Ever since taking two of three in San Francisco against the Giants, the Orioles have lost six of their last nine games. During that fateful stretch, Orioles pitchers finished at least seven innings in a start just twice. One of those came in a loss, the other in a win. Due to this unfortunate statistic, the Orioles bullpen has become overworked, as we’ve seen with the demise of the previously feared Jim Johnson.
To try and nail down exactly how ineffective Orioles starters have been in giving the bullpen a break, I turned to the stats. I compared the Orioles to other contending AL teams to see how many times their starting pitchers have gone at least seven innings. I used the Red Sox, Rays, Yankees, Tigers, Indians, Rangers, and Athletics as comparisons to the Orioles.
Of that total of eight teams (including the Orioles), the Orioles have had the fewest 7-inning starts, with 24. Chris Tillman leads the way with seven, while Wei-Yin Chen has six. The next worst team in 7-inning starts is the Red Sox, who have 31, still significantly more than the Orioles.
The Tigers have the most 7-inning starts of the eight teams with 61, more than double the number the Orioles have. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander each have sixteen 7-inning starts, making the two tied for the most on this list.
The Orioles have received 676.2 innings from their starting pitchers this season, also the fewest of of the group of eight teams. Given that the O’s have played a total of 1,154 innings coming into tonight’s game against the A’s, starting pitchers have pitched 59% of the team’s total innings. That is the lowest percentage of the eight teams, with the Tigers leading the way at 68% and 805.2 innings thrown by their starters.
If you want to point to something specific to blame for the Orioles struggles, and at the same time have the stats to back it up, it would be the inability of the starters to limit their pitch counts and work later into ballgames. The Orioles bullpen, nearly flawless last year, hasn’t been as effective here in 2013. One possible justification could be the number of innings they have had to throw. Jim Johnson’s 48 save opportunities thus far this season is by far the most of any closer in baseball. Johnson had 54 save opportunities last year. If he keeps closing games this year, he’ll likely surpass that number by the end of this year.
Last year, Orioles fans learned the importance of a lockdown bullpen. This year, the starting pitching isn’t doing their part of the bargain. If in these final six weeks of the regular season the Orioles rotation can start putting together more 7-inning starts, the bullpen would gain some rest. Then, the bullpen could be more effective and we could be looking at more October baseball here in the Charm City.
The following numbers are the innings thrown by each starting pitcher for the eight teams I’ve talked about. The percentage number is the percentage of innings that starting pitchers have thrown for the respective teams.
Red Sox: 773 65%
Orioles: 676.2 59%
Rays: 754 66%
Yankees: 767.2 66%
Tigers: 805.2 68%
Indians: 733.1 63%
Rangers: 761 65%
A’s: 769.1 66%