Player Profiles 2020: Baltimore Orioles Starting Pitchers

Nick Pollack analyzes the Baltimore Orioles rotation for 2020 with in-depth player profiles.

Throughout the winter months of the offseason, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2020. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2020 hub here.

 

Orioles At A Glance

After the departures of Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausmanthe Orioles are getting thinner and thinner at the SP position. Their 2019 was filled with a few surprises of fantasy relevancy in John Means and Asher Wojciechowski, but a legit ace is still a ways away. Don’t ignore the potential of those two arms in 2020, for possible volume in Means or a chance at a strikeout explosion in Wojciechowski. Otherwise, you’re fine taking a pass on this team that is unlikely to have a 15+ game winner.

 

 

John MeansLocked Starter

Nickname: The Middle Ground

 

2019 In Review

We didn’t expect a whole lot from Means as a soft fastball/changeup tosser, but he showcased plus ability to get strikeouts with his changeup, while going on surprising stretches of dominance. Stretches that hinted at far worse, and a longer season would have likely dropped his ERA from 3.60 to well past the 4.00 mark, but there’s a question of relevance here as long as his changeup does its thing.

 

Fastball (51% usage)

Means needs this pitch to be just fine. Nothing special, just fine. For the most part, it was in 2019, returning a .777 OPS and finding the zone over 50% of the time as it sat 92 mph. He does a decent job of placing it where he wants to, removed from the volatility we’ve seen in many other young arms, but the pitch does little to grant confidence to owners. It won’t blow past batters and brings along too many Jeremy Hellickson comparisons that we don’t want in the slightest.

 

Changeup (29% usage)

I often like to say that inside every single pitcher’s repertoire, there is a pitch that makes them a major leaguer. Ah, so that’s why they’re here. Look no further than Means’ slow ball, a pitch that allowed just a .206 BAA on 776 pitches, and came oh-so-close to hitting the vaunted Money Pitch thresholds: 39% O-Swing, 49% Zone rate, and a 14% SwStr clip. Regardless of the lack of coveted label, Means used the pitch in all situations, allowing his fastball to play up more than it should.

Don’t be shocked if Means pushes the pitch’s usage well over the 30% mark in 2020, even closer to 40%. I don’t think it’s good enough to propel Means to another 3.60 ERA season, but any question of his production in fantasy leagues is on the back of this changeup’s success.

 

Slider (14% usage)

Means’ fastball is average, and his changeup is plus. This slide piece? Surprisingly slightly above average. Nothing exceptional – 32% O-Swing and 13% SwStr rate – but he used it effectively to induce a .538 OPS and a near-40% zone rate. That’s good enough for a third pitch.

I don’t expect its .172 BAA to stick next year, but at a 15% usage rate, it can still surprise batters and be effective in his repertoire.

 

Curveball (6% usage)

Unlike his slider, this breaker should be ignored entirely. Means tries to sneak it in early in counts for a called strike, but if the hitter is ready, they make him pay. Means allowed three longballs off the hook in just 158 thrown last season, earning only 11 total whiffs. Expect the pitch to fade from his toolbelt.

 

2020 Outlook

Don’t count out Means as a possible innings-eater for fantasy teams next year. The ceiling here is a Toby, while the normal day-to-day will likely be a consideration as a streaming option, especially in Quality Start leagues. 2019’s 3.60 ERA seems like a tough mark to match again, but a decent 4.00 ERA season could help in some leagues.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.50 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 17% K rate in 160 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.50 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 22% K rate in 190 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant John Means 2020 projection:

4.10 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 20% K rate in 180 IP

 

Alex CobbLocked Starter

Nickname: Corn. Just Corn.

 

2019 In Review

Cobb pitched just 12.1 innings in 2019, 12 of the most forgettable innings you’ll ever find. A hip injury took out Cobb for the rest of the season, though we never had high expectations in the first place given his 4.90 ERA across 150+ frames in 2018. Cobb barely pitched last season, and we all said “okay.”

Note: All usage rates are pulled from Cobb’s 2018 season.

 

Fastball (52% usage)

Cobb has been a sinkerballer for as long as he’s been around, and save for a pair of fortunate seasons, it has rarely served him well. Its slight jump in velocity to 92+ mph was a welcome sight, but its low 22% O-Swing tells you all you need about its questionable approach. There isn’t much upside to chase here if Cobb isn’t getting whiffs (3% SwStr!) or weak contact out of the zone.

 

Changeup (26% usage)

There was a time that we really liked this pitch, known as The Thing for its splitter-grip and a fantastic 21 pVal in 2014. However, the pitch has disappeared at times while losing its former magic when utilized in recent years. Previously sitting at a 18%+ SwStr, a dip to 14% in 2018 paired with a plethora of mistakes led to us reminiscing of days gone by.

If Cobb were to become relevant again, he’ll need a good amount of luck with his heat and The Thing to frighten us all once again.

 

Curveball (22% usage)

It can be rough with a middling heater and inconsistent split-changeup, so Cobb leans on his curveball to find outs. It doesn’t help things.

The hook returned a horrid -15 pVal across just 535 pitches, a product of a 1.068 OPS allowed and just 8% SwStr rate. I’d say don’t throw it, but there just isn’t anything else to use.

 

2020 Outlook

Realistic worst case projection: 5.00+ ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 13% K rate in 90 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 4.50 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 18% K rate in 180 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Alex Cobb 2020 projection:

4.90 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 15% K rate in 150 IP

 

Asher WojciechowskiLocked Starter

Nickname: A-Bomb

 

2019 In Review

A name lost in the past, Wojciechowski shocked us all with his return to the mound in 2019, peaking in a 10-strikeout performance hosting the Red Sox in Camden Yards. His moments of bliss fueled by a brand new cutter and improved slider made us wonder what a full season in the rotation would look like. His meteoric rise in the ranks fell swiftly after injuries and self-confessed fatigue in September, but now comfortable in the Orioles’ rotation, how does a healthy Wojciechowski perform in 2020?

 

Fastball (54% usage)

Wojciechowski’s four-seamer is the quintessential “please don’t hit me” heater that he hopes to steal strikes with and set up his secondary stuff. Its 92 mph velocity doesn’t allow for impressive whiff numbers, and an .863 OPS allowed tells you enough about its hitability.

Still, when his slider and cutter are working, the heater is good enough with batters on their heels. It’s not wise to anticipate increased velocity, but if Asher were to take that leap, there is certainly enough to propel him with his secondary stuff.

 

Slider (25% usage)

This slider (I think it’s more like a curveball, personally) made us so giddy when Wojciechowski lit up the league in July. He was able to position the pitch perfectly at the bottom of the zone or under it, inducing a terribly high O-Swing and plenty of whiffs. Then…it got plenty worse as fatigue set in for September, bringing the season marks to a 39% O-Swing, 43% Zone rate, and 14% SwStr rate. Close to a money pitch (it was prior!), but the consistency wasn’t there.

Assuming health and stamina, expect to see this pitch endlessly through the year, carving up batters for a 40%+ strikeout rate. If he’s successful, here’s your reason why.

 

Cutter (19% usage)

While his slider went in-and-out, the real hero of the year was Wojciechowski’s cutter. The pitch did everything – 17% SwStr, 42% zone rate, .648 OPS allowed and a near-40% O-Swing.

With a questionable heater and excellent results inside the zone, anticipate a rise in cutter usage at the expense of four-seamers in 2020. It’s the pitch that opens the door for devastation in his slider and with an improved front office in Baltimore leaning on progressive development, it’s fathomable he’ll be pushed in a secondary-heavy approach.

 

Changeup (2% usage)

Let’s not talk about Wojciechowski’s changeup. He probably doesn’t want us to. It allowed a 2.600 OPS and held a -2.6 pVal in just 33 thrown. Ouch.

 

2020 Outlook

Wojciechowski is sure to come at a heavy discount in March drafts, given his lack of track record, end-of-season fatigue, and lack of Wins and spotlight in Baltimore. There could be opportunity for value here if Wojciechowski were to lean on his slider and cutter heavily, featuring the command we saw in July.

Monitor his early outings in April as a back-end 12-teamer starter is a space on the roulette wheel.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.80 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 20% K rate in 80 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.90 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 25% K rate in 190 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Asher Wojciechowski 2020 projection:

4.20 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 23% K rate in 160 IP

 

David HessFringe

Nickname: The Truck

 

2020 Outlook

With a slider that grabs your eye, there is something in Hess that makes him intriguing. Unfortunately, there isn’t much else, and while Hess is sure to get his share of starts this year given the lack of options for the Orioles, he sure isn’t someone to consider in any sense for your fantasy teams.

 

Dean Kremer – Fringe

Nickname: Half-And-Half

 

2020 Outlook

Kremer could get an early crack at major-league batters, but with his struggles in Triple-A, it’s hard to imagine him succeeding out the gate. Check out JT Kohout’s rundown of him here, detailing his potential ceiling.

 

Keegan Akin – Fringe

Nickname: Like A Toby

 

2020 Outlook

Having pitched in Triple-A last season, there’s a decent chance Akin gets his opportunity for the Orioles early this year. Sadly, as Kohout described, there isn’t a whole lot of upside to chase. Ignore him for 12-teamers and most 15-teamers.

 

Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Nick Pollack

Founder of Pitcher List. Rotographs contributor. Worked with CBS Sports, Grantland, Washington Post, and SB Nation. Former pitching coach and Brandeis alum.

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