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Alec Asher is an unexpectedly good find for the Orioles

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Picked up for next to nothing, Asher’s filled both starter and reliever roles with quiet effectiveness. Asher may not be a spectacle, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t fun to watch.

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

Watching Alec Asher last night in the bottom of the 8th inning, the big-browed righty snuck a pitch past Matt Wieters that was the baseball equivalent of LeBron James dunking over some rookie second-round schlep.

You know, the kind of pitch that makes you aggressively nudge the person next to you like a jaw-dropped Elaine Benes.

Like, what are you supposed to do with a two-seamer that looks like it will miss on the inside, but ends up devouring the corner of the plate? Nothing, that’s what. Though Michael Taylor sent the next pitch over the fence for a two-run dinger on a get-me over first pitch fastball, Asher was really, really good yet again.

As Dan Duquette’s masterful plot to stock the Norfolk shuttle with pretty solid cast-offs has now leaked into the regular season, we’ve seen the contributions of Gabriel Ynoa, Logan Verrett, Richard Bleier actually become meaningful. On a grander scale, the introduction of Asher into the Orioles mix has not only provided value, but he’s looked like someone worth more than the cost of a player whose name we don’t even know yet.

One of the more admirable things about Asher is his ability to work the corners, and the way he implements the movement on the hard stuff.

The above reflects Asher’s two-seam and cutter usage, showing a guy who runs the two-seam away from lefties and into righties on his arm side of the plate, while using the cutter to jam righties and to manipulate the corner away from lefties. Asher isn’t really a fly ball or ground ball pitcher per se. He’s always been a mixed bag. However, one of the things this shift to to the corners has created is a spike in strikeouts.

Up to a 16.4 percent strikeout rate his season from a career 11.6 percent mark, Asher is predominantly using his assortment of fastballs more than 75 percent of the time. While he’s not using his changeup nearly as much—down to 6.8% from 17.1% last season—Asher’s curveball has also been demoted from a starring role to backup understudy duties.

More fastballs, less off-speed stuff, and pretty average velocity isn’t necessarily a perfect recipe for more swings and misses. But Asher is doing things he wasn’t doing before, like varying his fastballs.

The PITCHf/x data shows that Asher has reintroduced his four-seam fastball at close to a 40 percent rate, way, way up from the 9.0 percent he showed it a season ago. For Asher though, that number be skewed.

The available data also relays that Asher has added a cutter to his repertoire, a pitch being thrown only 3.7% of the time. It feels like he’s throwing it more though, like he did when he froze Anthony Rendon last night.

That my friends, is not a four-seam fastball. Asher has the baseball leveraged in a manner typical of the cutter grip, and it’s a pitch that the eye suggests has been getting more use than the data may lead us to believe.

Because the movement can be subtle, it’s likely his cutter usage has gotten lost in the clutter of his four-seam data. For example, the pitch above was classified as a four-seamer by Baseball Savant. That isn’t a detriment to the wonders the site provides, but it does show that Asher’s attempts and execution in bending the baseball to wishes isn’t being represented.

Exhibit A.

Asher gets behind White Sox catcher Geovany Soto 2-0, and obviously down by four runs, Soto is looking to cash in on a fastball over the plate. He gets one, but not the one he thinks it is. Asher’s cutter veers left away from Soto, forcing a lame duck ground ball to end the inning. That’s a big boy pitch in that count and location, showing Asher is testifying to the belief that movement within the zone supersedes any need for velocity.

All of this trust in his fastball movement has also effected how Asher has maneuvered the perimeter of the plate.

Alec Asher Plate Discipline

Plate Discipline O-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Contact% Zone%
Plate Discipline O-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Contact% Zone%
2015-16 29.00% 46.60% 73.50% 85.60% 45.90%
2017 26.30% 40.50% 60.9%% 80.70% 40.50%

Given Asher can run the fastball back over the plate and cut it with newfound inspiration, Asher hasn’t had to be around the plate as much. His overall frequency of strikes has dropped, though so has hitters ability to contact anything off the plate. Such a strategy suggests that Asher is disguising potential balls as strikes, while tricking hitters into swinging at would-be strikes.

Movement allows this to work, and it’s especially so for someone whose repeatable delivery allows this to become a reality. Think Ubaldo Jimenez, but with more strikes.

Duquette has certainly had his follies, but as he picked up the phone at every turn this offseason, he was getting a lot of very good info. Ynoa looks like a solid two-seam, slider guy with better than expected velocity. Bleier was thrown to the wolves after Kevin Gausman was inexplicably tossed in the 2nd inning, but he showed some guts at Fenway. While Asher has had the biggest role among the newbies to this point, there’s probably good reason for it.

He looks like he knows how to pitch.