The Baltimore Orioles are a very bad baseball team. With a few years of non-productive moves and lack of development in their farm system from a questionable front office, a historically bad product had been put on the field, which has been reflected through the win-loss record of the Orioles the past two seasons.
It was clearly time for a change. With the hiring of two pieces that played pivotal roles in building the Astros organization up from comparably bad standards in Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal, it looked like they had hired the right people to do the same for them.
With two of the smartest people in baseball inheriting a cesspool of a major league team, expecting immediate improvement would be unfair. The record was going to bad no matter what. Looking at individual improvement would be key, but looking for breakouts would be key. As it happened many times with the Astros with names like Dallas Keuchel, Colin McHugh, and Marwin Gonzalez turning from fringe major leaguers to valuable assets, the same happening with Orioles wouldn’t come as a surprise.
There have been individual improvements with the Orioles this season. Pedro Severino has turned into a serviceable catcher. Chance Sisco looks good at the plate. Trey Mancini and Renato Nunez look better. But perhaps the biggest surprise has come from journeyman pitcher Asher Wojciechowski. It may be too early to tell and this very well may be premature, but there have been clear strides in his production since entering the Orioles organization.
Looking at a four start sample size could be rather dangerous, but comparing Wojciechowski to the rest of the field might be the best way to gauge how good he’s been. Among 194 pitchers that have thrown at least 20 innings this season, only Mike Clevinger, Gerrit Cole, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Blake Snell, Matthew Boyd, and Justin Verlander have a higher strikeout percentage.
Only Snell and Scherzer have a higher swinging-strike percentage. Wojciechowski leads the way in outside-swing percentage at 40.5 percent, while having a large lead on second place Verlander (38.1 percent).
When the Orioles acquired Wojciechowski in a minor trade for the Indians, it looked rather small, a depth move at the most. He’d been pitching serviceably, not great, all year with the Indians Triple-A affiliate as a starter and it looked like he’d already received his fair-share of subpar major league innings. At 30 years old, the intrigue was little. But the Orioles needed someone to log innings in their rotation and he fit the bill.
Considering what Wojciechowski did in Triple-A (3.61 ERA, 5.82 FIP) and what he had done in previous major league innings (career 6.02 ERA, 4.72 FIP), expecting any positive production looked like it would be ill-advised. Yet somehow, looking at his four major league starts and 15 Triple-A starts, he’s had his most impressive games at the higher level. Looking at his four highest swinging-strike percentages in a start, three of them have been with the Orioles in the majors.
Asher Wojciechowski SwStr% by start
Contrary to logical thinking, Wojciechowski’s strikeout percentage has actually increased going from Triple-A to the majors. Though one could look at it as his strikeout percentage increasing once he changed organizations also.
Looking at what changed with Wojciechowski since his last major league stint, a change in pitch distribution is the first thing that catches the eye, but there is some disagreement as into what he’s actually doing. Baseball Savant says he’s throwing his slider and a new curveball more. Brooks Baseball thinks he’s started to throw a cutter. Pitch Info thinks he’s abandoned his changeup for a cutter.
Through examining velocity and movement data, it looks like there’s a three-way classification mix up between his slider, cutter, and curveball. His slider is getting confused with his cutter and curveball. This signals a clear change, it’s just harder to compare what he’s currently doing to what he did in the past.
The pitch that’s driving is his low-eighties slider/curveball (depending on who you ask). This slurvy breaking ball has been the driving force behind his strikeouts. Baseball Savant, who has it pinned as a curveball, has the pitch with a staggering 50 percent strikeout-rate and a .175 xwOBA against.
This pitch moves like crazy. It’s in the top five percent of the league in vertical rise and the top 15 percent in horizontal break. Using this high-movement pitch late in counts is what’s holding the strikeout surge.
Time will tell if Wojciechowski will develop into anything noteworthy, but again, this wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen a journeyman pitcher come out of nowhere and turn into an asset. With the new Orioles front office, it was just a matter of time before we saw it happen with them. Wojciecould be the first.
Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.