Baltimore Orioles

Orioles reset: Impact on O’s uncertain as debate over pitchers using sticky stuff roils on

Earlier this week, during his first and so-far only in-person media availability of the season, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde deferred to what will be an imminent memo from MLB on how the league will begin enforcing the long-standing rule on banning foreign substances from being applied to the baseball by pitchers.

He did so again Sunday, and said amid reports and research that show pitchers’ spin rates are declining across the game since MLB started threatening enforcement of that rule that he hasn’t seen any changes in any of his pitchers on that front.


The whole approach is reminiscent of when baseball spent most of spring training in 2020 talking about the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal and, with a roster light on heavyweights whose opinions matter, no one really bothered to ask anyone on the Orioles about it or cared much what they said when they were asked.

But it’s naive to think that whatever changes are coming to the game won’t affect the Orioles, who have as much riding on their pitching development program as anything else.


When foreign substances and their impact on spin rate, which helps determine how pitches rise and fall and ultimately miss bats, started to become a storyline in the game, one of the earliest salvos was star pitcher Trevor Bauer essentially accusing the Houston Astros of using foreign substances to enhance spin back in 2018.

That’s the boundary-pushing front office whose successes in player development and data-driven decision making helped land Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal atop the Orioles front office, and also where their current major league pitching coach and director of pitching Chris Holt got his break into professional baseball.

Holt, since arriving with the new front office ahead of the 2019 season, has been instrumental in not only setting the course for how Orioles pitching prospects progress and improve but how their major league pitchers refine their pitches as well. His background in working with pitchers’ deliveries and focusing on hand and wrist position has helped create new and better off-speed pitches and breaking balls for Orioles pitchers, namely All-Star John Means.

Those more natural ways of finding the ideal spin on a secondary pitch have merit, but over the past month, Major League Baseball’s determination to address this problem that has at the very least been ignored and more accurately has been tacitly encouraged has made it so the planned enforcement on foreign substances is now overshadowing any other way pitchers can get better.

According to reports from ESPN and The Athletic, MLB will use umpires to check pitchers during breaks in the action. Most of the reporting on the subject has included the notion that MLB has been putting its plans out there in theory before they put them into practice so pitchers and teams can clean up their act and stop any enforcements from needing to happen at all.

Since then, some pitchers have drastically seen their spin rates go down. It’s an easy correlation to make, though it’s certainly early yet to determine through MLB’s Statcast data whether there are any drastic, lasting changes to how the ball moves out of individual Orioles pitchers hands since MLB began leaking its threats to the media last week.

It’s difficult to compare individual data for two months with that of a week and a half, and in some instances, pitchers appeared to have steep declines in their average fastball and breaking ball spin rates after one outing but those somewhat normalized after a second outing. Others have just one outing, but significant drops, while others have no change at all.

For what’s essentially a week’s worth of outings, it’s hard to glean too much from an average number when the maximum and minimum spin rate on a given pitch on a given day can vary by hundreds of rpm.


As a team, through the games June 2, when MLB started making noise about policing the rule on the books, the Orioles had an average four-seam fastball spin rate of 2,319 rpm.

It was down to 2,280 rpm from June 3 through Saturday, though it’s worth noting that the smaller second sample features no starts from Means (left shoulder sprain) — who has the Orioles’ highest four-seam fastball spin-rate average at 2,425 rpm.

The league’s four-seam spin rate averaged 2,313 rpm until June 2 and 2,291 rpm from that date on.

On Monday, Orioles reliever Tanner Scott said the pitchers “don’t really talk about it,” as whatever MLB does is out of their hands.

“I really don’t [have any thoughts],” Scott said. “If someone uses it, they use it. If not, they don’t use it. We’re going out there and just trying to compete. That’s all I’ve got on that.”

Before long, MLB will announce how it will enforce such a ban on substances and Hyde will be able to give his thoughts on something concrete. He will hope, however, that his own personal experience with it ends there.


What’s to come?

The Orioles’ difficult stretch without a day off until July continues with four chances in Cleveland to break their club-record 15-game road losing streak.

They haven’t won away from Camden Yards since Means’ no-hitter in Seattle on May 5.

The remainder of the Orioles’ 13 games in June are against the hot-hitting Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros.

What was good?

Tyler Wells’ scoreless June has been impressive, but really since the beginning of May, Wells has done a lot of things well in the Orioles bullpen.

He allowed four home runs in 40 plate appearances with a 48% hard-hit rate with 11 strikeouts against three walks in April, according to MLB’s Statcast data, and in 77 plate appearances since, he’s allowed two home runs while striking out 24 and walking five with a 29% hard-hit rate.

It takes a lot longer to graduate to a late-inning role than a few good weeks, even in this Orioles bullpen. Wells has done most of his pitching in losing and low-leverage situations, and the Orioles will probably gain more by letting him simply get his work in after barely pitching in the last few seasons than pushing him beyond what would be a reasonable role for a rookie Rule 5 pick.


Either way, they won’t spit on a reliever who doesn’t give up runs very often. Wells is turning into that, it seems.

What wasn’t?

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When a pitcher has a game like Matt Harvey did against the New York Mets on Wednesday and lays into himself with a foul-mouthed but honest assessment of his outing, it’s often the best move possible at that point. No one really wants to hear about how unlucky a few plays might have been or what shred of encouragement might endure for their next start after allowing seven runs in three innings, and Harvey rightfully didn’t go that direction. Kudos to him for that.

That said, it’s been hard to see how his season has gone off the rails since his first start against the Mets a month ago. Since he allowed seven runs against his former club May 12, Harvey has made six starts with a 14.19 ERA in 19 2/3 innings with a 2.39 WHIP and 22 strikeouts. The Orioles don’t really have any alternatives to letting Harvey try to figure it out in their rotation, at least through this month. But the dream of flipping him at the end of July in a trade for a return of any value is almost entirely diminished.

On the farm

Double-A Bowie has been on the road for the past two weeks, but the Baysox return home Tuesday night with top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez on the mound and are allowing fans to bring new, unused gas cans to the ballpark to, well, celebrate the hard-throwing righty’s gas.

Rodriguez, who Baseball America has as its top pitching prospect in all of baseball as of last week, has pitched twice for the Baysox since his promotion from High-A Aberdeen on June 1 and has allowed one run on six hits and four walks with 14 strikeouts.



Tuesday, 7:10 p.m.

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