When the Orioles won the AL East in 2014, their pitching was solid and remained healthy. In 2015, where the team went 81-81, their arms struggled and some members of the staff spent time on the disabled list.
It’s a simple formula for success.
This Orioles team in not unlike the others of recent years — it has the offensive firepower to score runs, but in order for them to be successful, they must pitch well.
Let’s dive in:
The O’s starting rotation is clearly the weakest part of the staff and likely the team in general. However, average to good seasons from the rotation can push the Orioles to back where they were in 2014. The key for the rotation is going to be eating innings and giving the game to the bullpen with a chance to win.
Chris Tillman – Tillman has been the O’s most dependable starter over the past few years. He wouldn’t be a number one on many other teams, but he is the Orioles “ace”. He had a good 2014 (13-6 118 ERA+), but followed it with a below par 2015 (11-11 83 ERA+) . He is proverbial favorite to start Opening Day, as he has the past two years. Tillman can eat a lot of innings for the Orioles, and typically provides them a chance to win.
Kevin Gausman – Gausman has the most potential in being a true “ace” for the Orioles. He throws hard, has a plus-changeup, and is working on a new breaking pitch. He had a below average season in 2015, (4-7 98 ERA+). However, Gausman has been on the shuttle between Norfolk and Baltimore, and switched between the rotation and the bullpen. In 2016, he’ll finally get the workload he needs asa full time starter. This will allow for the mental side of his game to settle in, and allow him to focus on one role. He was a dark horse to start Opening Day before he suffered right shoulder tendinitis this spring. If he can come back fully healthy, Gausman can have a breakout season.
Yovani Gallardo – Gallardo, the newest addition to the Orioles rotation, is coming off a career year (13-11 124 ERA+), but he is entering his age 30 season. He can eat innings, but the last year Gallardo threw 200+ innings was 2012. Hopefully, Gallardo can come close to replicating his performance from last season.
Ubaldo Jimenez – Jimenez has had a roller coaster career as an Oriole. He struggled when he first joined the team in 2014, and improved in 2015, being just above average with a 101 ERA+. Yet again, Jimenez can provide experience to the rotation — if he can remain consistent.
Miguel Gonzalez – Prior to 2015, Gonzalez had been solid since the Orioles signed him from Mexico in 2012. He has been a major contributor to both of the O’s recent postseason runs. In the years where Gonzalez has struggled, so have the Orioles. He won’t have to “will” the Orioles to the playoffs this year, but a solid output from him will go a long way to keeping the bullpen fresh and healthy.
The Orioles bullpen will be the leaders of this pitching staff. Their relievers have been effective over the past few years and, like all teams, are most effective when the starters consistently get deep into the games, keeping the bullpen fresh. The Orioles need the bullpen to continue their dominance of the late innings to succeed in 2016.
Zach Britton – The Orioles closer in his almost two years in the role has exceeded expectations. He has racked up 73 saves. In 2015, Britton walked 1.9 hitters per nine innnings, and struck out 10.8 per nine innings. His sinker is thrown with gas, and creates a lot of swings and misses and weak contact. The weak contact can get him into trouble when two or three consective hitters get hits that squeak through, but most of the time Britton avoids this problem. He’s projected to continue to pitch well, and cap off games for the Orioles.
Darren O’Day – The Orioles side-winder will handle the setup role. His ERA+ of 274 last year helped him earn a new four-year $31 million contract with the team. He has been efficient in crunch time over his past four years as an Oriole, only allowing 26% of his inherited runners to score over his career. O’Day will be coming in getting other pitchers out of jams, and bridge the gap from the starters and middle relievers, to Zach Britton.
Brad Brach – Brach has been solid for the O’s since he came in a trade before the 2014 season. He has posted an ERA+ of 125 and 152 in his first two season as an Oriole. He will pitch in the higher leverage situations in the middle innings, bridging the gap to O’Day and Britton. He struggled last year allowing 59% of his inherited runners to score, but that seems to be an outlier, as it is 23 percentage points higher than his previous high. His 25.1 strikeout percentage allows him to be effective in the high leverage situations.
Mychal Givens – The shortstop turned side-arm pitcher could prove to be a crucial part of Buck Showalter‘s middle innings. His unorthodox way of pitching throws a lot of batters off, allowing him to rack up 38 strikeouts in 30 innings last year.
Brian Matusz – The Orioles LOOGY, that fans just seem to “love” will most likely start 2016 on the DL. Matusz, while often criticized, is coming off a season with an ERA+ of 142 , a career high. He will handle the left handed batters coming out of the ‘pen for Showalter.
Zach Phillips – The newest Oriole, signed to be Brian Matusz’s replacement while he is on the DL, hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since 2013. He has been an Oriole before, appearing in 16 games over the 2011 and 2012 seasons. At the Triple-A level in the White Sox organization, he struck out 64 in 54.2 innings.
Odrisamer Despaigne – The pitcher who the Orioles acquired from the Padres in the offseason struggled mightily last season. He started roughly half the games he appeared in, going 5-9 with an ERA+ 63. Despaigne will make spot starts for the O’s, but most likely spend most of the season in the bullpen as a long reliever.
This section is dedicated to the people who don’t really have a spot, whether they could end up in the bullpen, or start the season in Triple-A and be called up mid-season. These guys are the key to Buck and Dan Duquette’s roster flexibility.
Dylan Bundy – Bundy, who at one point was the Oriole’s top prospect, has been plagued with injuries over his pro career. Time will only tell if he can contribute to the Orioles in any capacity, but this season might be one of his last chances.
Oliver Drake – The former Midshipmen made his debut last year. He appeared in 13 games, and had a ERA+ of 147. He will provide a fresh arm moving in between Baltimore and Norfolk.
T.J. McFarland – McFarland will spend time in the Triple-A rotation, and in the long relief role. He will most likely start his season in the minors, but can provide spot starts in Baltimore.
Chaz Roe – Roe will be slotted in to the middle innings. In 2015, he showed some bright spots, having 38 strikeouts in 41.1 innings, but he allowed 44 hits in those innings. He may or may not be a DFA candidate if he is struggling and the Orioles need roster flexibility.
Tyler Wilson – Wilson could be the Orioles fifth starter to begin the year, he could be put in the the major league bullpen, or even start the year in Triple-A. He performed well in parts of his first major league season last year, but struggled in others.
Mike Wright – Wright’s first major league strikeout was of Mike Trout, and he performed well in his debut. However, after that Wright struggled. He pitched to a ERA+ of 69 in 12 games. He projects to be a Triple-A starter for the year, with the possiblity to add a fresh arm to the bullpen or make a spot start or two.
Vance Worley – Another addition to the pitching staff this offseason, Worley could fit into either a starting role or a long relief role. He has been a back-end of the rotation guy in the past, but he only started 8 games out of 23 last year. He is coming off of a subpar year (4-6 96 ERA+), and the Orioles hope he can bounce back to help them contend for a playoff berth.
The Orioles are going to need their pitching to stay healthy and pitch relatively well to contend. If the pitching keeps them in the game, the offense can hit with any team in the league.
Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison