By Ross Gore

2010 is the year of the pitcher in Major League Baseball (MLB). Compared to previous years (2005-2009) home runs are down (~11.5%), walks are down (~2%), strikeouts are up (~0.5%), and the Ground ball to Fly ball ratio (GB/FB) is up (~3.5%) as of July 22, 2010.GB/FB measures how frequently a pitcher gets batters out on ground balls versus fly balls. Recording more outs via ground ball is preferred since there is no chance the ball can leave the ball park and ground balls that are not recorded as outs rarely result in more than a single.

However through this same 2010 season the Orioles pitchers collectively have recorded one shutout and one complete game. The shutout was a tag team effort from Brad Bergensen, Will Ohman, Koji Uehara and Alfredo Simon. While the complete game was pitched by Kevin Millwood who allowed four runs in an eight inning loss to the Mariners. Neither was exactly legendary. Simply put, in the year entitled “The Pitchers Strike Back” it seems as if Orioles have been left out of the 60 feet 6 inch party.

What makes this isolation harder to take is that it wasn’t supposed to be this way. In the spring we kept hearing about how much better the 2010 starting rotation was from last year’s. So how is this possible? Given the league wide pitching improvement, we would have expected this year’s rotation to significantly outperform last year’s which included the likes of Adam Eaton. Let’s take a closer look at the numbers to see exactly how well the 2010 Orioles starting rotation has faired against the 2009 Orioles starting rotation.

First, let’s compare the two starting rotations using the following ratios to normalize the difference between a full 2009 season and 2/3rds of the 2010 season: K/9, BB/9, HR/9, GB/FB.

K/9 – measures the number of strikeouts recorded per 9 innings.
BB/9 – measures the number of walks recorded per 9 innings.
HR/9 – measures the number of home runs allowed per 9 innings.
GB/FB – explained above.

In the table below, the first row shows the performance of the 2009 starting rotation in each of the four categories. The second row shows the performance of the 2010 starting rotation in each of the four categories. The third and final row shows how one would expect the 2009 Orioles starters to perform this year, given the league average decreases in HR/9 and BB/9 and the league average increases in K/9 and GB/FB. Obviously the third year is purely fictional and hence is labeled the expected 2010 season (x2010).

Player Season K/9 BB/9

2009 SPs 2009 5.47 3.22 1.58 0.83
2010 SPs 2010 5.53 3.47 1.41 0.97
2009 SPs in 2010 x2010 5.50 3.16 1.40 0.94

The data allows the Orioles faithful to breathe a small sigh of relif. In two of the four statistical categories (K/9 and GB/FB), the 2010 starting rotation is actually performing better than we would have expected the 2009 starting rotation to perform in ‘the year of the pitcher’. In the third category (HR/9) the starting rotation is performing at about the same as one would have expected the 2009 starting rotation to perform in 2010.

However, the table shows that the 2010 Orioles starting rotation has serious control issues. The current starting rotation is walking .25 more batters per nine innings than the 2009 starting rotation in a year where walks are down 2%! Without thinking too hard about this issue, I would chalk this up to the number of young starters in the Orioles rotation throughout 2010. Most young starters tend to experience control issues throughout their first year in the majors and this rotation is no different. However, the lack of control could also be blamed on Orioles pitching coach Rick Kranitz. If the BSR readers are interested in leading a charge against Kranitz and supplanting him with Norfolk Tides pitching coach Mike Griffin, who has had tremendous success with many of these same starters, they have the author’s full endorsement.

In the next post we’ll take a look at several of the individual pitchers in the 2010 starting rotation and see how well they are performing this year compared to how well we would have expected the 2009 version of each of them to perform in the pitcher friendly 2010 MLB season.