A look at Wojciechowski’s swing-and-miss stuff

Yes, it’s a small sample size, but yes, it sure has been impressive. The topic is Asher Wojciechowski’s swing-and-miss stuff, seen yesterday and also right before the All-Star break in Toronto.

At Rogers Centre on July 7, Wojciechowski had a nasty slider going in the early innings, and Blue Jays batters could not make consistent contact against it. In the second and third innings that day he threw nine sliders and got six swings and misses. He threw 80 pitches in that game and got 19 swings and misses.

Wojciechowski-Fires-Front-vs-BOS-White-Sidebar.jpgWojciechowski gave up three runs in 4 1/3 innings that Sunday and took a 6-1 loss. The final numbers were mediocre, so it was easy to overlook the stuff he had at times in that game. Yesterday he had the stuff and also got the results against the Red Sox.

In his fourth start for the Orioles and 15th of his major league career, he took a no-hitter to the seventh inning. This time he got 18 swings and misses among 58 pitches in the first four innings. He was totally dealing. He finished after allowing just one hit and no runs over 7 1/3 as the Orioles blanked Boston 5-0.

Wojciechowski improved to 1-3 with a 3.91 ERA. In 23 innings he has walked seven and fanned 31 for an average of 12.13 strikeouts per nine innings. Yesterday he became the first Baltimore pitcher since Dylan Bundy against Seattle on Aug. 29, 2017 to throw seven or more innings, strike out 10 or more and allow one hit or no hits.

He shut down a Boston team that had scored 17 runs the previous night. A team that leads the majors in runs per game, average and on-base percentage. A team that was 19-3 in its past 22 games at Camden Yards. A team that had gone 81 consecutive games without being shut out since April 16. That is the second-longest streak in the majors this season, behind the 97-game run by the New York Yankees.

So yeah, that was a strong game, and Wojciechowski’s whiff rate is impressive.

In Toronto, Statcast had labeled almost every one of his breaking balls as a slider. Yesterday they had him for 31 curveballs and 15 sliders. I would contend many more sliders were thrown, but call them what you want. The Red Sox struggled to hit the pitch. Or pitches.

Wojciechowski recently told me what he feels makes his slider so great at times.

“I think it is just my grip and my hand speed,” he said. “When I have good hand speed with it and I trust the grip and let it rip, it usually takes off like that for me. That, and also commanding my fastball up in the zone. Because it’s a big breaking slider and I have to be able to tunnel it with my fastball that plays up. So be able to throw my fastball up and tunnel the big breaking slider off of that. And then the cutter has been a good pitch for me. It’s kind of a harder slider at about 86 to 88 mph. That has been a good pitch for me. So when I have a good fastball going I can also have a good difference between two breaking pitches.”

In talking about his ability to “tunnel” pitches, Wojciechowski refers to the concept of making two different pitches look the same out of his hand and have the same trajectory toward the plate. Wojciechowski’s fastball and slider diverge about 30 feet from the hitter, who is then not sure which pitch is coming at him. This ability helps keep hitters off balance and can get some of the swings and misses that Wojciechowski is getting right now.

Through five games with the Orioles, he has a swing-and-miss rate of 16.6 percent. Next among Baltimore starters is Bundy, at 13.1. John Means is at 9.7. And yes, swing and miss is not everything and Wojciechowski’s rate will likely drop as he adds innings.

But it’s impressive to this point. For instance, the American League leader right now among qualifying pitchers is Gerrit Cole at 16.3 percent, followed by Justin Verlander at 15.7 and Chris Sale at 14.4. With his current rate, Wojciechowski is keeping good company.

None of this means he’s going to continue to pitch well, or that the Orioles have found a future rotation piece in a 30-year-old right-hander who has pitched for eight organizations. But it does mean some recent outings get your attention and we should all be intrigued to see more from him.

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