In the before time, the long long ago, I was never one to look forward to watching Orioles pitching. A mutual feeling, I'm sure.
The adolescent me thought because Daniel Cabrera threw really hard, he'd be really good. Wrong. ESPN was kind of excited for Hayden Penn's call-up, so he must've been pretty good. Oh. Yeah. Definitely wrong. That Jake Arrieta flashed some pretty good stuff HEY! Very uncalled for I know, but, even with Chicago's bearded wonder posting zeros every fifth day, the Orioles are doing alright. It certainly isn't what it used to be.
I had the pleasure of watching Kevin Gausman pitch at Target Field on Tuesday, and other than a hanging slider to Trevor Plouffe in the 6th inning, he pitched wonderfully. Perhaps Gausman is moving onward to stardom. Maybe he is Baltimore's Luke Skywalker, not Anakin. Chris Tillman appears to be undergoing a career renaissance, throwing harder, showing more favoritism towards his changeup than curveball. Ubaldo has been good Ubaldo more so than bad Ubaldo to this point of the season, and at the risk of deactivating the mojo, we can't say he's been a detriment. Mike Wright has been "meh", and Yovani Gallardo may as well be filed under "N/A" until we see how he fairs post-tendinitis.
And then there's Tyler Wilson.
Over the past year or so, Wilson has found himself in "Snubsville", population him, bro. He spot-started five times in 2015, tossing a 3.50 ERA in 36 innings. Despite a 8.7 K% and a lot of balls in play, Wilson looked the part. He maneuvered through games whether starting or in relief with more efficiency than most of his counterparts, though his services never seemed to be much desired. He pitched when he was needed, and he did it well.
And this spring, he again pitched well, though his semi-demotion to the bullpen on Opening Day never really struck a root of sense. Wilson said no matter, bridging three scoreless innings that night en route to an Orioles win. His consistency has remained, as Wilson has accrued a 2.93 ERA in 30.2 innings, including seven solid innings yesterday afternoon. When you watch Wilson pitch, there is nothing electric in what he brings. His average fastball velocity sits at 90.1 MPH. He has an OK changeup that bites downward a bit. He gets a little bit of run on his two-seam fastball, but not much. He won't inspire a generational revolution in the art of pitching, or even make pitching look cool. But that doesn't mean he doesn't know how to pitch. That he can do.
For someone such as Kevin Gausman, who rose through Colorado's prep ranks as well as the SEC relying on a freakish fastball, can only mask deeper issues for so long. To Gausman's credit, he's developed a steadier breaking ball to play off of his fastball and splitter. Velocity, and understandably why, is coveted because it makes hitting a baseball that much more difficult. For someone like Wilson, who's never had the mid-to-plus 90's fastball, his perceived slight is indeed no slight at all. In a world where heat is all the rage, the original fundamentals upon which pitching was intended is how Wilson continues to be a pesky little pitcher.
In what would surely be the first sacrament of the pitching bible, command reigns supreme. For someone such as Wilson, who needs to command the strike zone rather than control it, has remained steadfast in his personal repertoire.
Wilson is rather tricky in how he goes about his business. A lot of fastballs around the inner-half of the plate to righties and away to lefties, and as you can see, he tends to work the bottom of the strike zone. When Wilson works away from righties, it's usually his curveball. Though when working in to righties, he prefers the changeup. My favorite pitching nerd, Eno Sarris of Fangraphs, recently wrote about righties' slow shift towards more changeups down and in to righties, a strategy Wilson has mimicked. Mixing fastballs and change ups on the same plane can turn the baseball into a mirage. As Wilson continues to do, commanding both sides of the plate with his fastball and changeup, his less than desirable 8 MPH difference on the two pitches can still work.
You see here, for example, how Wilson uses the changeup drifting away from lefties. Danny Santana actually puts a pretty solid swing on a pitch floating away from him, but it's all part of the plan. Ahead in the count, Wilson throws a pitch that out of his hand looks hittable, but the changeup couldn't have been placed in Caleb Joseph's glove more perfectly if he had walked to the plate and dropped it in himself. The pitch floats just enough, forcing Santana just far enough on his front foot to create an easy enough play for Jonathan Schoop to make in his sleep. That pitch, in a microcosm, is how Wilson has managed to post the numbers he has.
Doing just enough to fade the timing of the guy in the box is why his BABIP sits at .232, he surrenders less than a home run per nine innings, and why his soft-hit percentage has risen from 12.9% in 2015 to 26.9% in his appearances this season (excluding yesterday's start). There are those who believe Khaleesi's BABIP dragons are not be trifled with, though Wilson shows you how a number partnered with being lucky or unlucky carries no luck at all. An 0-1 changeup to Danny Santana, when executed as Caleb Joseph hopes, can't be married to chance. This is how you pitch with less-than-stellar stuff, and that's how you make a habit of winning.
Again, to Brian Dozier in an 0-2 count, Wilson tempts Dozier to a hittable pitch, but forces the power-hitting second baseman to swing on his terms. It isn't up to Wilson for Dozier to do the only thing he can on such a breaking ball and take it to right field. Dozier, like Santana, is leaning forward ever so slightly to remove any threat of harm, and like Santana, Dozier probably hit the baseball as well as he could have. Still, Wilson doesn't waste a curveball in the dirt or try to sneak a fastball up in and in. He puts the pressure on Dozier to be productive behind in the count.
The art of changing speeds and command still works, even though we're seeing starting pitching jump in velocity. As Jim Palmer says, hitting is timing and pitching is the disruption of his timing. Whether you throw 99 or 89, the philosophy is the same. When a pitcher can change speeds AND locate, that's when you have something.
I was never glued to the TV when Sidney Ponson pitched, or even when my short-lived mancrush with Brad Bergesen still lingered. Though now, to some extent, I look forward to seeing the Orioles' pitching probable. "Gausman". "Tillman". "Jimenez?". As an Ubaldo apologist, OK.
As someone who can't help but fall into the underdog camp, I certainly enjoy seeing "Wilson" too.