Much like 2009 the Baltimore Orioles will call upon Jeremy Guthrie to anchor an unproven pitching staff.  The problem is that Guthrie was not ready for that role 2 years ago.  A huge question for the Orioles in 2011 is whether or not he will be ready to be a leader for a collection of young and talented starters.  Can Guthrie be the guy the guy that takes on opposing aces?  Can he be the guy who comes up with big performances when the Orioles badly need a win?  In large part the answer to those questions has more to do with what is between Guthrie’s ears than it has to do with his right arm.

Few can argue that 2010 was a bounce back year for Guthrie.  He posted career bests in wins, innings pitched and WHIP.  Guthrie also cut his home run rate and improved his walk to strike-out ratio over the previous season.  Guthrie had a better approach in 2010 and, more importantly, he had mere life in his arm, more movement in his fastball and better control with his slider and change.  So what was the difference form ’09 to ’10?

Guthrie did not complain of any injury issues in ’09, yet his stuff was not right.  The only explanation for this seems to be that he struggled under the pressure of being the only proven starter inthe rotation.  Guthrie seemed to be pressing in ’09.  He tired to make every pitch perfect, rather than trust his mechanics and stuff.  Enter Kevin Millwodd, and while Millwood was far from steady in ’10, his presence took a load off of Guthrie’s shoulders. 

The hope is that Guthrie has learned from his semi-meltdown of 2 years ago.  Yes his is going to be in a similar role as the lone proven veteran of the staff, but he will need to trust his abilities more and not worry about being perfect every time out.  Guthrie also needs to recognize that, while the rest of the rotation has little track record, they are talented and capable of stepping up when the Orioles need a strong start.  Guthrie also has more support in the field.  Defensively and offensively the Orioles are improved and should give Guthrie more room to go after hitters.

What are reasonable expectations for Guthrie in 2011?  I am not sure Guthrie can pitch much better than he did last year.  He has good stuff, but he is not an ace talent-wise.  That said, with a better team around him, there is no reason he will not win 13-15 games in ’11.  If Guthrie attacks hitters with confidence in his stuff, he can avoid runners getting on base via walks.  Fewer base runners means fewer crooked numbers on the scoreboard and fewer big innings means Guthrie will keep the Orioles in a lot of games this season.