In lieu of getting different pitchers, the Orioles pitching staff could improve in a simple way in 2018 by simply featuring different pitches more often.
All across baseball, there are stories of pitchers changing their pitch mix to more heavily feature something that's already in their arsenal, and transforming their careers — from Rich Hill's curveball-heavy renaissance to the handful of pitchers each year who start throwing a cutter or hard slider again.
Here are three pitches that could be featured more heavily by Orioles pitchers that might change each one's fortunes in 2018.
Kevin Gausman's slider
A pitch that Gausman has constantly tinkered with and needed to improve over the course of his career might’ve finally turned a corner in 2017. Though opponents hit .324 on the pitch in 2017 while he threw it 14.97 percent of the time overall thanks to a .404 average in the first half of the season, according to BrooksBaseball.com, that fell to .185 without an extra-base hit in the second half of the season. That coincided largely with the mechanical adjustment that got him in line toward the plate, changed his release point and improved his fastball command dramatically.
Gausman's potential has teased before, but considering how strongly he ended the season after a disastrous start, and how significant of a role his slider played in that resurgence, there's plenty of evidence that he's shown he's worth believing in one more time. Throwing his newly effective slider against right-handers more will do that.
Gabriel Ynoa's slider
Ynoa already threw his slider 37.2 percent of the time in 2017, according to BrooksBaseball.com, but a whiff rate of 18.4 percent and a .197 batting average against the pitch mean it was one of the most successful pitches any Orioles pitcher threw this year.
This could be skewed by the fact he faced a solely right-handed lineup in his Orioles debut against the Chicago White Sox in May, but any team lacking in left-handed bats should see a heavy dose of breaking balls from Ynoa next season. And even though lefties hit .280 off it last season, it can set up his changeup well against glove-side hitters.
Dylan Bundy's changeup
As the Orioles' promising young right-hander reintroduced his slider to his repertoire in 2017, the pitch he once added in its place — his changeup — took a backseat. The pitch was a weapon when he was a fastball/curveball/changeup pitcher as a reliever, as he threw it 19.9 percent of the time in 2016 but 13.7 percent of the time last season.
It was an effective ground-ball pitch that elicited swings 56.1 percent of the time and whiffs 13.6 percent of the time. While he was prone to allow home runs off it, opponents batted .229 on the pitch. According to FanGraphs, he got the sixth-most value out of the pitch in all of baseball. Bundy could make himself a more complete pitcher, especially against lefties, by throwing the pitch more often.
NOTE: The Orioles announced game times for their 2018 home schedule Thursday. First pitch for Opening Day against the Minnesota Twins on Thursday, March 29 will be at 3:05 p.m.
The most significant change is that Sunday home games at Camden Yards have been moved to 1:05 p.m. They previously began a half-hour later.
All other games will begin at 7:05 p.m., with the exception of four weekday games — Wednesday, May 16 (12:35 p.m.), Monday, May 28 (1:05 p.m.), Thursday, June 13 (3:05 p.m.) and Thursday, June 28 (3:05 p.m.) — and three Saturday home games in June, which will all begin at 4:05 p.m.
The Orioles end the regular season at home against Houston Astros with the final game, on Sunday, September 30, beginning at a league-wide start time of 3:05 p.m.