Ask any amount of random baseball fans to name one thing about the Baltimore Orioles as a team and organization. From a good amount of those fans, you’ll hear about the organizations woes when it comes to starting pitchers over the last few decades.
Those fans would be correct.
Would you believe the Orioles have quite possibly found and groomed the most exciting arm to don the black and orange since Mike Mussina, in the middle of a rebuild?
Well you should, because John Means has done more than enough to put himself on the map as the Orioles’ ace and as a top tier pitcher across the league in general.
Means never was a highly touted prospect while he made his way through the Orioles system. He was drafted in the 11th round in 2014 and didn’t see any Double-A action until 2016. In his one appearance during the 2018 season, his Major League debut, Means gave up five runs in 3.1 innings of work to the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox.
Nonetheless, Means was still given the ball come 2019, and it was a great decision. In his rookie campaign, a great first half earned him the sole Orioles All-Star Game selection. After his first full season, Means came second in Rookie of the Year voting behind Yordon Alvarez of the Houston Astros.
He was pretty good, but not great. Up to that point at the end of the 2019 season, Means was the owner of a 3.60 ERA in 155 innings pitched. Pretty good, but not great. To be honest, his All-Star Game selection was undoubtedly helped due to the fact the Orioles had virtually no body worthy of All-Star status on that 2019 roster besides Trey Mancini.
What you look for in a young pitcher after a breakout season is adjustments and improvements. Unfortunately, no young pitchers have ever dealt with an offseason quite like the one that preceded the 2020 season. A cancellation of spring training and late start to the regular season threw everybody off. It hit Means especially hard, as he had to resort to throwing fastballs against a mattress just to get in some work.
When the season finally started in July, it was a rough patch for Means. His fastball had reached new heights of 96-97 mph; however, he couldn’t control it. The beginning of the shortened year was the low point of his career so far. An ERA of 4.53 after 10 games was a lot better than it could have been after his first six starts. What happened prior to his last four, and into his seven starts this year, is adjustments and improvements.
In his last 11 starts dating back to last year, Means has pitched to a 1.42 ERA in 69.2 innings. Since the starts of 2020, he has a 0.912 WHIP and a 8.92 SO/9, both better than his 2019 numbers.
What Means has been able to do really well since last season, which shows in his stats, is the ability to use his pitches the way they are and utilize his off-speed to get weak contact and strikeouts. But he has to get ahead of hitters and throw strikes first, which he has done.
So far in 2021, Means has appeared in 46 innings. In those 46 innings, he has struck out 50 batters, which is good for a 29% strikeout rate, 10% higher than his 2019 total and 7% higher than league average for a whole season.
Along with an increase in Ks, his ground ball rate is higher than it’s been in his career, except for last year by a few points. His average exit velocity against is also the lowest it’s ever been at 86 mph.
If you have listened to Means and his coaching staff speak about his stuff, you’ve heard a lot of the same thing. His fastball needs to be thrown for strikes early so the curveball and deadly changeup can be used to fool hitters, increase strikeouts, and decrease the amount of good, hittable pitches. If you have watched him pitch, you see how that formula can work.
After making adjustments and improvements on his arsenal halfway through last year, Means has truly found a mix of three great pitches that can be used against any lineup. And those adjustments that have made Means a true ace and the results that have followed seriously need to be respected.
He features a mid-90s fastball that doesn’t have to be too fast, but his changeup is so nasty that hitters really don’t know which is coming until it’s too late. Or, he will just bury a beautiful 12-6 curveball in the dirt that started at the hitter’s chest.
On May 5, 2021, Means penciled himself into the Orioles’ history books, along with Major League Baseball’s as well. His no-hit game against the Seattle Mariners was the 10th in Orioles’ history, the first individual no-no since Jim Palmer in 1969 and the first ever to feature no walks, hit batters, or errors. The sole base runner came via a dropped third strike on one of Means’ 12 strikeouts.
This no-hit start embodied everything Means has done to make himself a better pitcher since last year, while also showing why he is a premier pitcher in general. Great command of his fast ball, especially working into the right-handed hitters on the inside corner, really kept the Mariners’ hitters uncomfortable.
Due to throwing 26 out of 27 first pitch strikes, mostly with that fastball, Means was able to use his curveball and changeup to completely fool hitters, while also keeping those pitches in spots that no one could ever actually hit. And it worked like a charm, as it has for his last 11 starts.
I don’t want to go out and say John Means is better than Gerrit Cole and end up as a joke on MLB Twitter in the A.M. What I mean to say, pun intended, is that John Means has shown everything imaginable since 2019 to justify his rank as a top pitcher in the league and a guy who the Orioles and their fans should be MORE than exuberant about.
The future is bright for John, and we mean it!
What do think about John’s start to the season so far? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to follow The Baltimore Battery on the web and on Facebook and Twitter!