The Orioles still have more to do when it comes to their rotation

January 26, 2010 |

I hope the O’s aren’t finished with their off season acquisitions. Every year, countless teams make the same mistake when it comes to evaluating pitching depth in the starting rotation. Even through orange colored glasses I hope that people realize that this team is lined up for a lousy second half if one more slot in the starting rotation is not addressed.

Before I even get into what I am talking about and let you in on my recommendation, let’s first consider some numbers from the American League in 2009. In today’s game, most teams would be happy with a starter that gives them 180 innings in a particular year. No team had four starters give them that in 09.

Teams with 3 starters logging 180 IP – NYY, CHI, TB
Teams with 2 starters logging 180IP – BOS, MIN, LAA, DET, TEX
Teams with 1 starters logging 180IP – BAL, TOR, KC, SEA
Teams with 0 starters logging 180IP – CLE, OAK

The point is that no matter what you think you can count on before the season, things are likely to change. So when you look at the O’s top three of Millwood, Guthrie and Bergesen, and think that they are locks…think again. Also, notice that winning teams will typically have 2 or 3 starters reach the 180 mark.

The next thing we will look at is how many starts each team gets from players other than their top 5 starters according to games started. Ready to pencil in a guy for 30 starts? Don’t be so sure. Last year each team needed an average of 38.86 starts from starters other than those that would be in their top 5 for starts. Naturally this is due to a number of factors such as ineffectiveness, trades and injury. Below is the list for each team.

NYY 23 MIN 40 LAA 35
BOS 37 DET 31 TEX 42
TB 24 CHI 32 SEA 64
TOR 35 CLE 50 OAK 44
BAL 54 KC 33

As for the O’s, what should we expect from those that are already here?

Millwood is a nice addition, but don’t be so quick to give him the “work horse” label after he has failed to reach the 180 IP mark in 3 of the last 6 years. For the most part his track record says he will stay healthy, but ineffectiveness (ERA of over 5.00 in 2007 & 2008) does not always allow him to go deep into games. This does not bode well for a questionable bullpen and means we need to get pitchers that work deep into games in our 2-5 spots…

Guthrie, who topped the league in losses last year with 17, appears to be the most reliable to get to the 180 IP plateau after reaching that mark for the past two years and just missing out in 2007 by 5 innings while he was left out of the rotation early in the year. A solid starter who struggled at times last year, we have to hope that 2009 was an aberration.

Bergesen gets a lock in the rotation after an impressive rookie season that was cut short by a line drive off of his leg. I like what Bergesen showed last year but keep in mind he only has 19 ML starts under his belt and has never been stretched out over a full season. In his minor league career Bergesen has pitched to totals of 165 IP in 2008 and 150 IP in 2007, both on par for a decent minor league season but the next season he pitches 180 innings will be his first.

Now we get to the big question marks with Matusz, Tillman, Hernandez and Berken as this group will take the last two spots with the other two probably eating up those “other starts” which are 39 on average or 54 if you were last years Birds.

Out of this group Brian Matusz clearly showed the most in his 2009 opportunities. It was his first season in professional baseball and when he came to the majors he showed why he was worthy of being a number 1 pick. Good control and the ability to strike guys out give hope that Matusz will soon be a top of the rotation hurler, but how hard will the organization push the 22 year olds arm? Don’t get me wrong, I really like Matusz, and think he has a good chance to get close to 30 starts, but that is still a lot to count on from someone who has 8 ML starts.

Chris Tillman. Yes, I know he has good stuff, but he is 21 and needs to learn to command all of his pitches. In his 79 minor league starts he has averaged 4.9 IP per game. I understand that this may not be Tillman’s fault since he has likely been on pitch counts, but we can assume one of two things. Either he throws too many pitches to get guys out or he has been on an extremely low pitch limit. Either way, relying on Tillman to fill a rotation spot for an entire season seems like a bad bet.

Jason Berken. Not ready. Posting a 6.54 ERA and a 1.74 WHIP in 24 starts tells you all you need to know.

Lastly, David Hernandez was rushed to the majors after only 57 IP at the AAA level and it showed. Although he has the pitches to be successful in the majors the location is not yet there. A good chuck of the season for Hernandez should be spent at AAA where he can continue to develop.

The O’s have chose to enter a season with questionable depth in the rotation before and yet people wonder why the team is a wreck in August and September. The only way to address this and give players ample time to develop is to bring in someone that can give you innings and keep you in ball games. The free agent pool is starting to thin but there is still one option to solidify our starting five.

Jon Garland is the fit for 2010 and maybe even a few years after. This season Garland with be 30 years old and he has pitched 190 innings in each of the last 8 years. Is he dominant? No. In fact he is quite average with his 117-102 record and 4.42 ERA (all in the AL except for 2009). It will take a multi year deal to get him to come to Baltimore but is that so bad when you are looking at 2011 with Millwood being a free agent (or dealt before then) and a pitcher like Jeremy Guthrie who could be a non-tender or trade candidate when his arbitration figure could be around $5 million next year.

The Orioles have made improvements this off season, but they will not sniff 81 wins without more help and consistency out of the rotation. Jon Garland is the only option at this point that can help get the team to a respectable level in 2010. They have the cash. The question is, do the O’s see their own vulnerability and will they address it properly?