Means has been among the best pitchers in the American League, with 58.1 innings of a microscopic 1.70 ERA and a fantastic 0.75 WHIP.
To be fair, he has been dominating since last September, after a rocky start to last year’s campaign.
Not only does John Means have a no-hitter to his name, he's been dominant since last September.
— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) May 19, 2021
Let’s break down one of the most surprising ascents to stardom by an MLB player.
Means is Missing More Bats and Allowing Fewer Home Runs
Means’ early-season success in 2021, which included one of the six different no-hitters that have taken place this year, has two main driving factors: an increase in strikeout percentage and a decrease in home runs allowed.
After last year’s 23.9 percent strikeout rate, Means is missing even more bats this campaign, with a 27.4 percent rate, the best of his career.
Means’ strikeout rate had already spiked last season because of a velocity increase on his fastball (which went from 91.7 in 2019 to 93.8 in 2020).
However, his run-prevention stats from last year, including a 4.53 ERA, weren’t as good as this year’s because he allowed too many home runs, at 2.47 per nine frames.
This season, he has lowered his mark to a much more decent 1.08.
The improvement in home run rate stems from an improved command and the feel for his changeup.
Last year Means enjoyed his velo bump, but lost the feel for his changeup and it was rocked for a .358 expected On Base Average, or wOBA.
This year, the changeup has a .181 xwOBA, which is incredibly better.
If you want proof that Means’ changeup is here to stay, look at the rate with which it missed bats last year (23.4 whiff rate) and this season (40.7 whiff rate).
Means changeup, when it’s on, is one of MLB’s very best pitches, capable of fooling even the most feared hitters.
John Means, Filthy 85mph Changeup. 👌
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 5, 2021
Means now complements his fastball-changeup combo with a good curveball and slider, giving him four different weapons to mess with hitters’ timing.
He Has Had a Bit of Luck on His Side Too
Means has advanced as a pitcher, but he has also benefited from some good luck, too.
For starters, his batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, is extremely low at .188, and with time, it will slowly creep up closer to his career .239 mark.
He has also had luck stranding runners on base (96.5 percent, compared to 79 over his career) and that should also come down some.
His Fielding Independent Pitching, or FIP, is a much more realistic 3.24.
But make no mistake: John Means is a legitimate ace for the Orioles, even if he has been a tad lucky this season.
It’s not like he will start pitching poorly just because the fortune gods have been smiling to him all season.
When all is said and done, he has the goods to finish with a low-3.00s ERA and challenge 200 strikeouts.
There isn’t too much pitching on the Orioles’ big league roster right now, but they can be sure that as long as Means is healthy, they will have a frontline starter.