Welcome back to another article! I hope you and your loved ones had a great but ultimately safe Thanksgiving. I hope it was filled with the mashed potatoes, casseroles, mac & cheese, pies, and of course the 1.01 of Thanksgiving food: Stuffing. It’s important to remember during these difficult times to take a break from baseball to let us enjoy being around the people we care about most. This year especially. Now that we are filled up on food and joy, let us turn our attention back to fantasy baseball. In a season in which a global pandemic was occurring, and we only had 60 games of data, it is incredibly hard to make assessments about players and their performances, and that includes John Means, who I’ll be looking at in this article.
As with many sports, there are many factors that come into play when looking at how a player performed during a particular season. Players may be statistically slow starters, not play well in certain weather, have problems with certain teams that they continued to face in the re-alignment, and more. What a player has done in their career before 2020 needs to be taken into consideration for these exact reasons.
This offseason, I’ll be doing a series of articles looking at what went right, what went wrong, and the overall 2021 outlook for certain players. I can only take into account the data that has been given and use that to best assess what to expect from each player in 2021. This should be fun! Let’s dive into our next player in this series: John Means.
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What Went Right for John Means in 2020
Increased Velocity & Pitching Changes
Means was a very different pitcher in 2o2o than he was in 2019. His velocity on all four of his offerings, which is very uncommon to see from year-to-year. Most notably, his fastball velocity went from 91.7 mph in 2019 to 93.8 mph in 2020. His second go-to, his changeup, went from 80.9 mph to 84.9 mph.
Another aspect that changed is with the new Orioles regime, they were able to help increase the spin rate on all of Means’ pitches. His fastball’s spin rate ranked in the 88th percentile in Major League Baseball in 2020.
The changes also kept coming with the pitch mix changes that Means induced in 2020. The increased velocity and spin rate on the fastball REALLY helped Means as with the slight 1.5% uptick in usage this year, basically chopped his expected stats against the pitch in half. This also while getting a 10% increase in whiff percentage on the fastball.
The other big change was the curveball increased usage. Means jump in the curveball usage really helped balance helped improve the effectiveness of his fastball. Means doubled the usage on his curveball and it instantly transformed his arsenal and easily became his second most effective pitch. If Means continues to heavily incorporate the curveball with his new and improved fastball, I see great results continuing.
Better Command of Zone
One of the ways Means was able to stay effective was his command of the strike zone. Means not only was able to jump his K% up 5%, but he also brought his walks down to 4%. That was in the top 5% in baseball in 2020. Means complimented this well by having a career-high zone percentage of over 50% for the first time in his career.
Building off his strong presence pitching in the zone, Means was able to up his first-pitch strike to get ahead in counts. This led to a career-high swing percentage and whiff percentage. He was also able to play this into a lower zone contact percentage and lowered chase contact percentage. This all while increasing his chase rate to 30%. All in all, Means commanded the zone and he did it well.
What Went Wrong
Throwing “Too Hard”
It’s been said from Manager Brandon Hyde and Catcher Pedro Severino that sometimes Means can exert too much in his pitches and go “max-effort.” This seemed to be more of a problem in 2019 as he attempted to throw harder than his 91 mph max velocity was showing. Means can still do this time to time and as a result, he loses his control and gets behind hitters. This leads to them being able to sit on the fastball later on and wallop him.
Means worked on his velocity by throwing balls at a mattress in his garage this past offseason to raise his velocity. With the increase, it will hopefully lead to a less frustrated John Means and less throwing and more pitching.
Signature Change-Up Regresses
John Means loves his change-up. Means threw his change-up 4% less this year and it got hit almost 70 batting points higher. That was Mean’s go-to pitch in 2019 with a lot better results. So what happened?
Means’ K/9 went down to under 7.0 early on in the season when he was really struggling. What seems to have happened was the increased velocity was not helpful for his change-up, leading to it being less effective and Means not being able to strike out as many batters any more with it. The extra 4 mph of velocity seems to have made the Means changeup easier to hit when you look further into the numbers. As mentioned prior batters went from a .207 average against it in 2019 to .275 in 2020. Means also used it far less as a putaway pitch this season: 16% of the time last year, compared with 6.7% now. That shows his lack of confidence in the pitch to finish batters off.
Batted Ball Data
I want to start positive here as Means did have some positive changes in his batted ball profile. Means was able to reduce his launch angle while keeping roughly the same exit velocity as 2019. Means also cut his line drive percentage by nearly 8% from the previous year. Looking at Means groundball percentage, he was able to up that 13% and drop his fly ball percentage by 6%. All looks great on the surface, right?
Well, let’s get ugly. Starting with Means’ hard-hit percentage and barrel percentages both going up, while his soft-contact went down. Means’ home runs per nine nearly DOUBLED because of this from 1.34 in 2019 to 2.47 in 2020. This carried over to Means’ HR/FB rate going from 9.9% to an astronomical jump to 21.8%.
Means’ advanced ERA indicators also didn’t favor his batted ball data. His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was 5.60! That was over a run higher than his actual 4.53 ERA. This was all with a .216 BABIP which would rank behind Kenta Maeda and Trevor Bauer as the 3rd lowest in baseball. That means there was no unlucky factor in his ERA being 4.53 and shows it should’ve been a lot closer to the over 5 FIP.
Tale of Two Halves
Means, in his two full seasons in the bigs leagues, has shown to be two totally different pitchers in halves of the season.
As a rookie last season, Means came out hot with a shiny 2.94 ERA in the first half of his All-Star season. The second half? He struggled to the tune of a 4.64 ERA. Means’ second-half woes were not due to lack of throwing strikes, but more to the number of hits he was allowing. Means allowed 8.82 per nine innings in the second half of 2019 to go along with a .249 batting average against (compared to 7.56 H/9 and a .224 average in the first half). Means later admitted to “certain mechanical issues” that manager Brandon Hyde spotted, as being the cause of this.
Means had struggled with the command of the fastball and a breaking ball that was subpar at best, leaving Means behind in the count and missing up in the strike zone often. Basically, this led to batters hitting Means’ offerings like a pinata.
Fast forward to 2020 and his splits completely flip-flopped. John Means’ first half was let us be nice and say not very good. It’s funny because Brandon Hyde is Means’ manager and Means is very much a Jekyll and Hyde case. When the bad Means came out in the first half, he continued to allow too many hits (albeit not many walks). Through August 28th, Means was averaging a putrid 10.1 hits per game, with opponents hitting .271 off of him. This goes right back to the pinata we called him earlier.
In the second half, however, Means cut his hits to an excellent 6.2 per game and batters’ average against him dropped to .190. Again, a very different John Means for sure. When looking at breakdowns of John Means from early on in the season, you can see what Brandon Hyde eluded to as stated previously.
In Means’ bad, early starts, command issues led to flat breaking balls or fastballs missing the glove and leaking into batters’ sweet spot. When Means is able place the fastball around the strike zone, whether it’s down around the knees or at the top of the box—he’s NASTY. What does this basically come down to? Fastball command.
Outlook for John Means in 2021
John Means had an up and down 2020 to say the least. Pegged as the Orioles Opening Day Starter, Means started the year on the IL with arm fatigue and then a few starts later lost his father Alan to pancreatic cancer. Not to mention Means was transferred to the bereavement list and then the IL while undergoing intake testing for COVID-19.
Means did not have a great season overall but showed progression in his profile, especially over his last 5 starts. Over those starts, Means posted a 2.48 ERA in 29 innings with 31 strikeouts and just 4 walks. That again can be compared with the volatility in Means’ profile as he accumulated an 8.59 ERA in his first 5 starts of 2020.
Ultimately, rust most likely played a key factor in the rough start of Means’ 2020 as the uncertainty of a season this past offseason, along with the increase in injuries making it very hard to be too critical of first half John Means. Means can be electric, as shown in his 12 K game against the Tampa Bay Rays at the end of this year.
This offseason will be big for the continued growth of John Means as he needs to continue working to hone his fastball command and recover his changeup of 2019. If Means can do that for 2021 he’ll be a great piece for the Orioles next year.
The 2020 MLB season is over, but we are already preparing for next season. Keep track of all our 2020-21 MLB Offseason Analysis.
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