As the Winter Meetings get heated up, there are many questions throughout Major League Baseball that have not yet been answered. Will Aaron Judge leave New York (editor’s note: no)? Will the Phillies repeat as National League champs with Trea Turner? Will the Rangers finally reach the Postseason with Jacob deGrom and Corey Seager? There is one question that I can assure you no one else is asking except for me: Who will be the best player named “Kyle” on the 2023 Orioles?
As of right now, there are three candidates in Kyle Bradish, Kyle Gibson, and Kyle Stowers. Bradish and Stowers were rookies for the O’s in 2022 and Gibson just recently signed a one-year contract with the O’s and will likely play a similar role in the starting rotation that Jordan Lyles did in ’22. Now that I have piqued your interest, let’s look at each Kyle and the case for each to earn the coveted distinction that none of them knew they were competing for.
Baltimore Orioles: Battle of the Kyles
The Case for Kyle Bradish
Bradish had an up-and-down rookie season for the Orioles. He was the starting pitcher on May 21st when Adley Rutschman made his highly anticipated Major League debut but he started the season off struggling before dealing with an injury that kept him out during much of the dog days of summer. Entering July, Bradish had a 7.42 ERA in 10 starts and was plagued by the long ball as he gave up 11 homers in those 10 starts. However, Bradish finished strong and was able to lower his ERA by more than two and a half runs over the final two months to finish with a 4.90 season ERA in 117.2 innings pitched. The success peaked for Bradish on September 22nd against the eventual World Series champs as he was one out away from a complete game shutout in a 2-0 win for the Orioles against the Astros.
The biggest factor working in Bradish’s favor is that he was virtually unhittable for much of the final two months and he made great hitters look foolish. His strikeout numbers were not overpowering but after his initial struggles, he kept the ball in the yard masterfully and success followed. After allowing 11 homers in his first 10 starts, he gave up only 6 in his final 12 starts in nearly double the innings pitched. This seems to be a trend for young pitchers on the O’s staff, especially with the new wall in left field at Camden Yards.
According to Steamer, Bradish is projected to finish with a 4.11 ERA in 28 starts and 155 innings pitched in 2023. While this is nothing special, it will allow him to be a consistent rotation option for the O’s. If there are no additions to the rotation through free agency or trades, Bradish could potentially serve as the Opening Day starter since John Means will not be available as he recovers from Tommy John Surgery and there is simply a lack of “ace” pitchers in the current rotation.
The Case for Kyle Gibson
The newest addition to the rotation, Gibson spent 2022 in Philadelphia where he struggled to a 5.05 ERA in 167.2 innings pitched. However, he did represent the Texas Rangers in the 2021 All-Star Game before being acquired that deadline by the Phillies. In 113 innings and 19 starts for the Rangers in ’21, Gibson pitched to a 2.87 ERA and 154 ERA+ while allowing only nine homers. As I mentioned earlier, Kyle will play a similar role to Jordan Lyles in that he will be asked to eat innings out of the back end of the rotation and keep the O’s competitive in all of his starts. He has pitched more than 1500 innings in his first 10 big league seasons, 7 of which came in Minnesota with the Twins. He also keeps the ball in the yard well as he has only allowed 1.1 homers per nine innings pitched throughout his career.
Wild Kyles: Who will be the Best Kyle on the 2023 Baltimore Orioles?
Notably, the Orioles beat out the division-rival Blue Jays for Gibson’s services despite offering identical contracts in what will hopefully begin a trend as the O’s hope to become more attractive to free-agent pitchers. Once again, Gibson is a safe bet to make the O’s opening day rotation and, barring injury or disaster, should serve as a starter in Baltimore throughout the 2023 season.
Steamer projects Bradish and Gibson to have similar stats in 2023 as Gibson is projected to have a 4.21 ERA in 29 starts and 172 innings. Gibson will have no issues keeping the ball in Camden Yards, especially against right-handed hitters, and he has a solid defense behind him so he is set up to have a successful 2023 season in Baltimore.
The Case for Kyle Stowers
Stowers is coming off a season where he tore up Triple-A before a somewhat successful offensive showing in Baltimore to finish the season. He gave the O’s arguably their most memorable moment of the most memorable season in a while with his two-out two-strike game-tying homer off of Liam Hendriks and the Chicago White Sox last August. This homer was also memorable as it was Stowers’ first in his Major League career. In Baltimore, Kyle hit .253/.306/.418 with three homers in 98 plate appearances and 34 games. Power was his biggest asset with those three homers as well as 19 in 95 games for the Norfolk Tides in 2022. Strikeouts were an issue but this should become less troublesome as he progresses throughout his career.
To start the season, Stowers should be a consistent starter in the outfield, especially if the O’s choose to move Anthony Santander to DH full time which is certainly a possibility. The first few months will be critical for Stowers to prove that he has a future with the team as young outfielders Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad are breathing up his neck in the minors and will force him and Austin Hays to compete for future outfield spots.
Steamer is not too generous to Stowers, as they project him to have a .241/.315/.435 slash line in only 78 games while providing -7.3 defensive value. Continuing to hit for power while also improving his strikeout rate will be critical for him to have a successful 2023 campaign.
Ultimately, none of the Kyles are projected to have lights-out 2023 seasons but there is potential for all three to help lead the O’s to another successful year and a potential playoff spot. After looking at the stats and projections, and just based on the eye test, I believe that Kyle Bradish will have the best season of the three Kyles on the current roster but they all have the potential to earn the distinction with strong seasons.