Asher Wojciechowski, Tom Eshelman, and Aaron Brooks. If you could name all three of those pitchers coming into the 2019 season, you are a devout follower of baseball.
Thanks to injuries, a trade, and ineffectiveness, that trio of pitchers are in the Orioles’ starting rotation. Not one of them was in the organization before June. They said the rebuild would be difficult to watch at times. But the 2019 Orioles provide these three players with something they each need: opportunity.
Now that each of these newcomers to the O’s have a few appearances under their belt, I thought it would be useful to take a brief look at each one’s history, performance thus far, and prospects of contributing to the Orioles beyond this season.
Asher Wojciechowski was acquired by the Orioles from the Indians for cash considerations in the beginning of July. Prior to what was considered as a very minor trade, Wojciechowski pitched 78.2 innings in the major leagues over the course of two seasons (2015 and 2017). His career ERA at the highest level was 6.44, but he struck out over a batter per inning on average. He was the 41st overall pick in the 2010 draft out of The Citadel.
His time in Baltimore thus far provides a very small sample size: 38.2 innings over eight appearances and seven starts. Even though the bar in terms of career stats was set low, Wojciechowski has improved his performance across the board. His ERA is 4.89 and WHIP is 1.19. Most impressively, his already solid strikeout rate has gotten even better. He has struck out 10.9 batters per nine innings thus far. Baseball Reference rated his WAR as 0.9 going into last night’s game, not an insignificant number for a player whose appearances have been so limited.
SBNation’s Beyond the Box Score took notice of Wojciechowski’s strikeout numbers and dug deeper into them. Woj’s name is listed among players like Gerrit Cole, Chris Sale, Blake Snell, and Max Scherzer when discussing some swing and miss metrics. Currently, batters whiff on 30% of swings against him. That is mostly because of two hybrid breaking balls that have exceptional movement.
Despite missing so many bats, batters do damage when they do make contact. Opponents have “barrelled” 12.6% of batted balls, which puts Woj in the bottom 3% of the league. His average exit velocity and hard hit percentage against are both above league average.
Tom Eshelman provides an interesting contrast to Wojciechowski. He too was a high draft choice (second rounder) out of college. After being sent to Philadelphia in the Ken Giles trade, Eshelman posted an ERA of 2.40 between AA and AAA in 2017. But a disappointing 2018 (5.84 ERA) moved him down the organizational depth chart and he was traded to the Orioles in June.
Despite carrying the status of prospect in his minor league career, his overall minor leagues numbers were mediocre. In parts of five minor league seasons, his ERA was 4.19 and his WHIP was 1.34. Always a command-oriented pitcher, he walked a shade over two batters per game during his time in the minors while striking out 7.1. His first 27.2 innings in the majors have not been good either: 6.51 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, and 6.2 K/9 innings. He has been used to follow an opener, so calling him a starter may not be technically correct. But he has been asked to cover the bulk of his games’ innings.
Eshelman’s swing and miss stuff seems even worse after looking at Wojciechowski’s. His whiff rate of 15.9% is nearly ten points under the league average. When his pitches are in the strike zone, hitters make contact on 90% of their swings. Statcast rates Eshelman’s average fastball velocity of 85.2 MPH as in the bottom 1% of the league. The spin rate on his fastball and curveball are in the “0th percentile.” Ouch.
What does the best pitcher in Orioles history think when watching one of Eshelman’s appearances?
Palmer is unimpressed with Eshelman: "I know you don't want to bring up your young guys, but this is not major league stuff, and it hasn't been. He navigated through Anaheim, give him a lot of credit, but you're throwing 85, I don't know how you're gonna get people out."— Camden Chat (@CamdenChat) July 30, 2019
That’s pretty blunt.
Aaron Brooks is also a college pitcher, but lasted until the 9th round in the 2011 draft. He made appearances in 2014 and 2015 before reappearing in 2018. After breaking 2019 camp in Oakland’s rotation, he posted an ERA of 5.74. He found more success (3.79 ERA) after moving to the bullpen. The O’s claimed him off waivers in early July. Brooks’ career numbers are not good: ERA of 6.65, WHIP of 1.53, and K/9 of 6.7.
Like the previous two pitchers mentioned, Brooks’ sample size in Baltimore is very small. Through 19 innings covering five starts, his ERA of 6.63 is nearly identical to his career mark. He is still allowing over a baserunner and a half per inning.
Statcast shows that Brooks is getting above average movement on his changeup and sinker this year. His average fastball velocity of 92.1 MPH is below league average. Most importantly, he is also being hit very hard this season. His average exit velocity and hard hit percentage are both in the bottom third of the league.
Do the Orioles have anything in these three pitchers? Will any of them make contributions in 2020 and beyond? It is highly unlikely that any of them will make meaningful contributions as a starting pitcher. But Asher Wojciechowski is an intriguing bullpen option due to his ability to miss bats. In shorter outings, he could possibly increase his velocity and have even more success. The split stats support this; righties have hit .234 off him over his career, lefties .304. He is certainly the most promising of the three players mentioned here.
Brooks doesn’t miss bats and is hit fairly hard. The fact that he posted a 3.79 ERA after being moved to the Athletics’ bullpen this year suggests that becoming a useful reliever is best case scenario for him. But over the course of his career, his ERA out of the bullpen is also over six. As Mike Elias builds up the talent level in the organization and that talent rises to the major league level, Brooks will very likely be pushed out.
Tom Eshelman was acquired to provide innings for the Orioles this season. He offers next to no upside and simply doesn’t have the talent to get major league hitters out consistently. He could finish the season in the Orioles rotation, but his future in Baltimore is questionable.
Let’s hope that the time will soon come where the Orioles’ rotation is filled with talented homegrown players and that pitchers acquired off waivers or for cash considerations are no longer needed to cover innings.