Baltimore Orioles: Pitching Staff Completes Historic Month

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - APRIL 27: Dan Straily #53 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches in the second inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field on April 27, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - APRIL 27: Dan Straily #53 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches in the second inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field on April 27, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images) /

The pitching staff for the Baltimore Orioles was historically bad through the first month of the season.

When you thought things couldn’t get any worse for the pitching staff, they did. When you thought things might be turning around for the pitching staff, they weren’t. Baltimore Orioles‘ pitchers weren’t just bad through the month of April, they were historically bad.

The calendar now reads May 1st, meaning a fresh start for O’s pitchers, right? If only it was that easy. Outside of John Means and his impressive changeup and Andrew Cashner winning ballgames, the pitching staff for the Baltimore Orioles has been historically bad and they don’t appear to be ready to stop setting records, yet.

Alex Cobb was supposed to be the Opening Day starter. He’s now on the Injured List for the third time this season and won’t return anytime soon. The Orioles haven’t been open to releasing much information about injuries, but I’d be shocked if Cobb returns before June or July.

Nate Karns tried to rehab and return to the big league roster, but after two minor league appearances (one in Norfolk, one in Bowie), Karns was returned to the Injured List. I was in the stands when Karns made his rehab start in Norfolk. It was ugly, the fastball couldn’t reach 90 mph, and AAA hitters feasted on Karns, when the ball eventually found the strikezone.

Mike Wright was ineffective and shipped off to Seattle, Jimmy Yacabonis and Tanner Scott have been optioned to AAA, and 25 different pitchers have already taken the mound for the Orioles, including three position players.

It’s been ugly, historically ugly, and when it comes to home runs, no other pitching staff in the history of Major League Baseball has come close to performing as bad as the O’s.

The Baltimore Orioles are breaking records and on pace to shatter more.

Through the first 30 games of the season, the Orioles own a 10-20 record and sit in last place in the American League East. The 10 wins have exceeded the expectations of many fans, myself included.

We all knew the pitching staff was going to bad, but they have been on a different level of bad in 2019.

Their 6.50 ERA ranks dead last in baseball, more than half a run higher than the Texas Rangers, who rank 29th in team ERA. They are one of just two pitching staffs in baseball with a negative fWAR at the moment, entering May with a -1.8 fWAR. The Cardinals are the only other team with a negative fWAR, currently sitting at -0.3 fWAR. It’s pretty impressive, when you think about it.

The home run struggles have been the most notable black mark on the staff. You can hear the frustration, amazement, disappointment, and disgust in Gary Thorne’s voice as he has to call yet another home run for the visiting club. Opposing teams have cleared the fences a MLB-record 73 times in 2019 against the Baltimore Orioles.

The previous record for home runs given up before May 1st was 50. That record was destroyed. Baltimore broke the record on April 20th. Their 69 home runs surrendered in the month of April are also a new major league record for most home runs given up in a single month, shattering the 1964 Oakland A’s record of 57 home runs. Luckily, the Orioles and White Sox were rained out on Tuesday, April 30th, meaning no more opportunities to give up a home run before May 1.

You can’t blame this performance on juiced baseballs or the increased frequency of home runs across major league baseball. You can, however, blame it on a buffet of meatballs sitting pretty right down the middle of the plate for opposing hitters.

Who helped the most in propelling the Orioles to 73 total home runs given up?

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While teams like the Blue Jays, Rays, and Reds call up their top prospect hitters to inject life into their offenses and teams like the Braves and Padres rotate top prospect pitchers into the major league rotation (and keep plenty more elite arms down on the farm), there is no savior coming up for the Baltimore Orioles. The top arms like Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall are years from being ready. Even top prospects such as Keegan Akin have no business being exposed to major league life at this point in the season.

General manager Mike Elias continues to work the waiver wire, recently acquiring Shawn Armstrong from the Seattle Mariners, a reliever who has been effective at keeping the ball in the yard. The early returns on many of Elias’ depth moves have been positive (see Dwight Smith Jr. pitcher David Lebron down on the farm), hopefully, he can continue to find placeholders who can stop the bleeding and get this team through the 2019 season.

Overall, the pitching staff is giving up a slash line of .283/.355/.556. For comparison, the league average slash line is .253/.320/.415. More than 12% of batted balls have been barrelled against O’s pitchers, resulting in a hard-hit rate of 46%. That’s double the number of barrelled balls compared to league-average.

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Hopefully, the month of May will start on a better note. The Baltimore Orioles are scheduled to play a doubleheader on Wednesday, with Andrew Cashner and David Hess taking the mound. However, more rain is in the forecast for Chicago.