FREDERICK, Md. - Orioles vice president and assistant general manager of analytics Sig Mejdal, said it was a fair observation. That is, there was more technology for pitchers than for hitters in the Orioles farm system last season.
The hitters were not without some data and technology to help them try to get better. But pitchers had more.
That showed in some of the results.
Of the Orioles’ top six farm teams, four clubs led their leagues in ERA in 2019. That was at Double-A Bowie, Single-A Delmarva, short-season Single-A Aberdeen and in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. And while it is true that Triple-A Norfolk and Single-A Frederick ranked last in their leagues in ERA, Norfolk’s pitchers did set a team record for strikeouts. Delmarva not only led its league in strikeouts but set a South Atlantic League record. Bowie posted the best WHIP (1.18) in the Eastern League since 2001.
Now the O’s hope they can make such an impact with young batters. Mejdal discussed this and other topics yesterday during the Birdland Caravan stop at the Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick.
“Yeah, that is the hope,” Mejdal said. “Chris Holt (director of pitching) jump-started what we were able to do with the pitchers. We didn’t have the hitting equivalent of that last year. But with the hitting coaches we’ve hired - I suggest you go meet them. You’ll see what I mean. These are experienced, internally motivated persons all in search of getting better and questioning whatever convention is out there. And they are trying to responsibly look at what will enable them to be better coaches and our players to be better hitters.
“At the same time, a lot of technology is sort of becoming ready for prime time. Bat sensors, body sensors, force plates. So, we’re involved with that and hope to put it to good use this year.”
Among the new hitting coaches on the farm for 2020 will be Tim Gibbons at Double-A Bowie, Ryan Fuller at Single-A Delmarva, Anthony Villar at short-season Single-A Aberdeen and Patrick Jones with the GCL Orioles. Tom Eller will be at Single-A Frederick in his second season with the club. Sean Berry, who was with the organization from 2015-17, returns this year to coach at Triple-A Norfolk.
Mejdal believes the technology and processes in place and use of data on the farm last year were big. And it was big that the organization got young players such as the pitchers at Delmarva schooled in what it is trying to do. Now the players can work with the technology and analytics as they move up toward the majors. The Orioles schooled them last season on the ground floor, so to speak.
“Exactly. If we’re going to gain on the rivals in our division through player development, it’s likely doing something a bit different than we had in the past,” Mejdal said. “It’s different to the coaches, but also to the players. The best way to do that is, ‘Welcome to pro ball, this is how the Orioles do things.’ And to have them do it without thinking twice. This is just how pro ball is. The earlier (players learn), the better. That said, we are not neglecting other levels either, but it’s a full-court press as soon as they arrive.”
The Orioles put a first-year pro pitching coach at Delmarva in Justin Ramsey last year and then saw it all work out just as they hoped. The young pitchers soaked up the new methods and had the best staff in the league on a club that won a team-record 90 games. Ramsey was named South Atlantic League Coach of the Year.
That Delmarva club set the league strikeout record with 1,389, and Ramsey was also the recipient of the Cal Ripken Sr. Player Development Award.
Young pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez was at the Caravan in Frederick Sunday and talked about how the new technology directly helped him. Rodriguez went 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA and 0.99 WHIP for the Shorebirds. He averaged 3.45 walks and 12.35 strikeouts per nine innings last summer.
He says he’s a better pitcher because of all that he saw and learned last year.
“Oh yeah, no doubt,” said Rodriguez, who is ranked as baseball’s No. 35 prospect by Baseball America and No. 36 by MLBPipeline.com. “No doubt. It really improves your tools as a pitcher. And learning about yourself through that stuff, it really only makes you better.
“Coming into spring training, being with the old regime for the half season after I was drafted (No. 11 overall in 2018) we didn’t really use technology. Coming into spring training (last year) we had hour- and two-hour-long classroom sessions about what the stuff meant.
“First started throwing bullpens and we saw the cameras all around. We had Edgertronic cameras and Trackman machines and all kinds of analytical stuff. Being able to use that has really helped me. I started throwing a changeup this past year. I didn’t know how you throw a changeup, I never threw one. And being able to look at it on camera and see it on a computer, all kind of different charts, it’s a game-changer to be able to use stuff like that.”
Meanwhile, Mejdal said he’s pretty excited by how far his analytics department has come as he is about to begin his second season with the Orioles.
“I think the skills of the students and recent graduates coming out into the analytics world has surprised me,” he said. “They are so much more skilled than half a decade ago. So, the people we have are top-notch.
“We’ve got about nine or 10 full-timers and 12 or 13 with the interns, and these people are impressive. Think that is one thing. The Matt Blood hire (as Orioles director of player development last September) has been such a help with the people he knows in baseball, and the coaches he was able to bring in has been amazing. It’s really changing the makeup of our coaches in the minor leagues. I know that’s often not really noticed and perhaps it’s hard to get excited about coaches in the minor leagues, but we are.”
And Rodriguez is ready for his second season of learning more about the analytics and data and putting them into use.
“I’m pretty eager,” he said. “You could see what they did last year. There were so many strikeouts in our minors last year. The rotations throughout our system had great performances and were spectacular. I think the results will improve this year.”
Mejdal on the Astros: Like executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, Mejdal joined the Orioles from the Houston Astros. Asked yesterday about the sign-stealing scandal that has engulfed his former club, Mejdal made comments similar to those Elias made during Saturday’s portion of the Caravan.
“I mean, I can’t speak on how others perceive it. Like you guys, I’ve read a lot of what is reported and the admitted behaviors, and it is just simply disturbing,” Mejdal said. “That’s the best description, it’s disturbing. I’m happy the commissioner’s office is doing all they can to put a stop to this throughout baseball. But the work we did and the reasons why we are here are sort of player development. And that was the draft. That was international and that was the development of the players, and that is all irrelevant to the behaviors we are learning about.”
Quite a weekend: It was a blast to be at the three days of events of the Birdland Caravan this weekend. From White Marsh to Upper Marlboro to Frederick, I saw cheering fans, big crowds and players who enjoyed meeting and interacting with their fans.
Orioles players and staff served as guest bartenders, took pictures, signed autographs and seemed thrilled to do it all. The weather was cold but the passion for baseball was hot where I went.
My little mini recorder is loaded with interviews with the likes of Elias, Austin Hays, Hanser Alberto, Ryan McKenna, Mike Bordick, Trey Mancini, Ryan Mountcastle, Eddie Murray, Rio Ruiz, Dwight Smith Jr., Rodriguez and more, and I’ll be rolling out their thoughts and quotes all this week.
And by the way, pitchers and catchers report tomorrow.
Been to 3 days of Birdland Caravans. Saw many neat interactions between players & fans. Thanks to so many fans for saying hello. The passion around Birdland sure burns bright. pic.twitter.com/NgjXjiE5vh-- Steve Melewski (@masnSteve) February 9, 2020