The past decade in baseball has been defined by the proliferation of a profusion of results-based data that enables us to track the velocity of a pitch down to the tenth of a mile per hour and know the exact distance and angle at which a baseball was struck, all thanks to the wonderful technology known as StatCast. The Baltimore Orioles were famously bearish to their own detriment on this analytical revolution, but Mike Elias’ regime has slowly but surely gotten the club hip to the times.
The 2022 Baltimore Orioles lit up the StatCast leaderboards, but who was the best among them?
The 2022 Orioles surprised in all facets, which of course is reflected in the common counting stats known and loved by baseball fans worldwide, but these performances are contextualized and made even more impressive when you look at the data behind them. There was no shortage of StatCast heroes on the Orioles roster, but I decided to do some digging to see who rose above the rest. Who hit the ball the hardest? Which pitcher had the nastiest individual pitch? How close is Félix Bautista’s fastball to breaching the sound barrier? Look no further, I got you.
Highest Average Exit Velocity (qualified hitters): Ryan Mountcastle, 91.3 MPH
Mountcastle’s 2022 stat line may come off as pedestrian, but his ability to hit baseballs hard was far from it. In fact, his batted ball data last year far exceeded his outputs in a 2021 season that saw him club 33 home runs and is why Mountcastle should be looked at as a prime breakout candidate in 2023.
Mountcastle’s average exit velocity not only led the Orioles, but was one and a half miles per hour faster than the MLB average and ranked 31st among all hitters with enough batted ball events to qualify.
Honorable mention to Anthony Santander, whose 90.1 MPH average exit velo was second amongst qualified Orioles hitters.
Hardest Hit Ball: TIE - Anthony Santander and Ryan Mountcastle, 112.0 MPH
Mountcastle may hit the ball harder on average but make no bones about it: Anthony Santander is no stranger to destroying baseballs.
Both take the crown for the hardest hit ball of the Orioles season with 112 MPH missiles. Santander’s occurred on September 4th against Oakland, when he dispatched a middle-middle changeup down the right field line for an easy double. Mountcastle’s hardest hit ball occurred on April 19th against the very same Oakland A’s, sending a Cole Irvin curveball into the left center field gap for a double.
Furthest Hit Ball: Austin Hays, 464 feet (vs. Cubs, 6/7/22)
The warehouse beyond the right field fence at Camden Yards gets all the pub as the sexy home run target, but the second deck in left field has been nearly as difficult to reach. They’re like the secret tapes in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.
Prior to 2022, just six men had reached the second level in left: Rex Hudler, Mark Reynolds, Manny Machado, Edwin Encarnacion, Pete Alonso, and Maikel Franco. On a June night in the middle of a torrential downpour, Austin Hays became number seven when the outfielder took a changeup from Chicago Cubs pitcher Alec Mills and tucked the ball just inside the left field foul pole, safely into the second deck. The Orioles went on to win the game 9-3. You might not get a cool plaque like you do for a Eutaw Street shot, but shoutout to Austin Hays for joining the Second Deck Club.
Highest Average Homer Length: Ryan Mountcastle, 407 feet
It’s no surprise that the guy who hit the ball the hardest also hit the ball the furthest. The addition of Walltimore at Camden Yards didn’t hurt either, as no ball is clearing it unless it’s been pulverized. The new dimensions also played an instrumental part in Mountcastle’s actual home run total falling almost six short of his expected home run total.
Mountcastle’s longest homer of the year exemplifies the raw power he possesses. He sent a fastball from Guardians starter Zach Plesac into the right center field bleachers, some 437 feet from home plate.
Highest HardHit% (qualified hitters): Ramón Urias, 46.5%
Baseballs with an exit velocity of 95 MPH or greater are considered by StatCast as “hard hit”, and no Orioles hitter was more superlative at generating such contact than Ramón Urías.
The 28 year old emerged as an above average two-way player, hitting a career-best 16 home runs and winning his first Gold Glove as a third baseman. Urías’ HardHit% was not just tops among qualified Orioles hitters, but also eighth highest among all qualified third basemen. A lack of refined plate discipline will limit his batting average, but the glove and quality of contact make him an asset to any lineup.
Most Valuable Pitch: Dillon Tate’s Sinker (-21 Run Value)
This one will likely be a shocker to the many who expected to see one of Félix Bautista’s offerings leading this category, but no pitch in the Orioles arsenal was more effective than Dillon Tate’s sinker. Batters struggled to a .214 average and slugged just .240 against it. The meager .248 wOBA managed when facing the sinker was the 27th lowest out of 370 qualified pitchers who threw one. Tate doesn’t pound the bottom fringes of the strike zone with it as one assumes a sinkerballer would, but it’s consistently placed in on the hands of righties and tails away from lefties. Not a bad second option.
Run Value is a cumulative total of how a pitch either increases or decreases the opponent’s run expectancy, which varies depending on the count and the 24 out/baserunner scenarios. Simply put, Dillon Tate’s sinker took 21 runs off of opponents’ run expectancy over the course of 2022. Tate’s sinker was in the most esteemed company, and not just when looking at pitches of the same type; Tate’s sinker had the eighth best Run Value of any registered pitch, trailing only such filth as Dylan Cease’s slider and Sandy Alcantara’s changeup among others.
Lowest Average Exit Velocity Allowed: TIE - Félix Bautista and Joey Krehbiel (86.8 MPH)
Félix Bautista is a video game final boss of a closer with two pitches that would make Ted Williams look back at his dugout in search of help, so it’s no surprise to see him at the top of this list. Joey Krehbiel, though? That’s a bit of an upset. Bautista’s formula for weak contact is no secret: he throws gas and has a freak show splitter that is nigh impossible to square up. Krehbiel, who was yet another successful waiver claim by Mike Elias, gets there a slightly different way.
Krehbiel was one of the Baltimore Orioles most effective relievers during the first half of the season whose success rode largely on the back of his changeup. It’s a mid-80’s offering that batters hit just .183 against and separates itself from its contemporaries with a heavy dose of vertical break, 12% more movement than changeups of similar velocity and release point. When Krehbiel locates the pitch, I’m not entirely sure how lefties are supposed to hit it.
Fastest Pitch: Felix Bautista, 103.1 MPH (vs. White Sox 8/23/22)
The emergence of Félix Bautista and his supercharged fastball was one of the best storylines to follow on an Orioles team that had no shortage of feel-good. No other Orioles pitcher had even the slightest chance to throw harder than Big Fèlix, whose average four-seamer velocity was seventh highest in the entire league.
The 2022 Baltimore Orioles, as told by StatCast
Bautista’s hardest-thrown fastball of the year took place during a thrilling series with the Chicago White Sox as the big man was attempting a multi-inning save, and this 103 MPH heater was, uh, just a tad high. Unfortunately for White Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez, Bautista came back later in the at bat with a 102.3 MPH howitzer that he had to wear on his elbow. All worked out for good, though - Jimenez avoided injury and was able to stay in the game, and the Orioles locked up the win.
Most Raw Pitch Movement: Dean Kremer’s Curveball
I discussed Kremer’s enigmatic curveball in a piece I wrote last month. In truth, it was one of the least effective curveballs the Orioles have on hand. The pitch might be pretty, but the stats against it weren’t; batters hit .291, slugged .527, and had a .353 wOBA against the hook. But man, that thing moves.
On average, Kremer’s curveball had over five feet of vertical movement - 62.2 inches to be exact. It’s a classic, slow 12-to-6 curve that could evolve from one of Kremer’s least effective pitches to a lethal put away weapon if he can just figure out a way to keep it down in the strike zone. Kremer did just fine despite the poor results against his curve, but an optimized curveball could be the difference between Dean Kremer, back end of the rotation guy and Dean Kremer, possible #3 starter with a ferocious Uncle Charlie.