As major league debuts go, this was a really good one. Outstanding, actually. Orioles right-hander Dean Kremer faced the New York Yankees on Sunday, Sept. 6 at Camden Yards. In a 5-1 win as Baltimore took three of four in that series, Kremer allowed one run and one hit over six innings.
Yankees batters went 1-for-19 against him. He walked three and fanned seven, throwing 47 of 88 pitches for strikes. His career was off and running.
That afternoon Kremer became the fourth pitcher in Orioles history to work at least six innings while allowing one or fewer hits in his major league debut. The others to do that were Chris Waters in 2008, Anthony Telford in 1990 and Bob Milacki in 1988. He was the sixth pitcher in club history to strike out at least seven batters in his debut.
In his first three O’s starts, Kremer went 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA against the Yankees twice and Tampa Bay, two of the five winningest clubs in the American League. He would give up seven runs to Boston in his final start, and that left his season record at 1-1 with a 4.82 ERA and a 1.446 WHIP in four starts over 18 2/3 innings. He did not allow a home run.
The scouting reports told us Kremer would rely heavily on a four-seamer and curveball, and he threw the fastball 51 percent and the curve 27 percent. But we didn’t know he was use a cutter 19 percent. That pitch looked real good for Kremer. He got a whiff rate (swings divided by swings and misses) of 35.5 percent on the cutter, which he threw at 87 mph. That was his best for any pitch with his curve second with a 28.1 whiff rate.
Kremer is rated as the club’s No. 9 prospect (and fourth pitcher) by Baseball America and No. 10 by MLBPipeline.com. His debut was impressive providing hope he can be a solid contributor to a 2021 rotation that could include Félix Hernández, Wade LeBlanc or Matt Harvey, but won’t have Alex Cobb.
Triple-A Norfolk pitching coach Kennie Steenstra knows Kremer real well. Steenstra was Kremer’s pitching coach in both 2018 at Double-A Bowie after he was acquired in the Manny Machado trade from the Los Angeles Dodgers and again in 2019 at Bowie. He went 13-6 with a 2.84 ERA in 24 starts those two years. Steenstra also coached Kremer at the Bowie alternate camp last summer before his call-up this season.
Steenstra pointed out that Kremer went home when baseball was halted in March and put in an excellent work that improved his cutter.
“Dean came to us from the Dodgers and was predominantly fastball-curveball,” Steenstra said during an October interview. “I believe he led all of the minor leagues in strikeouts that year over multiple levels. Obviously, he had a lot of success with those two pitches. But he was another guy that we knew had to have something else, especially against the left-handers, to be able to get some outs.
“He bought in. And the time that he was home over the pandemic period, he put in a lot of time and effort with both his cutter and his changeup. When he got to Bowie and started back up with us again, both of those pitches had improved, especially the cutter. You saw that in the big leagues. He was able to use that pitch both to righties and lefties to get outs and keep guys off his fastball a little bit more.”
The cutter was a real weapon for Kremer with the Orioles.
“We had talked to him about it the year before and in spring training this year. But when he went home, he really honed in on it and he was able to manipulate that ball a little bit more and start working with that pitch consistently,” Steenstra said. “And I think sometimes getting away on your own and being able to get that feel without the pressure of getting outs, sometimes that helps develop that pitch even more.”
Kremer scores well in pitch data over several pitches. As for that cutter he rated 41st in baseball (of 154 rated) with a spin rate of 2,506 RPMs, well above the average of 2,385. Kremer rated 38th in curveball efficiency (out of 301 rated) and 71st in fastball efficiency (out of over 400 pitchers).
Kremer has always been known as a cerebral pitcher and no doubt put to use some of the knowledge he got on the Dodgers’ watch to help him lead all of the minors in strikeouts in 2018 with a K rate of 12.20. Now with the Orioles, he can build on that with data on spin rates and work on pitch design and more.
It looks like 2021 will provide Kremer a chance to show he can be a future fixture in the Baltimore rotation.