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How Dillon Tate’s numbers may have fooled us

Glancing at his ERA, the former fourth-overall pick had a rough go in his first major league stint. Even so, his stuff is good enough to warrant a little bit of leniency.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Pitchers and catcher report on Tuesday. Suffice it to say, that’s bonkers.

As miserable as the 2019 season was—and there’s no way to church it up that 2020 will be anything but slightly better—I remember the year more vividly than I do others. Why? Who knows. Perhaps pain does strike deeper than joy. But it’s crazy how it feels as though last season ended like a week ago.

Next week, the Orioles will be in Sarasota having distanced themselves from the most difficult 162 games of this necessary rebuilding. Theoretically, there are better days ahead, though we probably shouldn’t discuss a reality that isn’t yet evidentiary.

The Orioles are going to again lose a lot more games than they win, but if you’re like me, and you understand it and it accept it, you come to the realization that this franchise is still going to trot out a lot of interesting talent. That talent will be given a lot of leeway to prove itself worthy of not only being capable major league contributors, but that talent has to also overcome a division not known for its mercy.

A player that I’d expect the Orioles to continue to monitor and afford the rare opportunity to try and try again at the big league level is Dillon Tate.

Tate, the fourth-overall pick by the Texas Rangers in the 2015 Amateur Draft, has never really carried the inherent optimism of most top-five picks. The Rangers eventually traded Tate as part of a three-player package for Carlos Beltran at the trade deadline a year after being drafted, and after two and half years in the Yankees system, was dealt to the Orioles for Zack Britton.

Much of his shine was tinted following a shoulder injury in 2017 and his ineffectiveness as a starter in the lower levels, but a move to the bullpen saw better results. Officially entrenched as a reliever, Tate was called up to the Orioles this past summer, posting a 6.43 ERA in 21.0 innings. That’s obviously an unbecoming number and was unfortunately more of the same for a majority of Orioles pitchers last season, but it probably shouldn’t have been that high.

As it tends to be, a move to the bullpen for someone like Tate resulted in his stuff, specifically his sinker, to become more explosive.

Averaging 94 MPH and topping out at 97 MPH, Tate’s sinker helped the 25-year-old to a ground ball rate of nearly 60 percent, with hitters owning only a -9 degree launch angle according to Baseball Savant. All those ground balls gave the pitch a weighted value of 2.5 in a very small sample, and a wOBA of only .328, a respectable figure. At times it’s good, and at times it’s especially heavy, like his usage of the pitch.

Throwing the sinker over 50 percent of the time, Tate pretty much stuck with his bread and butter. While that was probably design, he likely neglected a changeup that deserved to be seen at more than a rate of 19 percent.

If you can believe it, no one recorded a hit against his changeup in 13 at-bats and six balls in play, resulting in a wOBA of .049. It was the pitch that created the most swings and misses of his five-pitch arsenal and as you can see above, it’s an offspeed offering that mimics his sinker all too well, with a nearly 10 MPH differential between his two-seamer.

So if we’re keeping count here, Tate has a workable sinker and a changeup that not enough people are talking about. So, how did he end up over averaging over six runs allowed every nine innings? Things are weirder than you may have imagined.

Would you have guessed that Tate had a WHIP of only 1.29? That his 13.6 percent line drive rate was among the lowest in baseball? Did you just learn that Tate surrendered only two “barrels” in 59 batted ball events? Of all things in all the world that could possibly lead to a 137 ERA-, a .268 BABIP would not be something I’d imagine being a companion.

If you look at all these things, you say he didn’t give up a lot of hard contact, he wasn’t allowing an extraordinary amount of base runners, and when the ball was put into play, hitters were successful less-than-average when compared to the rest of the league.

Where Tate struggled was when he was in the stretch.

Hitters recorded a OPS of 1.062 with runners in scoring position against Tate, including a OPS of .900 with two outs and runners on second and/or third. While left-on-base percentage is something that tends to vary year-to-year, Tate was one of the worst pitchers in baseball at stranding runners. With two outs, opponents carried a .536 slugging percentage against Tate. It seems that all of the hard contact he did surrender came at the most inopportune times, and that’s a trend that could very much swing in a different direction with a different approach.

For example, with two strikes, Tate tended to favor his breaking stuff, a pair of pitches that opposing hitters recorded a .643 slugging percentage against. His slider acts more like a cutter around 86-87 MPH, and can show more two-plane movement when he throttles it back. It shows OK at times, but his curveball simply lacks any kind of consistent bite in order to create swings and misses. Unfortunately for Tate, the sharpness of his offspeed offerings has to get better, unless he drastically changes his pitch usage.

We won’t know what plan the Orioles had for Tate this offseason until we actually get a glimpse, but Tate showed that he can handle right-handers, and his changeup is a weapon against lefties. Will the breaking balls develop? I surely hope so, but considering the manner in which his run-allowing numbers were created, it seems inevitable that Tate will see his numbers jump in the right direction.

Another year of Orioles baseball. Another year of more losses than wins. And yet another pitcher that is all too interesting.