ANAHEIM, CALIF. — Asher Wojciechowski understands the confusion about his pitch mix. Much like it has stifled opposing batters during his short tenure with the Orioles, it is doing the same to some pitch-tracking systems.
Since making his Orioles debut July 2 after a trade from the Cleveland Indians, where he was pitching in Triple-A, Wojciechowski has had some of the best swing-and-miss stuff in baseball. Among starting pitchers with at least 20 innings in 2019, the 30-year-old right-hander ranks first in chase rate, third in swinging strike percentage and ninth in strikeouts per nine innings entering Friday’s start against the Los Angeles Angels.
He’s found success with four pitches, though the contents of that repertoire have been perceived differently by Major League Baseball’s Statcast and Brooks Baseball, which uses Pitch Info. Both have Wojciechowski throwing a four-seam fastball and changeup, but Statcast has his slider as a mid-80s mph offering with a low-80s curveball, while Brooks Baseball has the slower pitch as his slider and the harder one as a cutter. The latter is accurate, Wojciechowski said, but especially given that he hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2017 before this month, he sees how the mixup could happen.
“The slider is more of a slurve, and the cutter is more of a slider,” he said.
That’s because Wojciechowski “manipulates” the pitches depending on the count and situation, he said. He’ll alter his hand speed and eye level depending on whether he wants to throw the slider like a curveball or the cutter like a slider, though he keeps the respective grips the same.
His preference is to backdoor the curve-style pitch to left-handed batters early in counts, then turn to the slider movement as an out pitch. He’ll work similarly with the cutter, jamming batters to induce weak contact before increasing the movement in pursuit of a swing-and-miss.
The slurve is nothing new, with Wojciechowski tracing his use of the pitch to high school. But in his previous extended stint in the majors, when he posted a 6.50 ERA in 62 1/3 innings for the Cincinnati Reds in 2017, Wojciechowski didn’t throw the cutter. Although he had one during his debut season in 2015 with the Houston Astros, he didn’t get the results he wanted with it and ditched the pitch. But this spring, Cleveland suggested adding an offering to serve as a midpoint between the slurve and his low-to-mid-90s fastball.
“They liked the separation on my fastball and my slider, and they said, ‘All right, well, it’d be really beneficial if you could have a pitch between those two,’ ” Wojciechowski said. “I’d thrown a cutter in the past. It wasn’t a good pitch for me, so I kind of messed around with the grip, I found a grip that I liked, and I went from there.”
That result earned him an International League All-Star bid with Triple-A Columbus, where available video and data helped him learn and improve from one outing to the next. The spin rate of all his pitches also increased, which helps alter the movement of a pitch.
The growth came from better studying what made his good pitches effective and what made others not as sharp.
“Just working with the Indians and the edgertronic videos, the high-speed videos, seeing how my stuff plays, overlaying video and seeing, ‘All right, this is how your pitches are coming out,’ that helped me a lot, looking at all the data that they were giving me and seeing what my strengths were and trying to stick with my strengths to the best of my abilities,” Wojciechowski said. “As long as it’s presented well, it’s very beneficial.
“It’s being able to be like, ‘OK, this is what the data’s saying. Here’s your strengths from this. This is where you need to throw this pitch to have success,’ and that was something the Indians were extremely good at.”
With a minor league opt-out upcoming, the Indians traded him to the Orioles for cash. Wojciechowski admitted the same data hasn’t been available to him since coming to Baltimore earlier this month, but he knows the organization’s new front office is working on upgrading the franchise in those areas.
He, too, is still searching for ways to improve. Wojciechowski has twice allowed homers on his changeup, his fourth offering, early in games and steered away from the pitch for the rest of the outing. He said the pitch was effective for him in June, and he’s working in bullpen sessions to rediscover it.
His three-pitch repertoire without it has been strong, though. The three highest swinging strike totals of his career have come in his past three starts, the latest featuring 10 strikeouts over 7 1/3 shutout innings against the Boston Red Sox in the best start the Orioles have received from any pitcher this year. He’ll follow up that performance Friday in Anaheim.
“Just got to use that as a springboard,” Wojciechowski said. “Don’t think about it too much. You’ve got to go back to work. I know especially throughout my career that you’ll have a good game and the next game will be extremely tough, so you’ll just try to build on that confidence to roll into the next start and then keep on going.”