Entering the offseason, Orioles GM/VP Mike Elias made the Orioles' primary goal clear: significantly upgrade the starting rotation. With spring training now just days away, the Orioles have not significantly upgraded their rotation and, instead, head into 2023 with several question marks on their pitching staff. This is especially concerning for a team that claims the rebuild is over and the goal is the team's first playoff appearance since the 2016 A.L. Wild Card loss to the Blue Jays. And with the Orioles passing on free agents Justin Verlander, Nathan Eovaldi, Carlos Rodon, and Chris Bassitt, the question marks leave significantly less room for error.
The centerpiece of the deal that sent Dylan Bundy to the Los Angels Angels of Anaheim in December 2019, Kyle Bradish turned in an uneven 2022 season in the Orioles' rotation, going 4-7 with an uninspiring 4.90 ERA and 1.402 WHIP over 23 starts. While Bradish flashed his potential at times, there were some disturbing trends. In 2022, opponents hit .321 and slugged .539 off of Bradish's four-seam fastball, the pitch he threw the most often in 2022. And the 1.40 WHIP put him third to last among starting pitchers last year. Though he will likely earn a spot in the opening day starting rotation, it is anyone's guess if Bradish can be a consistent member of the staff throughout the season.
The Orioles acquired Kremer - the first Israeli in MLB history - in the deal that sent Manny Machado to the Dodgers in 2018. Although Kremer pitched decently in 2022, he is only one year removed from a disastrous 2021 which saw him post a bloated 7.55 ERA and 1.65 WHIP in 13 starts. While Kremer's 2022 numbers were better and included a 3.23 ERA, Kremer struck out only 87 batters in 125 and posted a 4.46 xERA (expected ERA, which shows the 3.23 ERA was "fluky"). Which Kremer will we see? The 2021 version that imploded, or the 2022 version that turned a corner, but did not pitch as well as the standard statistics indicate? Another question mark for the 2023 rotation.
When the Orioles signed veteran right-hander Kyle Gibson to a one year, $10M deal at the Winter Meetings, many saw this signing as a solid, ancillary piece to the rotation. Days away from pitchers and catchers reporting, Gibson is arguably the main piece the Orioles added to the rotation this winter. Gibson was the opposite of Kremer last year - he struggled to a 5.05 ERA with the Phillies, after pitching well in 2021. And instead of supplementing the Orioles' rotation, Gibson essentially replaces fellow veteran Jordan Lyles, who left Baltimore for Kansas City this offseason. While he is a solid veteran addition to the rotation, Gibson presents the same question as Kremer: which version of the right-hander will we see in 2023?
Oriole fans are rightfully excited about the debut of Grayson Rodriguez, which Mike Elias stated could happen as soon as the first or second series. Rodriguez is arguably the top pitching prospect in baseball (though Philadelphia's Andrew Painter has emerged on some lists as the belle of the pitching prospect ball). While Rodriguez's debut will be fun, it is certainly possible that the rookie struggles in his first taste of big league hitters. And you cannot blame Orioles' fans for being cautious - this is a team that has not seen great success from a starting pitcher it drafted since Erik Bedard some 15+ years ago.
Indeed, recent history provides a cautionary tale. Heading into 2020, the top two pitching prospects in baseball were MacKenzie Gore and Casey Mize. In Gore's first full season in cavernous Petco Park in San Diego, he went 4-4 with a 4.50 ERA. Gore was ultimately traded to Washington in the Juan Soto trade, where he did not throw a single pitch in 2022 due to injury. In Casey Mize's first full season, he pitched to a solid 3.71 ERA, but posted a not-so-solid 4.71 FIP. Mize strugged in two starts in 2022 before missing the rest of the season with an injury.
Unfortunately, injuries and underperformance are commonplace, even for the best prospects in the game. Indeed, Rodriguez missed a chunk of 2022 with a Grade 2 lat strain. And while Orioles fans hope Rodriguez hits the ground running in 2023, that is far from a guarantee.
At the end of January, the Orioles acquired left-hander Cole Irvin from the Oakland Athletics for middle infield prospect Darell Hernaiz. There was nothing wrong with this move in a nutshell. But for a team looking for a 1, 2, or 3 starter this offseason, it was a bit of a disappointment. Irvin posted a solid 3.98 ERA last year, but his xERA was a less solid 4.40 And according to baseball savant, the only advanced metrics Irvin was above average in were walk rate (which admittedly he is very good at) and chase rate. And away from the cavernous Oakland Coliseum, Irvin pitched to a 5.26 ERA in thirteen starts. While he is coming to Baltimore with the high left field wall, teams can just stack their lineups with left-handed hitting due to Irvin's career numbers, which do not show a great advantage when he is facing lefties.
Again, acquiring Irvin was a good move, and his ability to eat innings and avoid walking people will help the 2023 rotation. But as with many of the Orioles' starters, Irvin comes with his share of question marks.
Barring injury, the Orioles are likely to break camp with the aforementioned five pitchers in their rotation. Tyler Wells, whom the Orioles plucked from the Twins in the Rule V draft in 2021, represents a solid depth option should injury strike or when the Orioles inevitably (and wisely) try to limit Rodriguez's innings.
While Wells pitched decently in 2022 in his first taste as a starting pitcher in the Major Leagues, his strikeout rate plummeted from 29% to 18% after he left the bullpen in 2021, which produced a FIP (fielding independent pitching) of 4.60, as opposed to his ERA of 4.25. At the end of the day, Wells is likely best suited for the bullpen - where he was in 2021 - as the low strikeout rates as a starter may eventually catch up to him, as again, evidenced by the higher FIP.
Before joining the Orioles mid-season in 2023, Austin Voth was struggling to stay in the Major Leagues. In 2020, he posted a 6.34 ERA in starts and followed that up with a rough 5.34 ERA in 2021 out of the Nationals' bullpen. The beginning of 2023 was even rougher for Voth, as he posted a 10.13 ERA in 19 relief appearances before the Nats designated him for assignment. To Voth's credit, he pitched well for the Orioles, going 5-4 with a 3.04 ERA. But questions remain: did the Orioles discover something in Voth to save him from his downward spiral? Or will Voth revert back to his struggles that led to his designation for assignment in the first place?
Long the second-best pitching prospect in the system to Grayson Rodriguez, the Orioles have envisioned Hall as a starting pitcher. And the hope remains that he will be an important piece of the rotation for years to come. But the big left-hander has struggled with his command at times, which facilitated a 4.91 ERA at Norfolk last year and a 5.93 ERA (and negative WAR) with the Orioles in, albeit, a relatively short sample. Hall envisions himself as a starter - and rightfully so, as the stuff is good enough for him to thrive in such a roll for a long time. He also has a good head on his shoulders, as evidenced by a well-done short film on him. But some believe he is better suited for a high leverage bullpen role due to his propensity for walking people. Many fans - this author included - think he deserves a shot in the rotation. But as with all of the Orioles' starting pitching candidates, questions abound.
There are plenty of reasons for Orioles fans to be excited for the 2023 season. A shutdown bullpen returning all of its key pieces and adding Mychal Givens. Full seasons from Adley Rutschman and rookie-of-the-year frontrunner Gunnar Henderson. Havoc on the basepaths with Cedric Mullins and Jorge Mateo. And perhaps, becuase last season was such a pleasant surprise, this article is a bit nitpicky, as the Orioles rotation could be just fine, if not better. But with expectations raised during a terrific season, and from Mike Elias's mouth about truly supplementing the rotation in free agency, the Orioles enter 2023 with a decent group of pitchers - but a group with several question marks that may not be enough to push this team into the playoffs for the first time since the 2016 heartbreak in Toronto.