, but make no mistake about it: his sinker is one of the filthiest pitches in baseball.
How filthy? By run value, it’s the eighth most effective pitch in Major League Baseball. Not eighth out of all sinkers, eighth out of every single pitch. Batters have produced a paltry .249 wOBA versus the pitch in 2022, and Tate’s sinker (-16 Run Value) is in the company of Corbin Burnes’ cutter (-18), Max Scherzer’s slider (-16), and Sandy Alcantara’s changeup (-16).
Dillon Tate’s sinker does plenty to justify the pitch’s namesake. Its 25 inches of sink is eleven percent more than similar sinkers, and the 17.1 inches of horizontal run is 1.7 inches more than its similar counterparts. This movement is stupefying for hitters and makes not swinging a difficult proposition even when the ball is dipping out of the strike zone; Tate’s sinker has a 36.8% chase rate, meaning hitters are swinging and missing over 1 of every 3 sinkers he throws outside of the strike zone.
In an Orioles clubhouse that features enough revolutions per minute to power a NASCAR engine, it takes a truly nasty pitch to stand out from the rest, and Dillon Tate’s sinker does just that.