The Baltimore Orioles are in a tricky situation. Their starting rotation is awful and free agency is scarce of quality starting pitching this off-season.
Not only is this a problem, but the Baltimore Orioles could potentially enter the 2018 with an all right-handed starting rotation.
The two lefties many fans are talking about are C.C. Sabathia and Jason Vargas. I know, just like you, I shook my head at the fact these are the Orioles’ two best bets at a left-handed starting pitcher. So let’s take a look at who would be a better fit for the Orioles to sign.
Something to definitely take notice about Sabathia this past year is his win-to-loss ratio. His 14-5 record was his best since 2012. Although, having the third ranked lineup in the league helps that record. Meanwhile, the Orioles’ lineup ranked 25th overall. So who’s to say how the record would look like if Sabathia came to Baltimore.
Sabathia set a career low in fly ball percentage (27.9%) this past season while posting his career’s 3rd best ground ball percentage (49.5%).
Sabathia’s 3.69 ERA, .245 opponent batting average, and 1.27 WHIP were all his best since 2012.
But two crucial stats Orioles fans like to look at for incoming free agent pitchers are fly ball percentage and ground ball percentage. Well, Sabathia set a career low in fly ball percentage (27.9%) this past season while posting his career’s 3rd best ground ball percentage (49.5%). This left Sabathia’s ground ball/fly ball ratio at a career best (1.79) to end the 2017 season.
Sabathia set another career high with a 79% Left on Base percentage. This would have been the highest left on base percentage in the Orioles starting rotation from last season.
With the Orioles bullpen ranked 4th in the league last year in innings pitched, a starter who can eat up innings is crucial to the team’s success. Unfortunately, Sabathia pitched a career low 148.2 innings this past season. This played in part to going on the 10-day DL twice last season.
The low amount of innings led to just 139 hits, so some could argue that’s actually not a bad stat. But the Orioles need a starter who can eat innings. So with the low amount of innings, take those amount of hits given up with a grain of salt.
Sabathia’s 7.26 K/9 was the lowest it’s been since 2004. Although his 3.03 BB/9 is down from his 2016’s 3.26 BB/9, this still shows Sabathia is starting to walk batters a little more than usual. Before 2016, Sabathia didn’t post a BB/9 stat above 3.00 since 2004.
The last, and most obvious, negative is his age (37) in contrast with his market value ($12.2 million according to Spotrac).
We all know Jason Vargas was looking like an early Cy-Young candidate to start the season. He ended 2017 with an 18-11 record setting a career best. In 2017, Vargas’ 134 strikeouts was the second most in a single-season for his career.
Just like Sabathia, Vargas also had a great season with ground balls and fly balls. Vargas’ 40.3% ground-ball percentage set a career best. His 40.4% fly-ball percentage was his second career best, but only by just .1%. This left Vargas with a career high in ground-ball/fly-ball ratio (1.00).
Despite Vargas’ 179.2 IP being third least in his career as a starter, it still would have been second most in the Orioles starting rotation last season. (That alone should tell you something about how bad the Orioles starting pitching was last season)
And unlike Sabathia, Vargas’ $9.5 million market value is a little more reasonable for his age (34). This leaves the Orioles with the option to spend more money on another free-agent.
Vargas has been a starter (100+ IP) for just half of his career.
This past season he threw a 4.16 ERA which is second worst in his career as a starter. And while Vargas did go 179.2 innings, he gave up 181 hits. And any baseball fan knows it’s not a good look when a pitcher has more hits given up than innings pitched.
Don’t let his 4.16 ERA fool you. While it may have been the lowest in the Orioles rotation last season, Vargas failed to throw below a 5.00 ERA from July-October. Vargas also allowed opposing batters to hit .261 against him last season, which is his highest since 2009.
Something fans should take note of is that Vargas tore a ligament in his throwing elbow back in 2015. While the season progressed last year it showed Vargas came back down to earth, and even a few feet through the dirt, after his hot start. So his elbow is definitely a cause for concern.
Honestly, neither one of these pitchers would be an ideal starter behind Dylan Bundy or Kevin Gausman. With the Orioles eyeing other pitchers such as Andrew Cashner, Lance Lynn, and Alex Cobb, neither of the two would be top-3 in the Orioles rotation.
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But, the Orioles do need a lefty after the club declined Wade Miley’s option for the next year. And while both are definite upgrades over Miley, there isn’t much left to the imagination with these two.
Sabathia has more experience pitching in Orioles Park at Camden Yards than Vargas. He was also more consistent throughout the year maintaining an ERA below a 4.00 in both the first and second half this season.
Sabathia also has the better ground-ball/fly-ball ratio as well. While Spotrac does have Sabathia’s value at $12.2 million, it’d be shocking if any team would give Sabathia that money. Then again, with the way contracts are in baseball nowadays, no it wouldn’t.
I honestly see Sabathia being the better fit for the Orioles rotation. But I won’t argue if you prefer Vargas instead. Like I said at the beginning of the article, quality free-agent starting pitchers are scarce this off-season. If the Orioles do end up signing a left-handed starter it’ll be scraping the bottom of the barrel. But, the Orioles need a left-hander. So someone will definitely be signed sooner or later.