Should Buck Showalter and the Baltimore Orioles hold an open rotation competition?
The Baltimore Orioles’ starting rotation has been a somewhat hot topic thus far this off season – nobody knows that better than Buck Showalter. But more so along the lines of whether or not Chen signs with the Orioles, or who could replace him if he does not. But not much has been said about who will actually be on the roster as a presumed starter come the beginning of camp. And for what it’s worth, pitchers and catchers report in about a month-and-a-half.
I’m the first one to say that the likes of Tillman, Gausman, and probably Jimenez are already in the rotation – in ink, But what comes after that? Does Mike Wright get the opportunity to slip in? How about Dylan Bundy?
For starters (no pun intented!), Bundy is a bit of a urgent case in a sense. He’s obviously coming off of Tommy Johns and so forth, however he’s also out of options. So he has to be on the Orioles’ roster coming out of camp and moving forward into the future, otherwise he’ll be exposed to waivers. That’s not to say that he’s going to be getting a starting job, however he simply needs to be on the roster. (That said, we all know that teams play roster games, so the DL could also be a work-around if one is needed.)
But if the O’s in theory have two starting slots up for grabs, do they literally go with an open competition in camp? Obviously that seems like a no-brainer, however mind you that an open competition isn’t necessarily what it seems. Often times teams will say that they’re having an open competition, only to not really have an open competition. Sometimes that line is used, but guys are already earmarked for the jobs.
I say all of this knowing that Chen is still out there on the market, as are a few other pitchers. But we’re talking about what the Orioles have here and now. What would a true “open competition” look like? I would argue that if you’re truly going to let guys compete for the job(s), you should let them pitch in grapefruit league games without a leash. Most starters in spring training get two innings at the beginning of the schedule and work their ways up. If you’re truly having an open competition, let guys go a bit longer in the games.
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Furthermore let them actually pitch. There are spring training games where managers and pitching coaches will often tell starting pitchers that their only goal that day is to work on one pitch – possibly a change, slider, etc. So their repetoire will be heavy on that one pitch. As a result, sometimes the guy will get hammered around a bit, however after the game managers will say well he wasn’t missing by much, or if you saw things from the perspective that the coaches do you’d know that he wasn’t as bad off as he looked.
So if there’s to be an open competition, let the guys pitch the actual games as opposed to pigeon-holing them into a game plan. Anytime you hear about a starting pitcher who “developed” a pitch over the off season, I suspect that you can look at his stats in spring training and you’ll find a game where he was absolutely hammered. That’s generally going to be a game he was working exclusively on that pitch.
One thing of note in this discussion, the O’s won’t technically need a fifth starter until week two of the season. They open at home on a Monday, and then they get the traditional off day on Tuesday. So if the rotation in theory isn’t totally complete, they could carry four starters north with them and not need to go to a fifth starter until week two in Boston.