Baltimore Orioles: The Rotating Rotation


ro·ta·tion [roh-tey-shuhn] noun … 1. the act of rotating; a turning around as on an axis.   2. a regularly recurring succession.

This is something the Baltimore Orioles do not have. There is nothing “regularly recurring” about the starting pitching rotation of the Birds. But maybe that doesn’t matter so much anymore in this modern era of baseball.

I am an old man for a blog writer. I can actually remember the 1971 four-man rotation of Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson, and Dave McNally. McNally had 30 starts that year, whereas the other three posted 37 or 38. These guys averaged about 250 innings a year between 1969-1973.

May 2, 2013; Anaheim, CA, USA; Baltimore Orioles pitcher

Chris Tillman

(30) pitches against the Los Angeles Angels during the third inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

But the point I’m getting at here is that, in those days, you pretty much knew every fourth game who would be pitching, and by extension for the whole year. Later, when five-man rotations became the more reasonable paradigm, one could follow his team and pretty much know – with only a few exceptions – who would be rotating as a starter throughout the season. Maybe there are some modern teams out there like this, as I don’t closely follow the majority of them; but I can say for sure that the Baltimore Orioles are not, and have not in any recent memory, been one of them.

Already this year with 38 total games in the books, the Orioles lead the baseball universe by having had nine different starters. And it looks like we are only just getting started with the rotating door of the rotating pitchers of the rotation. It can make one’s head rotate as well, and it now seems almost silly to have so much pondered over spring training as to which player would be the fifth starter.

This situation is not normal. It is crazy. But it may not be deadly. And for that, Orioles fans can thank Dan Duquette who has loaded up the system with viable choices. I well remember FanFest 2012 when a year ago in January, Nick Markakis was asked about his observations upon the off season and said, “We sure seem to be stockpiling a lot of arms around here.”  Ah … yep! Some people collect stamps or coins; Dan Duquette collects pitchers.

Of the starting five pitchers this season, only Chris Tillman seems to be on solid ground at the moment. Jason Hammel has had multiple consecutive rough outings and can’t seem to command the ball (which is, by the way, a phrase never heard until recent years). Michael Gonzalez is at least briefly on the DL. Jake Arrieta is throwing the ball for Norfolk now (with word today that he has a stiff shoulder). And also today, Wei-Yin Chen had to depart early with an oblique strain – the severity of which is yet undetermined. These guys have more ups and downs than my stock portfolio … and less guarantees of ultimate reward.

I probably sound very critical, and truly I do not mean to be. Stuff happens. I’m not sure why it happens more frequently than it did 40 years ago, I can only observe that it does and we are into the mode of “the next man up.”  So really, I mean for this to be a positive blog post, because the Orioles – unlike most franchises – are able to dip into the minors and bring up the next guy and continue to win. At this moment, the Birds are on pace to win 98 games.

So who will be the next man up if indeed Chen has to shut down for a time … or to fill in one or another of a few pending holes in the rotation? I am guessing it might well be Jair Jurrjens, who right now has an ERA of 2.62 and a WHIP of 1.16. He also has a clause in his contract that releases him if he is not called up by a certain approaching date.

But will we ever see the day in Baltimore where there is a relatively “normal” rotation? And who will be the five main guys? I am guessing that we are never going to get close to such a scenario this year, and I’m honestly good with that – never expected to get there this season. But I am thinking that 2014 will feature something more regular. Thinking logically, there would seem to be two certain long-term pieces in Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. I believe Chris Tillman is the real deal and has largely figured out what it takes to be a consistent winner. Chen looks like a long-term keeper and innings-eater (believing today’s incident to be but a bump in the road). The fifth spot is a more open question as I see it. Until recent weeks, we would all say it is Hammel. It would be great to see the Jurrjens of the past reappear, and I do not think that is impossible. Perhaps it will be Tsuyoshi Wada – who was to be the better of the two Oriental pickups from last year. It really should be Arrieta, whom I believe to be the most talented … but I see him as a reliever along the lines of Brian Matusz – guys who can be lights out for a short time but who don’t have some issue of fortitude for the starting role. And I cannot explain the Zack Britton situation … can only say that he has dropped off the radar with a current Norfolk ERA of 3.38 with a WHIP of 1.67 (Yikes! … has 12 walks in 24 innings).

Over recent years, commentators of the Orioles have looked in at the team and said that it will go as far as the starting pitching takes it. Well, that could pretty generally be said about every team. And though we have lived through some real adventures with the rotating rotations, honestly, the anemic offence has cost the team more of the losses than the starting pitching… that is, until this year. Now the offense has become a genuine strength with league stats in the top handful of every category. It is NOW true that the Orioles will go as far as the starters take them – given the run support AND the top-notch bullpen.

We have an interesting 18 months ahead to see how all of this shakes out for the Orioles. So what do you think?