A rebuild can be a painful time. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Both are nice.
As the Baltimore Orioles rebuild, they’re graced with the rare opportunity of taking constant fliers on players that couldn’t stick elsewhere in hopes of finding a diamond in the rough. With a roster full of prospects and nobodies, the opportunity exists to find a star by accident. In the second year of their rebuild, there’s a chance they’ve found a player that can be a building block of the future in catcher Pedro Severino. Luck is as important as skill when rebuilding, and the O’s may have hit some kind of lottery.
Looking at Severino’s numbers from a year ago with the Nationals, you can understand why Washington cut bait after parts of four seasons with the club. In 70 games he posted a .168/.254/.247 slash line, good for a 32 wRC+. While he didn’t’ get consistent playing time, part of that was because he simply wasn’t hitting. The Nationals moved on to new opportunities, and the catcher had to find a new home. Luckily, it was just a few miles up I-95, and he’s been excellent for the O’s to the tune of a .277/.359/.536 line (138 wRC+, 6th among catchers) and there’s every indication from the basically average .288 BABIP that he’s for real. Plainly he’s changed. Let’s take a look at his swing last year compared to this on basically the same pitch and hit:
You’ll notice… basically no change. The angle is different because the Nats and O’s can’t agree on anything, from TV contract rules to camera placement, but from the hand position to the hips to the feet, Severino hasn’t changed much at all. And yet, he’s a much different hitter from last year to now:
This isn’t about mechanical adjustments at all – the GIF above shows little has shifted in his swing, and the launch angle shows that he’s hitting the ball in generally the same direction. He’s just hitting it harder, and more than that he’s swinging at what he CAN hit. Take a look – here’s every pitch Severino swung at last year and this one, with 2018 on the left, 2019 on the right:
He’s seen about 300 fewer pitches so far this season, but there’s still a marked difference in the number of swings in general, but more importantly at fastballs up in the zone. Now, here’s the same chart, but with balls he hit colored by exit velocity. Again, 2018 is on the left, 2019 on the right:
Last year he just popped out and hit bits of nothing up in the zone. It makes sense he should move away from that. He had more success both years driving the ball down in the zone, but simply by virtue of going after those pitches – and less of the ones he wasn’t good at hitting – Severino has given himself a better shot at success. This is growth. This is a young player seeing a flaw and making the changes that will keep him in the game.
The Orioles may or may not have had a hand in this. They only claimed Severino on March 23rd, so if they did, they’re magic. It makes the future look bright because they identified a fault in a talented player and got him to recognize it and could do it again and again.
Rebuilds are more than just the players and manager— development needs to be rethought if you’re going to have real, sustained success these days and find those players other organizations miss. If it’s just Severino, and it looks like it is, good on him. This is an incredible turnaround. Either way, the O’s have found quite the gem here.
Merritt Rohlfing writes and podcasts at Let’s Go Tribe, and finds neat little gems at Beyond the Box Score. Find him on Twitter at @MerrillLunch. Email him if you want, email@example.com.