In less than a month, Orioles pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Sarasota, Florida, to mark the start of spring training. Yet, there remains uncertainty as to whether that will happen as planned with the league’s owners continuing to lock out the players as the two sides plod toward a new collective bargaining agreement.
But as the lockout marches on, so too does Oriole of the Day, The Baltimore Sun’s series examining each member of the 40-man roster’s 2021 season and what’s ahead for them in 2022, assuming the league and the players’ union eventually come together.
In 2020, left-hander Keegan Akin became the first major league arrival in a wave of pitching prospects the Orioles’ front office inherited from the previous regime. His 2021 featured struggles with his command in spring training that caused him to miss the Opening Day roster, a kitchen incident that prompted more lost time, a stint on the league’s COVID-19-related injured list and — when he was healthy — inconsistent pitching for Baltimore.
2022 Opening Day age: 26, turns 27 on April 1
2021 stats: 6.63 ERA, 95 innings, 82 strikeouts, 1.579 WHIP, 19.2 K%, 9.4 BB%, 0.6 fWAR
Under team control through: 2026
2021 in review
Baltimore Orioles Insider
Number to know: .103. Akin certainly had a role to play in his final numbers, but he was in some ways one of the unluckiest pitchers in the league. Akin allowed a .348 batting average and .393 slugging percentage on groundballs, both of which were the highest among pitchers who allowed at least 100 of them. But according to Statcast’s expected metrics — which effectively predict the likelihood of a hit based on a batted ball’s exit velocity and launch angle — that batting average was .103 higher than expected, with the slugging percentage being .122 above expected. None of the other 170 qualified pitchers had an actual batting average or slugging percentage more than .100 above their expected values. Relatedly, Akin got the seventh-worst defensive performance from the infield behind him of any qualified pitcher, based on Statcast’s outs above average.
What was good: After spending much of the season in and out of the rotation, Akin’s final stretch before his season ended with a core injury was plenty serviceable. In his last six starts — about a third of his 2021 total — Akin posted a 4.02 ERA while limiting opponents to a slash line of .198/.291/.369. Five of those starts came against teams contending for playoff spots at the time. Although those numbers might not seem overly impressive, John Means and Dylan Bundy are the Orioles’ only other starters in the past five seasons with similar six-start efforts by ERA and average allowed, according to Baseball-Reference’s Stathead.
What wasn’t: Akin was the Orioles’ co-Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2018 after his deceptive fastball carried him to success in Double-A. The new front office kept him in Triple-A for all of 2019 to work on featuring his secondary pitches more. His 2021 season showed how much work remains for those offerings. By Statcast’s run value — which assigns each pitch thrown a value based on the impact it has toward scoring or preventing runs — Akin’s changeup and slider were among the five worst in the league. His slider was put in play at 95 mph or more nearly half the time, the seventh-highest rate of any pitcher’s breaking ball, per Statcast.
Looking ahead to 2022
Likely 2022 role: Major league starter or swingman.
What’s projected: Like many of the other inexperienced starters who will contend for rotation spots whenever the season begins, Akin’s role is undecided. A repeat of last spring training could again keep him off the roster, but behind Means and Jordan Lyles, the Orioles have three clear openings in the rotation. Based on number of appearances and innings, it seems neither Steamer nor ZiPS project Akin to spend the full season in the majors, though they both see the majority of his work when he is with Baltimore coming as a starter. Both systems suggest an increased strikeout rate, with hopes his walk rate will dip, as well.
A step forward: By run value, Akin’s fastball remains an above-average pitch, ranking as the best four-seamer among Orioles in 2021. Getting at least one of his secondary pitches to be an effective weapon remains the goal, as that could at least allow him to be a serviceable reliever. His hopes of remaining a starter with another wave of young pitching set to arrive in 2022 likely hinge on an improved repertoire.
Three up, three down
This series is ordered based on the WAR, as measured by FanGraphs, each member of Baltimore’s 40-man roster produced in 2021. The past three players featured in the series were Trey Mancini, Rougned Odor and Paul Fry. The Orioles due up next are Jorge Mateo, Dillon Tate and DJ Stewart.