As the Orioles pitching staff made vast improvement last season – a team ERA of 3.97 after the club had ranked last the year before at 5.84 – there was an area of improvement that may have flown under the radar.
The staff as a whole was much more pitch-efficient in 2022. The O’s staff averaged 16.2 pitches per inning. That was tied for eighth fewest in the major leagues. They ranked last the year before, throwing 17.5 pitches per inning. The Los Angeles Dodgers (15.6) and Cleveland Guardians (15.7) topped the majors in this stat in 2022.
In adding southpaw Cole Irvin via a trade with Oakland, the Orioles get a pitcher who is among the best in the majors in this stat. He averaged 15.0 pitches per inning in 2021 and was even better last season at 14.4. That was second fewest in the American League last season. A pitcher with that average would need just 86 or 87 pitches to clear six innings.
And by the way, while Jordan Lyles led the club with 13 quality starts last year (and the team went 9-4 in those games), Kyle Gibson and Irvin each recorded 15 quality starts. They eat up some innings and provide some quality along the way.
During his Zoom interview with O’s media Friday morning, Irvin talked about how being so efficient with his pitches is a real plus.
“I like to work quick,” he said. “I like to get the ball, and go and a lot of times the hitters are stepping out when I’m ready. So this year is going to be fun. The pitch clock may actually favor my game a little more. And I will be able to get outs in the way I know how.
“Pitch efficiency is good, but at the end of the day it’s about throwing strikes and getting outs and getting your team in the dugout. My focus is to put up a quality start every outing. Even if that is five innings and one run or no runs and we’re still in the game to win it.
“I think there are a lot of things overlooked in today’s game with strikeouts and all that. At the end of the day it's about getting outs and doing your job. That is what I got traded to do.”
Among pitchers that made starts for the Orioles in 2022, Bruce Zimmermann was most pitch-efficient at 15.3 per inning, followed by Dean Kremer at 15.5, Spenser Watkins at 15.6 and Tyler Wells at 15.9.
“I know who I am, I’ve always known who I am. That’s a starting pitcher that eats innings and gets outs," said Irvin, who went 9-13 with a 3.98 ERA and 1.160 WHIP. "I may not be fancy, I may not be lighting up the radar gun a lot of the time, but what I do is think through my pitch selection, where I want to be. And I know how to get hitters out.”
Irvin averaged just 1.8 walks per nine innings, issuing two walks or fewer in 29 of his 30 starts.
But he was better in the bigger ballpark in Oakland than in road games. He went 5-5 with a 3.07 ERA at home and 4-8 with a 5.26 ERA away from Oakland.
“I’m excited about Camden," he said. "I’ve always pitched well there, or the one time that I’ve pitched there I pitched well, and that was with the shorter dimensions. I love Camden Yards, it’s one of my favorite ballparks to visit and I’m excited to call it home with the left field being pushed back a little bit. Or a lot of bit.
“Home-road splits, I don’t even think about. My job is to get outs. You know, if splits bother people, they bother people. But for me, my job is to get outs and put us in a position to win. That is all that matters to me.”
In 11 career games versus AL East opponents, Irvin has gone 4-4 with a 3.71 ERA and .666 OPS against.
“It’s just another division I have to learn how to pitch in," Irvin said. "The AL West wasn’t easy either, with Houston, Seattle, Anaheim. They’ve got some bats over there. Major leagues is not easy to pitch in in general. Just comes down to getting outs and putting your team in position to win. Yeah, the division is going to be loaded, and I’m excited to be in a good division. The division is loaded and teams will beat up on each other. That is kind of how it’s going to go."
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