Alas, it is finally here! Spring training has begun, and this will be the final Monday Thoughts article before exhibition games start this Sunday!
However, I have a few things I’d like to cover in this first week of spring.
1. Matt Harvey raises a lot of hope about the Orioles analytical department, John Means proves it.
First off, I want to be clear. I know Matt Harvey didn’t sign with the Orioles because he thinks he can be the super ace again, competing for a World Series title.
In a very interesting article by Jon Meoli of The Baltimore Sun, Meoli describes Harvey’s thought process and reasoning for joining the Orioles. While working out in a facility in New Jersey, Harvey found a new love for data. Simply put, Harvey is putting his faith into analytics to produce the most efficient success, while believing Baltimore is a hot spot to learn more about data-driven baseball.
That statement is very good to hear as fans, as well as enlightening. Data-driven baseball really has taken over, and the Orioles truly are a dark horse when it comes to using this data. Beyond Matt Harvey learning to use data to pitch effectively without a 95 mph fastball, many pitchers in our organization have thrived from this data, especially John Means.
“Between using the TrackMan and using those cameras that they use now, that’s obviously something that they do here pretty frequently,” Harvey said. “[Orioles pitching coach] Chris Holt has studied that very well and knows a lot about it. … It seems like they knew what I was doing wrong the last couple years. It was a good fit to try to get me back to throwing the way I did before.” – Matt Harvey.
John Means, since his debut, has been a data-driven pitcher. His key is his killer changeup that plays off his fastball. After his rookie All-Star season, Means went further with the analytics to see that raising his fastball speed would help his changeup.
In 2020, we saw a fastball from Means that averaged 2-3 mph more than in 2019. In 2019 Means struck out 50 batters with this four-seamer in 251 plate appearances. In 2020, with only 77 plate appearances, Means struck out 28 batters. That is better than half of that 2019 number in less than a third of the amount of at-bats.
Once he got that fastball under control for the second half of 2020, that data showed on the field. In the second half, Means had 34 of his 42 strikeouts, which was aided by playing his fastball off of his changeup and vice versa.
On a analytical note, it was bliss. The increase in velocity difference between the two pitches created a bigger difference when you look at how perfectly the same his release point is for each pitch, creating a disadvantage for the hitter. When the fastball is quicker, it becomes harder to slow down for the changeup and vice versa, especially when both pitches come out of the hand exactly the same.
For the fans who haven’t seen the data become a factor yet, look into John Means from 2019 to now in 2021.
2. Keep an eye on these players in Spring Training
Trey Mancini: A very obvious choice here, but nonetheless, Trey Mancini will be a name to watch as games start this Sunday. A year since his removal before an exhibition game last season, Mancini will be seeing the field for the first time again since his cancer treatment. He arrived to camp before pitchers and catchers, and so far has shown zero signs that point to him being anything less than the Orioles MVP he was before his diagnosis and treatment. As Mike Elias said earlier in the offseason, Trey will primarily play first base, and we should be seeing a lot of that this coming spring. That to me is something to keep my eye on.
Adley Rutschman: The former number one pick in 2019 is edging closer and closer to his debut. This spring marks the first time we will see him in a professional environment that isn’t an impromptu alternate site since last spring. After working at the alternate site all of last season, I am very excited to see the growth in our top prospect. Last spring wasn’t eye-opening for Adley, as he went 1-for-7 with a single and a walk. After hearing people like Dean Kremer and Ryan Mountcastle stating how much that alternate camp with the top level prospects helped them in their debuts, that gives me a lot of hope that Adley will really come into his own this spring.
Tyler Nevin: Since coming to the Orioles as a part of the Mychal Givens trade with the Rockies, Tyler Nevin has sat comfortably at the 23rd spot on the Orioles’ top prospect list. The 6-foot-4 corner infielder could be someone we see make his debut in 2021. With lingering uncertainty at third base, Nevin has a good chance to turn some necks in spring, all while making a case to see time at the major league level. Known in the minor leagues for exceptional players discipline, Nevin can thrive in a hitter-friendly park like Camden Yards. Nevin owns a .286 minor league average with a .802 OPS. Also, Nevin has a fielding and arm grade of 50, which raises a lot of hope that we will see some defensive prowess from this kid in spring. Tyler Nevin is certainly a dark horse for me that we need to watch this spring.
3. Heston Kjerstad will arrive late to camp
After being drafted second overall by the Orioles in 2020, Heston Kjerstad was kept out of the alternate camp due to a non-baseball-related medical issue. It has been revealed that Kjerstad battled episodes of myocarditis last summer and fall, thus keeping him away from baseball. In the recovery of those episodes, Kjerstad is expected to arrive late to camp; however, exactly when is not clear yet.
We hope for the best for Heston and cannot wait to see him at some point this spring!
What are your thoughts about our Orioles as we start spring training? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to follow The Baltimore Battery on the web and on Facebook and Twitter!