On a night where the likely American League Cy Young award winner came in to face a struggling Baltimore Orioles offense, it was the O’s starter that shined bright and was one out away from a complete game shutout. On consecutive nights, Jordan Lyles and Kyle Bradish combined to pitch 17.2 innings with only one earned run and five hits given up with 16 strikeouts. Simply put, those two dominated and allowed the bullpen to only need to record one out. Both pitchers are in an entirely different stage of their careers as Lyles is in his 12th big league season and Bradish only made his debut in April.
Will the Baltimore Orioles retain inning-eating SP Jordan Lyles?
Lyles is also in the final month of a one-year contract and will have an interesting case in free agency as he has been a good veteran presence for a young rotation and has been able to stay healthy and consistently eat innings but has had a subpar 4.50 ERA with a 4.38 FIP. The O’s have made it clear that they want to be aggressive in free agency this offseason so they may look for more reliable rotation options than Lyles but he does remain an option as a back-of-the-rotation veteran presence.
The Orioles rotation has improved significantly from 2021 as this year’s rotation has pitched to a 4.41 ERA compared to 5.99 a season ago. Even so, starting pitching is not a strength for the team as they are composed currently and the team notably lacks a true ace. Of course, John Means is a legitimate ace when healthy and he will return at some point in 2023 but the O’s can not depend on him being the same dominant starter that he was in the first half of 2021.
If the Orioles want to make a legitimate playoff push, they will need to add to the rotation from external sources which may include trades of top prospects or opening up the pocketbook to free agents like Carlos Rodon or Chris Bassitt. However, for the purposes of this article, I will just look at players who are currently in the rotation or on the 40-man roster to look at who has earned a spot in next year’s rotation.
Of course, Bradish is coming off arguably the best start of the season for the O’s and is still young as he just turned 26 last week. He was a headliner in the trade that sent Dylan Bundy to the Angels bringing Bradish and several other pitching prospects to Baltimore. Despite the strong start and several other impressive outings over the past several months, he sports a 5.05 ERA with an 80 ERA+. However, the season splits before and after the All-Star break tell an interesting story.
Before the break, Bradish had 10 starts and gave up more than one home run per start to the tune of a 7.38 ERA in 46.1 innings pitched. However, in the second half, he has made 11 starts and has pitched to a 2.67 ERA in 64 innings pitched. The main difference has been his ability to limit walks and keep the ball in the yard. As I mentioned, he gave up more than one home run per start in the first half but has only given up five home runs in 11 starts since. He has also improved his walk per 9 innings rate from 3.5 to 2.7 in the two halves. Simply put, Bradish has earned a spot in next year’s rotation and will likely be a middle-of-the-rotation piece next season that could be a major x-factor for the O’s next season.
Which starting pitchers could feature in the 2023 Baltimore Orioles rotation?
The only other young pitcher that I will claim with full confidence has earned a spot in the 2023 rotation is Dean Kremer. Coming in, 2022 was a make-or-break season for Kremer and he certainly took advantage. In 2021, he had an 0-7 record with a 7.55 ERA in 13 starts, and looked like he might not have a role in the O’s future as he was injured on Opening Day this year. However, he has excelled since returning to the rotation with a 3.33 ERA and 3.58 FIP in 105.1 innings.
The home run numbers have notably decreased from 2.9 HR/9 last year to 0.7 HR/9 this year in nearly double the innings. Similar to Bradish, Kremer came to Baltimore as a prospect in a trade. In his case, he was a part of the Manny Machado trade at the 2018 deadline and it seems that Dean may be the savior of that trade from the O’s perspective. Dean is not an overpowering pitcher as he only strikes out 6.4 batters per 9 innings but his high spin rate pitches fool hitters enough to be effective. Dean will be 27 on opening day next year so he could remain a mainstay in the rotation for several years.
Outside of Bradish and Kremer; Lyles, Tyler Wells, and Austin Voth have also had fairly strong seasons in the rotation. As I mentioned, there is a good chance the O’s let Lyles walk in free agency and Voth may not come back either as he enters his age 31 season and his first offseason of arbitration eligibility. Wells will be back next year in some capacity but the O’s may decide to move him back to the bullpen since he does not have the stamina required to be a full-length starter and has dealt with some injuries to finish this season.
Despite turning 30 in June and having almost no success with the Nationals, Voth has turned things around in Baltimore to the tune of a 2.84 ERA in 15 starts. This is especially impressive compared to his 10.13 ERA in Washington in 18.2 innings this season. His peripherals hold up as well with a 143 ERA+ and 3.79 FIP with the Orioles.
Similar to Kremer, Voth fools hitters with high spin rate pitches as his curveball ranks in the 96th percentile for spin rate in MLB. Ultimately, Elias and Co. will have a tough decision to make as he enters arbitration eligibility and comes off a fantastic turnaround in Baltimore.
Wells is another feel-good story for the Orioles as he has become a rule-5 success story as he was taken from the Twins organization in the 2021 Rule-5 draft. He was one of the few bright spots in the O’s bullpen in 2021 which propelled him into the Opening Day rotation this year where he has also pitched well to a 4.25 ERA in 23 starts. Whether or not Wells pitches in the rotation or out of the pen in 2023 will depend a lot on how much the O’s add over the offseason and the level of confidence in his ability to pitch lengthy outings.
All in all, the Baltimore Orioles have a lot of questions to answer this offseason but Bradish has made things easier with his performance of late. He and Kremer will be in the Opening Day rotation next year but the rest needs to be figured out. The Orioles will surely make moves externally to add starting pitchers and there is a real possibility that the Opening Day starter is not currently in the O’s organization since Means should not be available by then and no one else internally has shown enough to be considered a true ace.