In the Thursday night win over the White Sox, MASN’s Kevin Brown coined a new nickname for the Orioles’ outfield based on their incredible defensive prowess: the Birdmen of the Apocalypse. I mention this not only to keep the awesome nickname alive but also to champion the idea that baseball needs more group nicknames. From “The Big Red Machine” to “Harvey’s Wallbangers” to the more recent “The Bomba Squad,” collective nicknames solidify the legacy of a group in a fun and energizing way that plaques and record books cannot match.
Arguably the best teams Orioles teams of this century were immortalized by nicknames like “The Buckle Up Birds” and (my personal favorite) “The Birdland Power Co.” So in keeping with Brown’s recent attempt at adding to what is fast becoming the most fun season in recent memory, I will now champion a very specific cause: the back end of the Orioles’ bullpen deserves its own nickname.
Quietly—at least relative to the greater MLB landscape—the quartet of Felix Bautista, Cionel Perez, Dillon Tate and Jorge Lopez has become the best late-inning group in all of baseball. While this group hardly has the proven results of Palmer, McNally, Dobson and Cuellar, the numbers are still jaw-dropping. Heading into the Orioles’ series in Seattle, all four relievers had an ERA of 2.05 or lower. (Disclaimer: before Dillon Tate allowed an earned run against the White Sox on Saturday, all of them had ERAs below two. So you can thank Dillon Tate for making the parameters more awkward).
At this point in the season, most MLB teams have one or two relievers with an ERA below 2.05 in at least 20 innings pitched. The Tigers—with Wily Peralta, Alex Lange and Michael Fulmer—have three such relievers. Yet, the Orioles are the only team in all of baseball that has a quarter capable of such late-inning dominance. In fact, over the 12 games before heading to Seattle, these four powered the Orioles to a 1.25 bullpen ERA— the best in MLB. Of the 43 innings in those 12 games, Bautista, Perez, Tate and Lopez accounted for 21.1 innings to the tune of a 1.27 ERA with a strikeout rate of 10.97 Ks per 9 innings.
Our own Andrea SK already wrote an excellent piece breaking down Lopez’s early-season success as arguably the best closer in 2022. Yet, before we get into brainstorming nickname ideas, let’s look into what has also made Bautista, Perez and Tate extremely effective.
After signing with the Miami Marlins as a 17-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, Bautista spent the last six years in the Orioles’ minor league system. Since making his debut in the Orioles’ third game this season, Bautista has used an overpowering fastball to make his mark in the majors. The righty’s four-seamer ranks in the 98th percentile for velocity, and the 77th percentile for spin rate. For those not yet fully versed in pitching analytics, that means Bautista throws hard AND with a lot of movement. By leaning on his plus fastball for 63% of his pitches, and keeping it elevated, Bautista sets up his slider and splitter as put-away pitches. Even when he misses his spot, hitters have such a hard time adjusting off his fastball that Bautista’s off-speed offerings generate plenty of swings and misses. Against the White Sox Thursday, Bautista got a strikeout with a splitter right down the middle simply because the batter was sitting fastball.
Perez has stuck to a similar blueprint from what fans have seen from him previously in MLB, it just seems to have finally found success in 2022. The lefty from Cuba continues to rely on a power fastball and a wipeout slider. Perez has added another tick in velocity since joining the Orioles, as his average fastball velocity this year of 96.4 MPH is the highest of his career. Perez then backs that fastball up with a slider that has consistently ranked among the best in baseball in terms of horizontal movement, this year averaging 12 inches of horizontal break. The continued development of that slider has seen Perez take a career 6.04 ERA before this season all the way down to 1.17 in 2022 with the Orioles. The hard hit% vs. Perez’s slider has dropped from 80% in 2020 to 40% this year. At the same, batters’ chase rate has jumped from 22% in 2021 to 36% in 2022. As he showed earlier in the season against Cleveland, it doesn’t much matter where he throws the slider—batters just can’t square it up.
Dillon Tate has come so full circle in his time with the Orioles that he is now a more effective reliever than the man he was traded for, Zack Britton. (Don’t worry, Britton, we’ll always remember you as 2016 Zach Britton). Tate offers perhaps the most well-rounded approach of the three bridges to Lopez. He ranks in the top 20% in the league in average exit velocity against as well as chase rate—while ranking in the top 10% for walk rate. The former No. 4 overall pick has largely abandoned his 4-seamer in favor of a sinker that has become the second-best sinker in all of baseball based on Run-Value. Simply put, when Tate throws his sinker, teams don’t score. Unlike his fellow bullpen mates, Tate plays off his power pitch with a plus changeup. Tate has nearly doubled the rate at which he’s throwing changeups—going from 16% in 2021 to 29% in 2022—while maintaining upper-echelon strikeout and swing-and-miss rates for the off-speed offering. Sixteen of Tate’s 28 Ks have come via the changeup—including making both leading MVP candidates look foolish.
These relievers’ dominance leaves them in need of a perfect nickname. Birdmen of the Apocalypse would have been fitting, as they are four in number and usually spell the end of the opponent’s chances at winning. Alas, that one is already taken. One option that came to mind in my brainstorming was “Las Cuatro Banderas,” Spanish for “The Four Flags.” This seems particularly fitting as they A) all come from different countries (if you count Puerto Rico as a separate country for baseball purposes) and B) leave their opponents waving the white flag of surrender. Other potential options include the Eutaw St. Erasers, The Birdland Gas Co. or The Flame-Throwing Fire Extinguishers—to name a few.
Really, though, as Kevin Brown demonstrated, the best nicknames always seemingly come out of nowhere. As such this is my plea to Birdland: join in the comments as we search for the nickname this group deserves and continue to enjoy the Orioles (finally) excelling at something pitching-related.
What is the best nickname for Bautista, Perez, Tate and Lopez?
This poll is closed
Las Cuatro Banderas
The Birdland Gas Co.
The Eutaw St. Erasers
The Flame-Throwing Fire Extinguishers
Other (leave in the comments)