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Breaking down Kyle Bradish and Mike Baumann's Orioles spring debuts
With a televised game and Statcast data available, two fascinating pitchers on the Orioles roster come into focus in their first Grapefruit League starts.
Kyle Bradish pitched just two innings Tuesday in the Orioles’ spring training game against the Pirates down in Bradenton. Because they were good ones, and because the game was both televised by Pittsburgh’s broadcaster and held at a Statcast-equipped ballpark, there’s probably more to unpack than meets the eye.
Bradish, to me, is a bit emblematic of where the Orioles stand entering 2023. Based on his minor league track record, there’s a lot of talent and potential there. Based on the way he finished 2022 – with a 2.76 ERA (albeit with a 3.40 FIP) and a 1.007 WHIP with 38 strikeouts in 45 ⅔ innings over seven starts, including two dominant ones against the world champion Astros, after he moved where he set up on the mound – there’s a bit of an expectation that he continues as that pitcher.
And yet, the Orioles were pretty clear he wasn’t a shoo-in to make the rotation this year. With him, as with seemingly the entire team, there’s an air of apprehension internally as to what they have in him, and whether he can be as good as he was last year or not.
That means an outing like this can carry a lot of weight as Bradish shows off what he’s trying to do this year. And based on 26 pitches in his first spring start, it seems there’s a fair bit to extrapolate.
Bradish’s own comments to reporters after the game show where his head was at–he told the media he was happy with his sinkers and sliders, two pitches that fueled his September surge. Bradish threw a season-high 51% sliders in his complete game shutout against the Astros on Aug. 26, and in September, he threw the pitch 33.5% of the time–the most of any month.
September was also when he started mixing in a sinker and de-emphasizing his four-seam fastball, which is a unique pitch with its hoppy, cutting action but was hit hard over the course of his rookie year. The sinker was more effective in a much smaller sample, and it seems relevant that he threw the pitch six times Tuesday, compared to seven times for his four-seamer.
His sinker was put in play three times – all converted outs – and was in the strike zone more often than his four-seamer, albeit in an incredibly small sample. But as he mentioned, it was working well in tandem with his slider, a pitch he threw six times and had two whiffs on, both for strikeouts.
Bradish’s slider has always been his bat-missing pitch–I remember coaches telling me about it from the alternate site–and that pitch in tandem with his sinker might just be what works for him. It was often explained to me that because of Bradish’s unique delivery, his pitches play differently to hitters than the raw data about them would indicate.
So considering that and the sample size, it’s only potentially noteworthy that his slider appeared to be a little tighter with less vertical and horizontal movement on average Tuesday than it did last season but certainly not meaningful on its face.
Simply having these nuggets to build off, the potential for something to extrapolate after an offseason of work for a player hungry to prove himself, is enough to dive into at this stage in spring training–and all we need to do is look at an opposite example to see what that means.
Later in the game, Mike Baumann pitched two innings of his own–on its face a good sign that the Orioles consider him part of the starter mix and will be stretching him out. But pretty much everything about it seems like it’s consistent with the pitcher he’s been for most of his career, save for the 2021 season when it took him a while to get healthy and firing.
His fastball was up to 97.3 mph and averaged 95.9 mph, according to Statcast, and one was ambushed by Nick Gonzales for a home run. His slider is still in the low-90s and can get whiffs at its best but sometimes doesn’t. If you were watching from afar, as I was, wondering if he’d join the sweeper club and get a bat-missing pitch to take him to the next level, this was not the spring training start for you.
But still, Baumann being Baumann isn’t anything bad. He’s still a big-league caliber pitcher, and one the Orioles probably have a tough call on as they map out his future while maximizing their present.
That’s why every bit of data–not to mention the ability to see games for the select few not in Florida – means something this spring. Bradish and Baumann are at the stage where they can realistically be expected to be taking the next step. Two spring innings apiece don’t tell the full story of whether they will. They do, however, fill the baseball void until the next time the Orioles go play at a Statcast ballpark on TV.