As I watched David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays pitch a complete game last night in his team’s 5-2 win over Texas, the strength with which Price mowed down a powerful Rangers lineup got me thinking about the good & the bad that was the Orioles starting pitching this season. I am not a pitching expert, these are simply my observations from afar on the year that was.
THE GOOD: Tillman continues to develop into a top starting pitcher in the American League with a strong fastball, curveball, and change-up. A winner of 16 games, the most for an Oriole since Mike Mussina won 18 in 1999, Tillman’s ability to not let a tough inning dictate how he pitched the rest of the game showed his growth as a competitor. Especially impressive was his 8-inning, 3 hit, late August start against Oakland. He was rewarded for his 13-4 start with a trip to the All Star Game and became the first Orioles pitcher to throw 200 innings since Jeremy Guthrie in 2011.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Tillman was Mr. Foul Ball this season, which drove up his pitch counts. When he did lose consistency, walks and solo home runs were his biggest weaknesses. With the lack of available true aces on the free agent market and a shallow O’s farm system, the team will be looking to Tillman to take the reigns of the rotation next season.
THE GOOD: All things considered, Scott Feldman was a remarkably consistent presence in the O’s rotation for the last 3 months of the season. The lone complete game of 2013 belongs to Feldman (granted, it was against the White Sox, but a complete game is a complete game), and he went toe to toe with Andy Pettitte and Ivan Nova in two big games against the Yankees.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Pitch count and walks were also an issue for Feldman, as he tended to either be lifted early or have to find a way to gut out 6-7 innings. Feldman was prone to the “big inning,” which doomed him in a few starts, especially big losses to Boston and Texas. Feldman has indicated he would like to return to Baltimore in 2014.
THE GOOD: Norris showed good command of his fastball and had strong outings against Cleveland and Tampa Bay, going at least 7 innings in both games and allowing only one run. Being in a playoff race seemed to energize Norris, and he stayed confident even when he was having trouble hitting his spots. He pitched well at Camden Yards, something many thought he wouldn’t do because of his reliance on fly ball outs.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Norris had trouble consistently getting deep in games, something that affected many pitchers this year. When his command was off, he did a lot of pitching from behind, and that got him into trouble. Norris is under contract for the next two years.
THE GOOD/ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: There wasn’t much good about 2013 for Hammel, especially compared to his strong campaign in 2012. He battled injuries for most of the season, eventually hitting the DL in August. Hammel looked strong coming out of the bullpen near the end of the season, and there has been speculation the team will experiment with Hammel as a long reliever in 2014 if he is re-signed.
THE GOOD: Gausman showed, in flashes, that he has the tools it takes to succeed in the major leagues. While his initial starts were understandably rocky, he pitched extremely well out of the bullpen. His velocity is major league ready and he has good command of his fastball. He doesn’t seem easily rattled, amazing for a 22 year old with little minor league experience.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: While he was great in spurts, Gausman also showed his age and inexperience. He still needs to gain better control of his offspeed and breaking pitches as well as more confidence in them. Time in the Arizona Fall League will help him gain experience and continue to find himself as a major league pitcher.
THE GOOD: When Gonzalez gets on a roll, he’s as tough to hit as they come. He showed it this year with strong starts against Boston, Toronto, Anaheim, and the Yankees. He pitched well at home, impressive since he’s considered a fly ball pitcher. Gonzalez showed great poise for a pitcher with just one year of big league experience.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Gonzalez was bitten by the home run bug this season, giving up 24 over the course of 171 1/3 innings pitched. He often ran into trouble in the 6th inning, so his ability to get deeper into games will be key in 2014.
THE GOOD/ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Wei-Yin Chen‘s first start in July after coming off the disabled list was one of the best performances by an Orioles pitcher this season. 7 innings, 1 run, 3 hits and a victory over Texas. Chen looked fresh, confident and completely in control. I’m not sure I saw that version of Chen the rest of the season. His usually effortless delivery began to look forced in August and he seemed to lose confidence in his pitches and his ability to control the plate.
Overall: It was a tough year for the starting pitching staff; when they didn’t pitch well, they were criticized, and when they did pitch well, the run support wasn’t always there. If Tillman can cut down on the fouls and homers, Gonzalez on the homers and walks, and Gausman can continue to gain confidence, they could make a formidable trio at the top of the rotation, with Norris and Feldman providing stability at the backend.
I turn it over to you all, how do you feel about the team’s 2013 starting pitching now that the season is over?