Phillies rookie reliever has one of the filthiest pitches in MLB

After just a short stint for the Phillies in 2023, Orion Kerkering is already getting recognition for his outstanding sweeper, ranked as a top-10 pitch in baseball.

Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Orion Kerkering has one of the filthiest pitches in MLB
Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Orion Kerkering has one of the filthiest pitches in MLB / Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
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From the day Orion Kerkering took the mound for his first game in red pinstripes, it was apparent that he had something special in his arsenal.

David Adler of MLB.com recently broke down 15 of the filthiest pitches in baseball, and the 22-year-old's sweeper came in as the 10th nastiest pitch in MLB. Kerkering was drafted by the Phillies in the fifth round in 2022 and flew through the minor league system last year, relying heavily on that wipeout sweeper.

In only 8 1/3 innings of work across the regular season and postseason in 2023, the South Florida native was impressive, allowing only three earned runs to his ledger and striking out 11. In his three innings of work before the postseason, Kerkering threw 60 pitches across three appearances, 51 of them being sweepers.

Kerkering's sweeper analytics are as nasty as the pitch itself

When breaking down the analytics, it's apparent why Kerkering leaned on this pitch almost 85 percent of the time.

To start with a comparison, Zack Wheeler's sweeper, which is often regarded as one of the best sweepers in the league, has an average spin rate of 2,635 rpm. Kerkering's sweeper in 2023 had an average spin rate of almost 3,000 at 2,959 rpm.

His sweeper also was recorded breaking 6.3 inches more than the MLB average, coming in with 52 percent more break than average, good enough for the top mark among all sweepers.

Like any sweeper, Kerkering's offering also moves vertically — almost 40 inches — which is eight percent above league average. It also comes in hot at an average velocity of 86 miles per hour. It's not just about how great the pitch is but also how effective Kerkering is with it.

In 2023, the rookie compiled a 71.3 percent first-pitch strike rate, getting him ahead of batters and allowing him to throw the sweeper as he pleased. His effectiveness stems from the ability to throw the sweeper wherever he likes, strike or not.

While he wasn't a qualified pitcher, as he only threw three regular-season innings, Kerkering's .188 xBA, 40.9 percent whiff rate, 42.9 percent strikeout rate, and 0.0 barrel rate would rank above the 95th percentile, according to Baseball Savant. It's a small sample size but a good indication of the prowess that comes in the offspeed, with definitely no lack of the dramatics.

Kerkering's success last season came from throwing the sweeper almost exclusively. His secondary pitch, the sinker, has incredible velocity, sitting around 98 mph and often touching triple digits. If Caleb Cotham and the coaching staff can work with the 22-year-old to continue developing the fastball and potentially a tertiary pitch, it would make the sweeper even more effective.

With a top-quality level pitch in his arsenal, there are high hopes for one of the Phillies' top rookies last season. Kerkering projects to be one of the team's back-end bullpen arms and will be used in high-leverage spots throughout the 2024 season.

With development, experience, and age, the only way is up for the former University of South Florida Bull.

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