Several free agent starting pitchers have found homes elsewhere this winter, though there is still a talented group from which the Baltimore Orioles could choose. Unfortunately, their odds of ending up with another talented pitcher took yet another hit on Monday when free agent starter Chris Bassitt signed with the Toronto Blue Jays.
There is a dearth of optimism in Birdland. It’s almost a certainty that the Orioles will refuse to pursue any other free agents or trades after the deflating comments from Mike Elias last week that made it seem like ownership and the front office would rather suppress their so-called “curve” than do anything to enhance or nurture it.
For the sake of this exercise, let’s look at exactly what the ever-frugal ownership is missing out on, and what the Blue Jays can expect from their newest starting pitcher.
Chris Bassitt would’ve been a perfect fit for the Baltimore Orioles.
The 33 year old Bassitt was acquired from the Oakland Athletics last offseason and was a mainstay atop the Mets rotation as Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, and Tylor Megill dealt with injuries through various portions of 2022. While not featuring an explosive fastball typical of the average #2/#3 starter, Bassitt boasts an excellent arsenal of secondary pitches that, mixed with a low-90’s sinker, make him a pitcher any team would love to have.
Chris Bassitt makes up for the lack of premier velo in two simple, but effective ways: keeping the ball in the park and limiting his walks. Of 61 pitchers with 150+ innings pitched in 2022, his .94 HR/9 ranked 26th. Bassitt’s walk rate was slightly more above average, among the 68th percentile of qualified pitchers.
His six (yes, six) pitch mix consists of three different fastballs, two breaking balls, and a changeup with the sinker, cutter, and curveball being far and away his best. The sinker is almost certainly enhanced by the threat of Bassitt’s other pitches and is his most effective.
How? While generally resting in the low-90’s and not missing many bats, Bassitt uses it to induce ground ball after ground ball – the average exit velocity against the sinker was 86.7 MPH (below average for a hitter, meaning ideal for a pitcher) with a four degree launch angle. Long story short, if Chris Bassitt is throwing his sinker, good luck squaring it up or getting it out of the infield.
The curveball is arguably his best overall pitch when factoring results and its movement; Bassitt’s curve features slightly over 2 inches more horizontal break than curveballs of similar velocity and release point. It’s a classic, 12-to-6 curve that Bassitt throws to the bottom third of the zone seemingly at will.
Low and away to righties, down and in to lefties. Source: Baseball Savant
Like with the rest of his arsenal, Bassitt generates whiffs with his curveball at a below average frequency, but his consistent command of the pitch in addition to the threat of five other pitches is enough to limit batters to a .156 average and .195 slugging percentage against the pitch.
Why only have one reliable fastball when you can have two? Bassitt pairs his sinker with a cutter that produced the second highest Run Value of his arsenal (tied with the aforementioned curveball). It’s not filthy in it’s movement in the way that, say, Zac Gallen or Nestor Cortes’s cutters are, but Bassitt’s pinpoint command makes it nigh impossible for hitters of any dexterity to square up. Seriously, just look at his cutter’s heat map!
A concentration of red not seen since Ric Flair wrestled Dusty Rhodes in ‘84. Source: Baseball Savant
Bassitt keeps his cutter almost exclusively in that upper right quadrant. Righty hitters flail to make weak contact. Left handed hitters get jammed. All of that struggle adds up to a .217 average and .289 wOBA against.
Chris Bassitt isn’t an ace in the conventional sense, but he would’ve instantly improved an Orioles rotation that needs help at the top and got by last season in small part due to smoke and mirrors performances by April Bruce Zimmermann, Spenser Watkins, and others. The Baltimore Orioles were likely never going to get close to matching the $21 million average annual value of Bassitt’s contract, making this yet another missed opportunity to supplement the young core Mike Elias is curating. Whether it be due to ownership frugality or fear-based risk aversion from the front office, losing out on Chris Bassitt to a division rival is a blow to which this Baltimore Orioles front office seems unlikely to respond.