Pitching has been a struggle for almost every Oriole team of the 2000′s. The Jim Palmers, Dave McNallies, Mike Flanagans, and even the Mike Mussinas are long gone, leaving the Daniel Cabreras, Sidney Ponsons, Radhames Lizes, and Adam Loewens to wallow in the depths of incompetence.
There have been bright patches, with players like Kris Benson Erik Bedard, with more maturing such as Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, and Jake Arrieta.
The Orioles are looking at 2011 as the year of maturity for many of their young starters, as well as the year of the scoreless 7th’s, 8th’s, and 9th’s with the addition of more late inning relievers.
1 – Jeremy Guthrie – RHP
In 2010, the O’s looked toward newly acquired Kevin Millwood as the ace of the staff as well as a mentor to the young arms around him. Millwood struggled, pitching to a 4-16 record and a 5.10 ERA, the worst record of his career and worst ERA since 2007.
Millwood now sits at home, awaiting a return call from the New York Yankees in what looks to be a minor league contract.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Guthrie is penciled in as the O’s Opening Day starter, becoming only the sixth starting pitcher in Orioles history to start three Opening Days (other 5: Dave McNally, Steve Barber, Jim Palmer, Mike Mussina, Rodrigo Lopez).
Guthrie is coming off a bounce back season, registering a 11-14 record with one of the lowest run support averages in the American League, as well as a 3.83 ERA. Guthrie had a career low 1.161 WHIP, the lowest WHIP by an Orioles starting pitcher with thirty or more starts since Mike Mussina had a 1.117 WHIP in 34 starts in 1997.
If Guthrie continues his 2010 form, he puts himself in line for one of the last few All-Star spots, as well as puts the Orioles in position to finish out of last place in the AL East for the first time since 2007.
The Orioles always lack the “sure thing” in the rotation. Jeremy Guthrie needs to be that sure thing in 2011 for Baltimore to have any belief.
2 – Brian Matusz – LHP
Of all the young guns that the Orioles’ farm system has supplied, Brian Matusz has showed the most promise. Matusz pitched to a 10-12 record in 2010, registering a 4.30 ERA, 143 K’s, and a 1.343 WHIP. He had the fifth worst run support average amongst left-handed American League starters.
2011 will be Matusz’ third season in the majors, promoting reason to believe in a break-out. Pitching to double-digit wins (and not too many losses) in the American League East in a starters’ first full season in the majors is rather impressive.
In his last eight games of 2010, Matusz pitched to a 6-0 record, a 1.57 ERA, .178 opponent batting average, and struck out 43 while only walking 12. The Birds won each of those starts.
Matusz also brought in a 2-0 record against the Red Sox, 2-1 against the Rays, and a 1-3 record against the Yankees, despite having a 2.92 ERA in those four starts.
Despite his decent season, Matusz needs help with his control and situational pitching. Brian was second in the American League in pitches per inning with 17.1. He average 3.2 walks per innings pitched.
What really hurt him was his lack of double plays. Among American League pitchers with at least 160 innings pitched in 2010, Matusz was tied for fourth least in double plays with nine. Matusz’ ground out to air out ratio was 0.71, well below the league average of 1.07.
Matusz has improved his ability to induce ground balls from his first Major League stint in 2009. His ground ball to fly ball ratio went from 0.41 to 0.57 and his ground out to air out ratio went from 0.59 to 0.71.
3 – Brad Bergesen – RHP
Going into Spring Training, I would have had Justin Duchscherer in the third spot in the rotation, finishing the series in Tampa Bay. However, Duke will be starting the season on the disabled list — shocker –, therefore creating a battle for the third spot in the rotation.
Chris Tillman, Zach Britton, Ryan Drese, and Brad Bergesen are rumored to be in the running.
I know, I know, you all want Britton to have the spot. I may be one of a few people that actually want Britton to start the season in triple-A until the time is right.
And if you’re pulling for Drese, go look at his career stats. Here, here’s the link. Let’s keep him in AAA.
That narrows it down to Tillman and Bergesen.
You have to give the edge to the guy who has had some Major League success. Brad was in the running for Rookie of the Year in 2009 before getting his shin taken off by a line drive. He was 7-5 on the season with a 3.43 ERA.
Yes, he did struggle in 2010, but who didn’t?
His last 12 starts of the season were not bad. He went 5-3 with a 2.85 ERA and .226 opponent batting average. In that span he had two complete games — one a two-hitter against the Indians — and another eight inning win.
Compare that to Tillman’s season where he failed to pitch a complete game and his greatest performance was a near no-hitter in Texas.
Tillman is only turning 23 this April, let him work his way back from triple-A.
4 – Jake Arrieta – RHP
Manager Buck Showalter has announced that Jake “The Snake” Arrieta will be the starter for the Orioles’ home opener April 4th against the Tigers.
There was a time in 2010 where Arrieta was the most consistent Orioles pitcher. It mus have been the momentum from beating the Yankees in his first career Major League start.
Arrieta’s 6-6 record is deceiving. Two of his losses were quality starts where his pitch count called for the hook. The Orioles lost those games 2-0 and 3-2. With a little run support, we could be talking about the 8-4 Jake Arrieta. Much better ring than the 6-6 Arrieta.
5 – No One – For Now
The Orioles have no need for a five man rotation to start the season. Check it out:
April 1 – Jeremy Guthrie
April 2 – Brian Matusz
April 3 – Brad Bergesen (or whoever the #3 is)
April 4 – Jake Arrieta
April 5 – Off Day
April 6 – Jeremy Guthrie
April 7 – Brian Matusz
April 8 – Brad Bergesen
April 9 – Jake Arrieta
April 1o – 5th Starter
Yup, the Orioles won’t need a fifth starter until April 10th, a Sunday home game against the Texas Rangers. I’d expect a spot start from Chris Tillman or Ryan Drese.
7th Inning Man – Mike Gonzalez – LHP
This is a different Mike Gonzalez starting the season. One who won’t be blowing the home opener.
Let me ease your pain a bit.
In his last 26 appearances of 2010, Gonzalez had a 2.78 ERA and a .165 opponent batting average.
In fact, you could say he was one of the most efficient bullpen arms the Orioles had in 2010. I know, it sounds weird.
With the addition of Kevin Gregg and the revival of Koji Uehara as a closer, Gonzalez now has less pressure.
In 2010, Gonzalez had a 0.64 ERA in 15 non-save situations. Opponents were hitting .109 off of him.
In 14 save situations, Gonzalez had a 8.44 ERA and a 3.10 opponent batting average. He must have caught it from Jim Johnson.
8th Inning Man – Koji Uehara – RHP
The Orioles were able to depend upon Koji to close in 2010 when all there other options fell to pieces. He did well, minus a few appearances against the Yankees.
Koji would be the closer to start 2011 if it weren’t for some elbow discomfort and the acquisition of Kevin Gregg.
If healthy (and in the right weather), Koji and Gonzalez could shutdown the 7th and 8th inning, handing the ball over to Kevin Gregg for the save. That is if the rotation can hold their own.
Closer – Kevin Gregg – RHP
Why wouldn’t Gregg be the closer? He has saved 121 games in the last four seasons including a career high 37 last season for the Blue Jays.
Gregg has proven that he can close in the American League, something really only Mariano Rivera has been able to do in recent seasons. Having someone who can do that is a huge plus for the Orioles who struggled to hold late inning leads in 2010.