Baltimore Orioles: Building a more effective pitching strategy
By Tim Smart
The Baltimore Orioles are down two of their top pitchers going into this series against the Toronto Blue Jays. Let’s discuss how manager Buck Showalter should utilize the pitching staff to compensate for the lack of available starting pitching
The Baltimore Orioles find themselves in another tough spot going into the upcoming series against the Blue Jays. With top starters Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner unavailable, the Orioles will need to get creative with the pitching staff in order to get through the next three games.
Dylan Bundy is slated to start Tuesday’s contest, but the Orioles are without starters for both Monday and Wednesday night’s games. And the Orioles certainly don’t have a ton of starting pitching options left as we wind down the 2018 season.
Manager Buck Showalter was a bit cryptic in Sunday’s post-game press conference regarding who the team would use for Monday’s game, but said it was down to a couple guys, and they were pretty sure which direction they were going.
We don’t necessarily need to sit and speculate who the Orioles will use on Monday night, but we can talk about how Showalter should use his pitchers: Showalter can take a page from the Tampa Bay playbook and try to copy their ‘opener’ strategy. And not just the rest of this year; this should be the plan for 2019 as well.
This is an unpopular opinion among the majority of baseball fans; we get that. But the Orioles need to get creative. The current ‘throw the kids out there and hope for the best’ strategy clearly isn’t working. The Orioles seemingly haven’t realized that there are better, more effective ways to deploy pitchers, especially rookies nearing or surpassing previous high-innings marks.
The Rays didn’t utilize this strategy because it’s the best way to manage a pitching staff; they had a problem (they were decimated by pitching injuries), and they developed a solution (leverage pitching match-ups to help the team win games).
The Orioles have a problem (pitching injuries, not to mention lack of effectiveness from the rotation), and this could be a solution. We’re well past the point of the Orioles needing to remain competitive in 2018. But if the Orioles have a chance to put their pitchers in a better position to succeed, why shouldn’t they try it?
The concept is simple
You need 27 outs in a game.
Pick an opener for the first 3-5. You want an effective short relief pitcher who can come in and get through the meat of the opposing lineup once; someone who can get outs in a high-leverage situation.
Candidates: Paul Fry, Tanner Scott, Ryan Meisinger, Cody Carroll.
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Okay, we’re reaching here, but only because the performance has been so bad from the Orioles bullpen. Remove your confirmation bias that these guys are bad, and focus on how the Orioles can put them in better positions to win during the game.
Next, we need a bulk guy; similar to the traditional starter, we’d like this guy to come in for the next 15-18 outs. So, instead of third time through the order penalty taking effect against the 1-2-3 hitters in the opposing lineup, it comes into play with the bottom half, the 5-6-7 guys.
Candidates: David Hess, Luis Ortiz, Josh Rogers, Yefry Ramirez, Jimmy Yacabonis.
Take a back of the rotation starter, put him in the game in a medium-to-low leverage spot (rather than a high-leverage one), and let him do his thing. Again, your confirmation bias is probably getting in the way here; however, don’t evaluate the results, evaluate the process. Put these guys in situations where they’re more likely to succeed and it’ll help the team win more ballgames.
Now we need to wrap up the final 6-8 outs, and this is just traditional bullpen usage.
Candidates: Miguel Castro, Mychal Givens, Mike Wright Jr., Evan Phillips
Whatever the situation calls for; if someone can go 2 innings, great. If the Orioles use 3 pitchers to get 8 outs, no problem. We’re just back to the same way Showalter would manage the bullpen at the end of a game with a traditional starter.
It’s important to remember that this isn’t a replacement for traditional starting pitching
This strategy isn’t designed to replace starting pitchers. It’s designed to create better match-ups for your less-skilled pitchers. It’s designed to help your team win ballgames.
The Rays don’t bullpen around Blake Snell. The Orioles shouldn’t bullpen around Dylan Bundy and Alex Cobb. But the Orioles can, and should, bullpen around the back end of their rotation.
We’ve seen the Rays have success with this strategy. Maybe the Orioles pitching staff is just awful right now, and no amount fidgeting with lineups and the rotation will fix that.
But the current strategy isn’t working…nothing is working. The Orioles have been outscored by over a run and a half per game this year, and they could be the first team since 2008 to allow over 900 runs in a season.
The Orioles are bound to have a similar problem in 2019, and they need to find ways to win baseball games with the talent they have on the field. It’s past time for the organization to explore as many options as they can to do that.