The pitch mix and the one the O’s threw more than any AL team

If we are going to consider and discuss the Orioles’ 2021 pitching performance, you know the club will rank at or near the bottom of the American League in many team categories. For instance, they were last in team ERA at 5.84, which was just over a full run per game worse than Minnesota, next at 4.83.

But we’re not here today to hammer away at some rough pitching stats.

Today, I wanted to take a look at the Orioles’ 2021 pitch mix. This can be interesting to look at and size up how they compare to other teams. Each night during the season reporters and fans often note pitch mix - for instance, what percentage of fastballs did a pitcher use? What percentage of secondary pitches?

Sometimes it can help us understand which pitches were working most that night or which weren’t. We can access whiff rates - the percentage of times batters swing at a pitch and miss completely. All of this tells a certain story about the pitcher and his effectiveness that game. Velocity readings can be examined as well.

But via we can see how the Orioles ranked versus the rest of the AL in pitch mix.

One of the first things to note is that does not differentiate between four-seam and two-seam fastballs. And the fastball may be making a comeback. If you assumed, as I did, that most teams now throw fastballs less than 50 percent, you would be very wrong. In fact, 10 AL teams, including the Orioles, threw fastballs at least 50 percent in 2021. The O’s were seventh-most in fastball usage at 51.0 percent. Oakland pitchers were No. 1 at 57.2, with Tampa Bay at the bottom at 43.1. No other club was at less than 47.6 percent.

Among individual O’s pitchers throwing a minimum of 30 or more innings last season, Marcos Diplán led in fastball usage at 62.3 percent, with Dillon Tate at 60.0 and Tyler Wells at 58.6.

In fastball velocity, the O’s average of 93.0 mph was tied for ninth-best in the AL, with the Yankees and White Sox tied for first at 94.7 mph. Tanner Scott led the club in average velocity at 96.8 mph, with Tate next at 95.5, followed by Jorge López and Wells both at 95.2.

Here is a mild surprise: The Orioles led the AL in changeup usage at 15.7 percent, with the Los Angeles Angels at 14.4 and Oakland third at 13.5 next. Cleveland used the changeup the least at 8.6 percent. The O’s average changeup speed was 83.3 mph, so about a 10 mph difference between fastball and changeup.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Sulser-Plants-Orange-ST-sidebar.jpgCésar Valdez, who threw 46 innings, used the pitch, his “dead fish,” 74.9 percent. Next were Cole Sulser at 33.2 and John Means at 27.3 percent changeup use.

As an aside here, I have an opinion that there is no optimal difference between fastball and changeup speed. So many other factors make a changeup effective, including arm speed and deception, late movement, command, good strike-to-ball movement and other aspects. I have seen pitchers with only a 4-6 mph difference be very effective on this pitch. The key is getting whiffs and weak contact on the pitch at any speed. Whatever works for that pitcher.

The Orioles used curveballs fourth-most among AL teams at 11.3 percent, with the Yankees (16.2), Houston (13.9) and Cleveland (11.7) ahead of them. Oakland pitchers came in last here at 4.4.

Among O’s pitchers, Diplán is first again here, with 27.1 percent curveball usage. Next is López at 23.7 and then Alexander Wells at 19.4.

O’s pitchers threw sliders 16.1 percent, which ranked as second-fewest in the AL. They were ahead of only the Yankees at 15.2. Tampa Bay rated first at 27.2 percent, with Kansas City second at 26.5.

Among the Orioles, the lefty relievers led the way in slider use, with Scott at 51.6 percent and Paul Fry at 45.0. Next was Tyler Wells at 27.0.

The Orioles, at 5.3 percent, threw the ninth-most cutters by percentage this year in the league. Tampa Bay was first at 11.9, with Seattle next at 10.9. Kansas City was last at just 1.7 percent.

Adam Plutko led O’s pitchers with 32.5 percent cutter usage, followed by Spenser Watkins at 30.7 and Dean Kremer at 21.0. They were actually the only three O’s pitchers (throwing 30-plus innings) listed as using cutters last year.

Keep in mind that while many may find this information interesting to check out, pitch mix doesn’t equal results. Pitch execution equals results. And executing a pitch is about commanding it, getting the proper movement, not tipping the pitch and knowing when to use it. A lot is involved here.

And just because the Orioles had poor pitching in 2021 doesn’t mean they should make changes in their pitch mix. This, after all, is just the accumulation of the all the individuals and how they go about it.

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