It is no secret that on those top 30 prospects lists, the Orioles have many more hitters than pitchers. But a recent article in Baseball America was interesting and enlightening about the O’s pitching on the farm. In several spots, Baltimore's farm pitchers scored well.
It was Baseball America’s Farm System Statcast Pitching Rankings, co-authored by Geoff Pontes and Dylan White. It is a deep dive into minor league pitchers, aggregating full-season pitchers data, metrics and stats for hurlers between ages 17 and 26.
The BA goal was “to more accurately understand which organizations have the highest quality of overall pitching talent.” And they were attempting to “view the developing pitching talent in each organization, not the team’s ability to stock quality MiLB free agents into Triple-A bullpens.”
In an all encompassing stat called “Stuff+” per BA it “is a blended metric of each organization’s STF+ (based on their internal model), per pitch Run Value, xwOBA, and pitch quality metrics such as in-zone whiff% and chase %. The resultant number was then scaled on a wRC+ scale where 100 is average and a standard deviation is 10 points.”
The Orioles organization ranked tied for third with the New York Yankees with a score of 114, behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers at 116 and Tampa Bay Rays at 119.
In an interview with Pontes this week, he discussed how well the O’s farm pitchers fared here.
“I think what they’ve done is they’ve brought in a lot of guys who are competitive in the zone and what that’s translated to is, regardless of what the pitch mix is, guys are throwing their best pitches in the zone more often and getting bad contact. That is really where they excelled from a pitching perspective was in terms of what the contact was against those pitches and particularly against fastballs. They were dominant in four-seam and two-seam rankings. Even in this day and age when teams are throwing less fastballs, it’s still the most-used pitch by quite a lot.
“They have been so intentional and deliberate about the things that they’ve done from the acquisition (phase) and then getting people through their system. That is why they are turning out better players. We’ve seen that with a lot the relievers over the last couple of years. They’ve had a really good bullpen and it is not like they traded for or signed a big name,” he said.
Pontes explained further the Stuff+ rating.
“The way that we came to that number, it’s sort of a catch-all, stuff-plus,” he said. “It is really not just velocity and movement, which is sort of a typical stuff measurement. This was an overall metric looking at a variety of underlying metrics and performance as well. So, performance was baked into this pretty heavily as we looked at things like whiff rate, that is the percentage of swings that miss and chase rate, the percentage of swings outside the zone.
"We also weighted the entire system based upon the contribution. If pitcher A threw 1,200 pitches and pitcher B threw 400 then the percentage of how they weighted in the total score would be higher for the guy with more pitches. Then we looked at performance numbers on contact with X-wOBA which is expected weighted on base average which does factor in things like walks. And we looked at the quality of contact which simply looks at the quality of contact against certain hitters and that is where the Orioles really excelled with fastballs.”
While the O’s pitchers were middle of the pack in chase percentage, they ranked sixth at In Zone whiff percentage at 21.80. That means of every 100 swings of a pitch in the strikezone against an O’s full-season farm pitcher, there were 21.8 percent misses. This can be very important as more and more hitters are chasing less and less. Swing decisions are better so getting outs in the strikezone is big. At a time when pitchers can count on fewer hitter chases, O’s hurlers on the farm had nice in the zone swing and miss stuff collectively.
“Absolutely (that is big for the O’s),” said Pontes. “And guys are indeed chasing less. Swing decisions and identifying hittable pitches now is being trained more using a variety of devices and it’s just become a bigger part of the game. Getting on base is a bigger part of the game. The damage is done across the board over the plate. If you have the ability to get bad contact and also get whiffs in zone, and you are throwing a lot of strikes, it’s going to lead to better outcomes.
“In the minor leagues it’s great to get whiffs outside the zone and have a chase pitch. But we have seen time and time again, pitchers that can’t get whiffs in zone, at least with a pitch or two, that chase pitch probably doesn’t work as well against major league hitters. So, we try to factor in how these skills will play. Throwing a good fastball in the zone in good spots sets up your secondaries to work off of that.”
The article also noted, “When it comes to xwOBA, the Rays and Orioles are the standard and show strengths across a variety of pitch types. The Orioles have the lowest xwOBA against four-seam fastballs and the second lowest against sinkers (or two-seam fastballs).”
The Orioles are ranked first among all 30 organizations among left-handers only. That is interesting as, among the top 12 O’s minor league pitchers in innings pitched in 2023, just two were lefties in Cade Povich and Bruce Zimmermann. Povich may have had an ERA of 5.04 last year but he also had a K rate of 13 at Double-A and said Pontes, scored well in several underlying data and metrics.
In an entry coming in the next week or two, I'll have more on the BA findings about Orioles pitching and later in the offseason, we'll look more closely at how O's farm hitters fared.
You can link the BA pitching article here (subscription may be required).