Elias ready to add ‘se­cret sauce’ to Ori­oles’ an­a­lyt­ics game plan

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - SPORTS -

Nowhere was that more ev­i­dent than in the Hous­ton Astros sys­tem from which the Ori­oles plucked ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and gen­eral man­ager Mike Elias, as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager for an­a­lyt­ics Sig Me­j­dal and mi­nor league pitch­ing co­or­di­na­tor Chris Holt. Elias said “there is a lit­tle bit of se­cret sauce be­hind that,” that the pitch­ers who have been ex­posed to such meth­ods be­fore are look­ing for­ward to an­other taste.

“I’m big into the new an­a­lyt­ics and stuff like that, so I like to see the data that I pro­duce, I guess, with how my pitches play off each other,” said right-han­der Dean Kre­mer, who came from the Los An­ge­les Dodgers in the Manny Machado trade and led the mi­nors in strike­outs last year. “I’m big into that, and from what I hear, the new GM is also kind of into that be­cause they’re do­ing that with the Astros. I’m def­i­nitely ex­cited to con­tinue to do that.”

Kre­mer, 23, said he “def­i­nitely came into a shock to see what other or­ga­ni­za­tions were do­ing,” and he wasn’t alone. Left-han­der Bruce Zim­mer­mann (Loy­ola Blake­field) was in the mid­dle of a break­out sea­son in the At­lanta Braves sys­tem when he came to his home­town club in the trade for pitch­ers Kevin Gaus­man and Dar­ren O’Day. The Braves were tak­ing more steps to­ward an­a­lyt­ics-driven player de­vel­op­ment last year, he said, and the 23-year-old hopes for more of that in his first full year with the Ori­oles.

“It’s kind of like a give and take,” Zim­mer­mann said. “You have the old­school guys and the new-school guys. You can’t have one and not the other, so I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to see­ing how they’re able to blend the two to­gether, and bring in the new things. Ev­ery­body has Track­Man, but bring in maybe Rap­sodo, the other slow-mo­tion cam­eras, or even just the an­a­lyt­ics of break­ing down hit­ter by hit­ter, lefty-righty, what­ever it may be. I’m just look­ing for­ward to see­ing how they adapt and kind of up­date our whole pitch­ing depart­ment from that as­pect, for sure.”

Dil­lon Tate, the for­mer first-round draft pick who came from the New York Yan­kees in the Zack Brit­ton trade, cred­ited his hand place­ment last year as part of the rea­son he’d found suc­cess be­fore the trade. At FanFest, the 24-year-old righthander men­tioned the Rap­sodo cam­eras were what brought that about.

“I felt like a lot of stuff that I learned hap­pened with the slow-mo­tion cam­eras, so I could re­ally see what my hand is do­ing and I could see what the rest of my body is do­ing and how I’m mov­ing, and as the pitch is go­ing to­ward home,” Tate said. “That helped me out pretty good, and un­der­stand­ing the way that my ball moves, and what pitch pack­age is go­ing to work best for me and al­low me to be suc­cess­ful there.”

As the Ori­oles pre­pare for their first spring train­ing un­der Elias and man­ager Bran­don Hyde, the con­tin­ued progress of these pitch­ers when they get some of their pre­ferred tools back will be para­mount. So too will the in­tro­duc­tion of these prac­tices to the scores of pitch­ers who haven’t ben­e­fited from them. At his FanFest panel, Me­j­dal pro­vided a de­scrip­tion of the data that teams are now able to col­lect.

“We’re able to de­scribe the stuff to three dec­i­mal points, and be­gin to see the spe­cific idio­syn­cratic be­hav­ior of the dif­fer­ent hit­ters and how they suc­ceed or strug­gle against pitches that aren’t just called a slider but in­stead a pitch at 83 mph with 18 inches of hor­i­zon­tal move­ment and an inch and a half of depth,” Me­j­dal said. “It’s just the lan­guage has changed a bit with higher res­o­lu­tion that the tech­nolo­gies are pro­vid­ing.”

Some or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing the Astros, had got­ten to the point where they were build­ing and re­fin­ing pitches based on mak­ing them act the way the most suc­cess­ful ver­sion of, say, a slider or curve­ball might on its way to the plate. That’s part of why Holt was brought in, and part of the rea­son Elias has ex­pressed con­fi­dence they can repli­cate some of the Astros’ suc­cess. Ac­cord­ing to Fan­Graphs, the Astros’ af­fil­i­ates led all other or­ga­ni­za­tions in strike­outs last year.

But there are more ways for this to ben­e­fit young pitch­ers than build­ing their pitches. New Ori­oles pitch­ing coach Doug Bro­cail was with the Astros from 2011 to 2015 in sev­eral dif­fer­ent roles in the ma­jors and mi­nors. He said that once he moved on to the Texas Rangers, he saw sev­eral pitch­ers he’d worked with dras­ti­cally change their reper­toires by knock­ing out weak pitches and ac­cen­tu­at­ing strong ones.

That’s what hap­pened to Kre­mer af­ter he strug­gled in his full-sea­son de­but in 2017 with the Dodgers or­ga­ni­za­tion. The team’s an­a­lyt­ics staff rec­om­mended he work with his four-seam fast­ball and curve­ball more, and his per­for­mance shot up. Us­ing pitches he knew worked well gave him con­fi­dence to be ag­gres­sive, and he ended up with 178 strike­outs in 25 starts be­tween the two or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Im­prove­ments like that are what Elias and Me­j­dal found was pos­si­ble with plenty of Astros play­ers, as this gen­er­a­tion of prospects is tak­ing ad­van­tage of the data avail­able.

“They’re grow­ing up with it,” Me­j­dal said. “They’re as so­phis­ti­cated as can be. The mi­nor lea­guers, they ap­pre­ci­ate that they’re not where they want to be, and if this can help them, there’s not the cyn­i­cism or push­back that may have been there a gen­er­a­tion ago. They can’t get enough of it.”

For­mer Ravens as­sis­tant coach Mike Sin­gle­tary leads Mem­phis against Birm­ing­ham in the Al­liance of Amer­i­can Foot­ball to­day. FIND CUS­TOM­IZ­A­BLE TELE­VI­SION LIST­INGS AT BAL­TI­MORE­SUN.COM/TVLISTINGS

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