Dillon Tate Threw One of MLB’s Best Pitches in 2022

Image: AP

The most valuable sinker in 2022 was not thrown by Aaron Nola, Logan Webb, or even Sandy Alcantara. It was thrown by Baltimore Oriole middle reliever Dillon Tate.

Tate, a former UC-Santa Barbara Gaucho, was once the fourth overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft by the Texas Rangers. By the time he arrived in Maryland, he had already been passed around in two separate trades involving Carlos Beltran and Zack Britton

It was an arduous journey for Tate as he navigated his way through the minors, featuring great flashes of potential in between nagging injuries. By the time he reached his fifth minor league season in 2019, Tate possessed a 22-13 record with a 3.75 ERA over 343.1 innings.

Upon getting his first cup of coffee at age 25, Tate wouldn’t be the top prospect that scouts expected, but he had an opportunity to seize a big role with a club undergoing one of the worst stretches of form in MLB history. 

Even during the dark times, Baltimore could still engineer a decent back end of the pitching staff. Spenser Watkins, a former 30th round pick of the Detroit Tigers in 2014, was nearly out of baseball after being released by AAA Toledo during the 2020 season.

The O’s gave Watkins a call before 2021 Spring Training. He made the team and debuted in later that Summer. In his second season in 2022, the 29 year old Watkins pitched over 100 innings and was close to an average major leaguer (6.37 FIP to 4.24).

In an interview with Fangraphs, Watkins pretty much says he was revived by the Baltimore coaching staff. They placed an outsized emphasis on analytics, while the Tigers were more “old school”.

As soon as he got to the clubhouse, Watkins felt that the O’s were trying to, as Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane said to David Justice in the batting cages, “milk the last ounce of baseball” he had in him.

Watkins tells a story about how a few days before a start against Oakland this past season, he was encouraged to throw a couple sliders, a pitch he hadn’t thrown since 2019. It fared well, and his reverse splits on the pitch means that he can equalize the damage lefties can inflict upon him as a righty.

Relating Watkins’ experience to Dillon Tate, there are similarities that prove Baltimore has done a great job developing way-be-gone arms. You can look at Felix Bautista, Cionel Perez, Jorge Lopez, and Bryan Baker as Orioles who entered the season on the fringes, but exited as regulars, too.

For the most part, Tate had relied on his upper-90s 4-seamer that initially got him drafted before becoming an Oriole.

After coming to Baltimore in 2018, that pitch was replaced by a slightly slower sinkerball that has a filthy amount of movement.

Similar to the time it took Spenser Watkins to adjust to the tweaks Baltimore made to his arsenal, Tate’s 2021 sinker was actually a very poor pitch with a +8 Run Value (negative numbers are better) that illustrates its lack of value relative to the rest of the league.

His overall worth that season was largely held up by his off-speed pitches, which were still extant from his days with Texas’ and New York’s organizations, albeit with those pitches being a bit slower.

When you look at Tate’s slider and changeup, it’s clear to see he has a very complimentary arsenal, and widening the velocity gap has only helped to keep hitters extremely uncomfortable.

In 2022, Tate put it all together, posting a 3.05 ERA and 3.15 xERA in 73.2 innings. Not only was Tate’s sinker not just the best out of its own category, it was a top ten pitch in all of MLB. Its -21 Run Value was sandwiched right between Corbin Burnes’ cutter and Carlos Rodon’s 4-seamer. 

If numbers like Run Value go over your head, or you just don’t care. Know that Tate limits homers and walks, and can throw this kind of fireball that freezes DJ LeMahieu into a backwards K.

I will concede that Tate is a reliever, and his sinker was thrown about three times less than the average starter, but it’s still a remarkable development for a player that couldn’t carve out a regular spot on a bad Baltimore roster until he was 27.

Give credit to the Baltimore front office and coaching staff as well. They’ve built a bullpen the way major league teams should be: through shrewd acquisitions and fundamentally sound development. A team like Baltimore couldn’t afford to keep someone like Zack Britton, so they moved him out and got cheaper.

As we look toward the future, Tate has accepted a spot at the World Baseball Classic this March representing Team USA. He’ll headline a bullpen with other really interesting arms in Devin Williams and David Bednar.

In the upcoming MLB regular season, Tate will continue to be the setup man for Felix Bautista. I believe that he’s just started to scratch the surface of his potential. The guy that switched over from being a position player in college has a real shot to be one of the best relievers in baseball in 2023, and not just throw one of MLB’s best pitches.

Categories: Articles, MLB Player Profiles


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: