clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Birdland is calling for an ace and Tyler Wells is answering

He began the season at the end of the Orioles rotation, but Wells’s play continues to elevate him to the status of one of the AL’s best pitchers.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at San Francisco Giants John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

During Sunday’s win over the Giants, the Orioles became the first team in baseball to win 20 games on the road this season. Even in a game where the O’s put up eight runs, it was the pitching of Tyler Wells that stood out—and readers of Camden Chat voted Wells the Most Birdland Player for Sunday.

The 28-year-old righty’s outing against the Giants showed just how much he’s grown throughout his third season in the big leagues. He continually dotted the corners with his fastball and befuddled San Francisco hitters with a changeup that’s been Wells’s go-to secondary pitch this season. The former Rule 5 Draft pick racked up a career best nine strikeouts with five of the Ks coming on his offspeed offering. Before a sixth-inning home run that ended his afternoon, Wells had only given up three singles and allowed just one runner to reach second base.

Sunday was far from the first time Wells frustrated opposing hitters this season. It was his seventh appearance this season where the righty has pitched 5+ innings and allowed two or fewer runs. In fact, Wells is the only Baltimore starter this year who’s gone at least five innings in every single appearance this season. Despite beginning the season as the O’s fifth starter, Wells has risen above the other members of the rotation by showing stretches of dominance to go along with a high level of consistency.

Throughout the early part of this season, in which the Orioles have emerged as one of the top teams in baseball, many members of Birdland have clamored for the front office to add a starting pitcher. Fans throw around names like Dylan Cease, Shane Bieber, Eduardo Rodriguez and Corbin Burnes as pitchers they feel would fill Baltimore’s biggest need: a staff ace. However, when you stack up those names against what Wells has done, the leader of the Orioles rotation more than holds his own.

Going just off pitching WAR, Wells’ 1.6 WAR trails only Rodriguez when it comes to the pitchers linked with a potential move to the Camden Yards. Among the five pitchers, Wells also is second to Rodriguez when it comes to ERA, trails only Cease in K/9 and leads the group in batting average against. Compared to the pitchers that many want to lead the Orioles rotation, there’s a strong argument that Wells is the best of the bunch in 2023.

There are certainly those who would argue that ranking ahead of Bieber, Burnes and Cease is less meaningful because all three members of that trio are in the midst of down seasons. However, Wells holds his own against more than just potential Orioles trade targets. His pitching WAR is in the same ballpark as pitchers like Clayton Kershaw, Shohei Ohtani and Zac Gallen—names regularly seen as some of the very best starters in the league. His batting average against ranks third in all of baseball, behind only Ohtani and Braves phenom Spencer Strider. Not to mention, Wells still leads all of baseball with a .849 WHIP.

It’s true that Wells doesn’t possess the elite fastball velocity or wipeout breaking ball often associated with the best starters in baseball. His fastball—whose velocity hovers around 93 mph—ranks in the 19th percentile for MLB heaters. Both his curveball and slider have average to below average drop to them, though the slider somewhat makes up for that with above average horizontal break. Nothing about Wells’s stuff suggests he should be anywhere close to dominant. Yet time and time again this season, he’s proved that perception wrong.

What Wells does have is an elite spin rate on his fastball and changeup, which helps make up for his lack of elite velocity. His fastball spin rate ranks in the 89th percentile across all of baseball, meaning it generates much more of a late rising action as it crosses the plate than the average fastball. While Wells can’t necessarily blow his fastball by hitters just from sheer velocity—the way Félix Bautista does—that late rising action still makes it plenty hard to hit. In fact, Wells and Bautista’s fastballs have the same Run Value that lands each of their fastballs amongst the 20-best four-seamers in MLB.

The spin on Wells’s changeup is what gives it that darting action that makes it so tough on hitters and such an effective out pitch. Brewers reliever Devin Williams is often viewed as having the nastiest changeup in all of baseball due to the large amount of spin and movement on his go-to pitch. This season, Williams’s change features 91% active spin (i.e. the spin that helps generate movement). Wells one-ups that with 94% active spin on his changeup, allowing Wells to create the type of movement that makes it such an effective out pitch.

Wells also combines this one-two punch with pinpoint control this season. He’s in the top 10 in all of MLB for walk rate at 1.8 BB/9. When you contextualize that walk rate by adding in the fact that Wells ranks in the 71st percentile for strikeout rate despite a mediocre chase rate, you get the picture of a pitcher who makes life tough for batters by effectively mixing speeds while continually locating his pitches in the strike zone. Wells doesn’t need to make batters chase when he perfectly dot the corners and force hitters to swing at strikes they have no prayer of hitting.

Now, just because Wells is showing extremely encouraging growth in his second year as a starter doesn’t mean he’s enough to uphold the O’s rotation on his own. Even with Dean Kremer and Kyle Bradish showing signs of improvement since their disastrous Aprils, and with the dependable nature of Kyle Gibson, the Orioles’ rotation is distinctly below average. Baltimore currently doesn’t have a fifth starter, and while that may not matter come playoff time, it’s not often that you see playoff teams roll into October with subpar starting rotations.

However, for those clamoring for a pitcher worthy of the ace title, the Orioles already have one. His name is Tyler Wells. Yes, he still has his weaknesses. When hitters do make contact against Wells, the balls tend to go a lot farther than you’d like—as evidenced by the 14 HRs he’s allowed this season. When he keeps the ball in the park, though, Wells is showing he’s good enough to go toe-to-toe with the best starters the MLB has to offer. The Orioles undoubtedly will look to improve the rotation around Wells, but until then, Birdland should continue to rally around its ace.


Where will Tyler Wells’s WHIP rank at the end of the season?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Still the best in the league
    (19 votes)
  • 35%
    Top 10 (elite)
    (169 votes)
  • 43%
    Top 25 (great)
    (211 votes)
  • 14%
    Top 50 (above average)
    (70 votes)
  • 2%
    About league average
    (11 votes)
  • 0%
    Below league average
    (0 votes)
480 votes total Vote Now