Optimism Vs. BaltimoREALITY: Starting Pitching

Dan Duquette says Orioles have a surplus of starting pitching including starter Jason Hammel

Image Credit: Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Every baseball expert in the world would agree that The Orioles must have a repeat performance from their starting pitching to remain a playoff caliber team. Nobody seems to be worried about the offense or bullpen whatsoever. I know what Orioles fans are saying about the current rotation, but is it the BaltimoREALITY?

If you missed any of this series go back and take a look at the BaltimoREALITY of Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Brian Roberts/Alexi Casilla, Manny Machado, JJ Hardy, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Nate McLouth/Nolan Reimold.

Optimism

The Orioles rotation was underrated last season, and it’s underrated again this season. The baseball world doesn’t understand just how good of a rotation this team has because it doesn’t have any flashy big names.

Jason Hammel was a near All-Star last season and should continue to be again this season. Wei-Yin Chen was one of the best finds in baseball and is solid at the top of the rotation. Chris Tillman was 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA last year and is in the amidst of a breakout. Miguel Gonzalez pitched to a 3.25 ERA, was a great find, and pitched a huge game in the playoffs.

And there is enough pitching depth to find a suitable #5 guy. Together this team can pitch well enough to carry them back to the post season. The optimism from fans seems to be that The Orioles didn’t need to spend much money on pitching because of all the options we already have.

BaltimoREALITY

jake-arrietaThis is a solid and undervalued rotation. The competition to own a spot on this team seems to make everyone better. Because of the massive amount of depth that this team has, there can be a revolving door of starters. Unlike the dreadful years of the past, if a guy doesn’t perform at the Major League level, there is someone to replace him.

These guys no longer need to stay in the big leagues and learn from their beatings. If a guy struggles, he leaves. It happened a lot last year. Take Jake Arrieta for example. Arrieta was one of the hottest pitchers in baseball to begin the season. But once the inexperience and inconsistency showed, he was sent down. And up came Miguel Gonzalez, who immediately made an impact. When Hammel went down to injury, in came Tillman, who immediately made an impact. The revolving door technique proved to be highly successful and was the reason that Baltimore finally made it to the playoffs.

Will the revolving door work again this season? Sure it will. Why wouldn’t it? The Orioles have ridiculous pitching depth. More so than almost every single team in baseball. The desire to stay on a winning team is enough motivation for these young kids to perform well. They all performed well last year. And when they didn’t, they went away.

Success via competition has continued this spring. It seems that every single rotation candidate has performed well. All of them want a rotation spot, and the competition has brought out of the best in all of them.  Let’s look at the current rotation.

Jason Hammel was a big surprise last season. He proved that getting away from Coors Field could change the career of a pitcher. The guy was always a solid pitcher to begin with. He went on nice quality start streaks over each of the previous three seasons. On stretches he was a guy that fantasy experts would pick up and hold on to for lengthy amount of times. Last season he was finally able to show consistency away from Coors Field. His biggest issue was health.

If healthy I don’t see any reason why Hammel would regress. He’s in his prime at 30 years old. He was consistent month to month last season, which takes away any doubt of a fluke. The only bad month he had was July, but that was when he was dealing with an injury. Skepticism was eliminated when he came back in September, bounced back to early season form, and performed very well in the playoffs. He is legit. No need to worry about him. Worst case scenario is another 15 day DL stint, but if that were to happen there are plenty of replacements in this revolving door rotation.

Wei-Yin Chen showed the international expertise that Dan Duquette possesses. International free agents have been a strength of his in the past and was something that The Orioles were severely lacking. Duquette knew the exact value of Chen and was able to sign him a deal where his value exceeds the amount of money that he’s being paid.

I do see a little bit of regression happening with Chen this year, but that’s okay. As long as he pitches to a low 4 ERA he will have plenty of value on this team. I don’t think he needs to be anything more than a #3-#4 starter.

Chris Tillman can be the #2 starter. Many forget that Tillman, not Adam Jones, was the centerpiece of the Erik Bedard deal years ago. Last year he finally reached his ceiling.  I use the word “finally” loosely because the kid is still only 24 years old. A lot of people gave up on Tillman not realizing that he made his Major League debut at age 21. Right now he’s still at least 3 years away from his prime. The progression that he showed last year was promising. A 2.93 ERA is not repeatable, but a mid 3 ERA is. That’s all he need to do to be the #2 starter on this team. Chen will fall in as a solid #3.

Why do I think Tillman can repeat? 9 of his 15 games were quality starts. That’s 18 quality starts over the course of a full season at last year’s pace. Add progression at age 25 and your looking at 20 quality starts. The consistency of his outings tells me that 20 is realistic.

Guess who finished with 20 quality starts last season? Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, AJ Burnett, Ian Kennedy, Hiroki Kuroda, and James Shields. You might be thinking, there is no way that he will be the quality of those guys. And why not? A lot of those guys are deemed “aces” because of their high K rates and consistent win totals on good teams.

Quality starts are often overlooked. Quality starts are what keeps teams in games and gives them the chance to win. Tillman will be that guy. He will keep his team in as many games as AJ Burnett will. He won’t get the high K totals like Burnett does, and his name isn’t as flashy, but these are things as to why The Orioles are often overlooked.

Miguel Gonzalez is another example of the international expertise of Dan Duquette. He’s a hungry young man who’s value was underrated. His ERA will rise somewhere to the mid to high 3′s which is great for a #4 starter. Last season Gonzalez had 10/15 quality starts. That projects out to 20 as well. What I like about Gonzalez is his ability to pitch deep into games. That above all should tell you that he’s for real.

That’s if his 7 innings of 1 run ball, at Yankee Stadium, in the playoffs, didn’t prove that already. Will he regress? No. Consistency + quality starts + high total of games over 6 innings pitched = solid Major League pitcher. Definitely a solid #3 or #4 guy.

And now we get to the #5 spot. Who wants it? Everyone. And the guy that’s in it will pitch well. If he doesn’t, he goes down and someone else pitches well. In 5 games Jake Arrieta has pitched to a 1.56 ERA with 16 K’s in 17 innings. He is going to be the #5 starter. Given his hot start last year, I expect another hot start. Will he keep it up longer than April? I say who cares? If he doesn’t then Zach Britton will get his chance. Up until a few starts ago, he was having a great spring as well.

Brian Matusz is needed in the bullpen, but he’s also another long term option. This spring Matusz has a 2.40 ERA with 13 K’s in 15 innings. He obviously has the highest ceiling of everyone in this group, being a former high 1st round pick.  Have I mentioned that Matusz will be entering his 26 year old season? That means he’s still at least 2 years away from his prime.

Let’s not forget about Steve Johnson. The same Steve Johnson that pitched to a 2.11 ERA last season and has a 3.46 ERA this spring. Plus there is Jair Jurrjens, who I think still has plenty left in the tank. Jurrjens is a former ace who has lost his way. He’s still only 27 years old and has looked decent this spring.  With some minor league seasoning, Jurrjens will regain his form and will eventually knock down the door to come back to the Majors.

If this guy returns to his All-Star form, he is the teams #1 starter. Is that too optimistic from the BaltimoREALIST? Not really. I have a hard time believing that a former opening day starter and All-Star, who battled injuries, can’t bounce back to his normal form. Especially when he still has 3 years until he’s even 30. Which means…..you guessed it…..he still hasn’t even hit his prime yet. What a steal Jurrjens was this winter. We almost traded Adam Jones to Atlanta last season for a package that included Jurrjens. This year we got him for nothing.

Kevin GausmanSo how many revolving door pitchers have I named thus far? Arrieta, Matusz, Britton, Johnson, and Jurrjens. That makes 5. That’s a lot. Well now it becomes 7. I now throw in the Baseball America 2013 #2 and #26 overall prospects. Of course they would be Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. Let me break this down. Yes they are #2 and #26 overall, but they are also the #1 and #12 pitchers overall. Let’s go further. They are also the #1 and #5 American League starting pitching prospects. Wow. And both of these guys are going to be in the rotation by the end of this season, as quoted by Dan Duquette.

I can’t even imagine how good the rotation will be in the second half if both of these guys have immediate impacts. And if they don’t…..who cares? Someone else will step up. With this number of high upside guys someone will always step up. We learned that last year.

So what’s the BaltimoREALITY? The Orioles rotation is fine. It’s good enough to carry them back to the playoffs. And with Bundy and Gausman inserted in the second half, the potential is there for them to go deep into the playoffs.

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