Baltimore Orioles: Trying To Find Left-Handed Starters
By Nick Stevens
Will the Baltimore Orioles add any left-handed pitching to their rotation or go with the few young and unproven arms on the roster?
I woke up this morning to my phone telling me that the wind chill outside was hovering right at zero degrees, so cold that many local school districts are beginning the day late. Then I turned on the morning news and saw what the northeast has been experiencing and I suddenly lost all urges to complain about the cold. Hang in there, everybody. Baltimore Orioles baseball is right around the corner.
Pitchers and catchers officially report to Sarasota, Florida on February 12 and the Orioles will play their first Grapefruit League game on February 23 against the Minnesota Twins. There are plenty of questions surrounding the O’s 2019 roster as these dates approach, including how they address the catching situation, who plays shortstop, how does the outfield lineup, among others.
Here’s another question to ponder, which left-handed pitchers slot into the starting rotation? At the moment, the Orioles have Richard Bleier, Paul Fry, Tanner Scott, and Donnie Hart pitching from the left side out of the bullpen. The only left-handed pitchers on the 40-man roster competing for a rotation spot are Josh Rogers and John Means.
Left-handed pitching options for the Baltimore Orioles.
Rogers was acquired from the New York Yankees as part of the Zach Britton trade and made his major league debut with the O’s in late August. Overall, he made three starts, going 1-2 with a 8.49 ERA and 1.89 WHIP. He struck out just 10.7% of hitters he faced, while walking nearly 9% and allowing a .340 batting average. They feasted on his low-spin, low-velocity four-seam fastball (averaged 2099 spin rate and 89 mph, per Baseball Savant).
Scouting reports on Rogers often highlight his control, however, his walk rate has climbed steadily as he has moved up through the minor leagues. Last season was only a small taste of the majors for Rogers, so there’s only so much you can take away from it, but unless he can find that command, generate more groundballs, and limit the hard contact, Rogers will struggle in the American League East. I’m more inclined to slot Rogers in as a spot-starter/long reliever.
The other name on the list is John Means. A product of West Virginia University, Means made stops at Double-A and Triple-A last season, even making his major league debut with a 3.1 inning outing in late-September. He’s had solid success at limiting free passes, walking 4% of hitters in 111 AAA innings with the Norfolk Tides.
Like Rogers, Means doesn’t have electric stuff, but he has put together reliable seasons in AA and AAA ball, posting FIPs of 3.83 and 3.43, respectively. During a two-month span with the Tides last year (June and July), Means struck out 63, walked just eight, and gave up 18 earned runs across 67+ innings. One of the big questions facing Means is whether or not he can remain consistent on the mound across a full season.
Potential left-handed options for Baltimore.
There’s a possibility that Mike Elias brings in a starting pitcher or two once spring training gets underway, low-cost veterans who likely struggled in 2018. Every once in a while, signings like these can hit, see the San Diego Padres signing of Tyson Ross last season. Signed to a minor league deal late in camp, Ross emerged as the top starter for the Padres, until he was designated for assignment after the trade deadline. I know, being the best Padres pitcher isn’t saying much at all, but Ross helped to eat innings as prospects in the upper-minors prepared for their major league debuts.
Brett Anderson is on the market and coming off a 4-5, 4.48 ERA season with the Oakland Athletics. His 80 innings were the most he’s logged since 2015 and his 1.28 WHIP was the lowest mark since 2012. The groundball rate is impressive and he is effective at limiting hard contact, but what value would a 31-year-old oft-injured arm bring to the Baltimore Orioles? I’ll pass.
Dallas Keuchel is avai…….nevermind. Gio Gonzalez brings intrigue and the ability to eat a large percentage of innings, but will surely come at a price which the Orioles won’t feel comfortable paying for a 33-year-old.
Now 35, Francisco Liriano has walked nearly five hitters per game in each of the last three seasons. He went 5-12 with a 4.58 ERA on a struggling Detroit Tigers team in 2018, but has been a reliable backend rotation piece for years with multiple different franchises.
How about Drew Pomeranz? Pomeranz went 2-6 with a 6.08 ERA, 1.77 WHIP, and a 13% walk rate with the Boston Red Sox in 2018. Per Baseball Savant, he ranked near the bottom of the league in most advanced metrics and was hit harder than just about any other pitcher in baseball. Yawn.
More from Birds Watcher
- Baltimore Orioles Sign RP Mychal Givens
- Gunnar Henderson: Destroyer of Four-Seam Fastballs
- Which Current Baltimore Orioles Pitchers Have the Best Curveballs?
- Orioles News: Should the O’s Pursue Eovaldi? + More MLB News
- Should the Baltimore Orioles Consider Signing Nathan Eovaldi?
What do the Baltimore Orioles do?
Strictly looking at left-handed options, I like Josh Rogers and John Means a lot more than any of the above options (other than Keuchel and Gonzalez, but those contracts aren’t coming to Baltimore).
When watching year one of the rebuild, would you rather watch a young arm like Means, who has worked his way through the O’s system and done all he can to earn a shot at a major league job or watch 35-year-old Francisco Liriano walk four hitters per game and serve up multiple home runs per outing? Easy answer, John Means.
If the regular season were to start tomorrow, the starting rotation would consist of Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, David Hess and either Means, Rogers, or Yefry Ramirez rounding out the staff. More names like Hunter Harvey, Luis Ortiz, and possibly Jimmy Yacabonis will also be in the mix. That’s a lot of right-handed pitching. Realistically, at the end of the day, fans are going to see a large number of pitchers climb the hill in an Orioles uniform, be prepared.
If you need a storyline to follow in spring training, watch the battle between Means and Rogers closely, especially if the Orioles avoid signing another left-hander in free agency.