Baltimore Orioles Offseason Blueprint: Part 1-Pitching

November 16, 2012 in Baltimore Orioles Offseason

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The Baltimore Orioles are coming off their best season since the 90's, and are facing an AL East that has it's two juggernauts retooling, as both the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are seeing age and contracts catch up to them. While neither should be considered out of the hunt, both are weaker than they've been in the last decade. Now the Orioles other two division opponents aren't to be forgotten. The Rays despite their small payroll are incredibly dangerous with their deep rotation and farm system. The Toronto Blue Jays, just made a mega deal landing them two very good starters and an All-star shortstop without giving up much in immediate talent. Toronto and Tampa both have some key players returning from injuries, and present a real threat for the Orioles chances of winning 90+ games. The Orioles need a strong offseason if they hope take the East or make it back to the playoffs as a wild card. This is my blueprint and reasoning for the moves they should make.  .

Needs:2 Starting Pitchers

The Orioles are set in the bullpen, but need to make some serious upgrades both on offense and in the rotation. Though many don't consider the rotation that much of an issue due to the presences of Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter, Jake Arrieta, and Dylan Bundy, that is extremely short-sided. Though Hammel and Chen were both very good last year, and are well deserving of spots they aren't on par with top pitchers in baseball, putting additional pressure on the other three spots to be effective. Also, Hammel has never pitched more than 177 innings in a season and is in the final year of team control. As for the rest of the names mentioned, conventional wisdom is that both Gonzalez and Tillman did enough to earn a spot in the rotation, and the 5th spot can be filled by one of the other names or a moderate free agent signing. Miguel  Gonzalez no doubt was impressive last year, but he's a 28 year old journeyman starter, who was solid (not great despite the record) for 15 starts last year. He's never pitched more than 145 innings in any season (and that is a combination of minors and majors), and you are now expecting him to be an integral member of a playoff rotation, capable of 180+ innings and 32+ starts. As for Tillman, he's looked the best he's been, but the Orioles have been teased by his promise before, and it's bitten them. Guys like Matusz and Britton have a ton of promise as well, but it's unclear if it will ever come through. While a guy like Bundy has untold potential, rushing him could be a recipe for disaster. The other guys are really nothing more than filler and stopgaps. It would be one thing to go into a season with this group of pitchers if you were a rebuilding team hoping for 75 or more wins, but to pin your playoff hopes on this rotation would be irresponsible. That is why the Orioles need not just one, but two good starters.

Don't believe it? Well consider these numbers. The Orioles finished 21st in the league in quality starts, and while their team ERA was middle of the pack their bullpen had a lot to do with that. Among starting pitchers the Orioles finished tied for 13th with 61 wins, while 13th doesn't seem that bad it was the lowest among all 10 playoff teams. They ranked 15th worst in losses among their starters, again worst among all playoff teams. They also had the fewest innings pitched by their starters among playoff teams. The Orioles starters were tied for the 4th highest home runs per 9 innings, and while being in the AL East and playing at Camden Yards will impact that, it's a number that has to go down. Their starters ERA is 10th worst in baseball and not surprisingly the highest among playoff teams. There are plenty of additional stats that put the Orioles starters at the bottom of the pile among playoff teams (and sometimes in general as well), leaving the simple fact that their starting pitching is well below par. Yes the Orioles bullpen was able to make up for it, but that can't be relied upon to occur every time. The Orioles due to their propensity for extra inning games, pitched the highest number of innings in baseball 1,483 last season, and despite finishing 20th in starter innings, their starters still accounted for 63% of all the innings. Fixing the starting rotation is an absolute must.


(Though there are some trade targets the Orioles weaker farm system keeps them from likely going that route)

SP Anibal Sanchez:

Sanchez might not wow you with his win totals, but his peripheral numbers indicated that he's exactly what the Orioles are looking for. He's had a sub 4.00 ERA each of the last three years (and in fact any year where he's made more than 10 starts), and even looking at his 12 AL starts with the Tigers his ERA was 3.75. Each of the last three seasons he's pitched either 195 or 196 innings, showing nice durability. His walk rate would have been lower than any of the Orioles starters that started at least 15 games. His ground ball percentage and Home run rate would have only been behind Hammel in terms of effectiveness. Sanchez also picked up some playoff experience this past year and posted a 1.77 ERA and sub 1.0 WHIP in his 20.1 innings for the Tigers this fall. Sanchez at 29 years old (age for the start of next season) is one of the few sub-30 quality pitchers out there and could be someone the Orioles build with the next few years. Now he will cost some money and years, but he's someone the Orioles need to open up their checkbook for if they are serious about a repeat playoff appearance. They could be looking at a 4 year deal in the neighborhood of $15 million a year, but it is worth it for Baltimore.

Edwin Jackson:

Jackson is in many ways a lot like Anibal Sanchez, though is perhaps underrated. Jackson came up as a top pitching prospect for the Dodgers and has flashed brilliance at times, but he's not near consistent enough to think that he can turn the corner. He has been remarkably consistent, despite pitching six different teams in the last five years. Since 2008 Jackson has never pitched less than 183 innings, and has gone over the 200 inning mark twice, Of those five years he has two seasons with sub 4.00 ERA's, including 2009 where he pitched in Detroit and 2011 where he pitched most of the year with the White Sox. His peripherals fluctuate some as well, but he's shown an ability to be a solid ground ball pitcher (47.3% last year), and in both 2010 and 2011 had a home run rate below 1 per 9 innings pitched. Those two stats are a must to succeed in Baltimore and the AL East. While his playoff performance hasn't been stellar he's been a part of contending teams each of the last 5 years (for at least part of the year). He's by no means an ace, but he's a far better durable and consistent option than most of the guys the Orioles would look to trot out there next year. Jackson will be just 29 next season, and actually could be undervalued by the market. It wouldn't be shocking to see him average closer to $10 million a year for no more than 3 years.


Sanchez and Jackson are by no means the only quality starters available, but unless the Orioles break the bank for Zack Grienke, they will be hard pressed to find pitchers that suit their needs as much. Sanchez and Jackson are both young (in terms of free agents), durable starters who are relatively strong in the areas where the Orioles need the most help. Ground ball pitchers who aren't as homer prone, and who don't walk as many batters are the best way to get by without having a pure ace.  A rotation of Hammel, Chen, Sanchez, and Jackson all but ensures the Orioles of the starting pitching talent of a real playoff team. If their bullpen, and offense repeat their performance (or come close), the Orioles should be able to get 90+ wins again. Yes it may lead to some tough decisions among the rest of the Orioles pitchers, but that is the mark of a quality team, and could give them some depth to trade from for future assets.


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22 responses to Baltimore Orioles Offseason Blueprint: Part 1-Pitching

  1. They're not going after Jackson and probably will look more in the trade market than at free-agent pitchers, who they usually avoid and never sign to long-term contracts. Yes, they need more pitching depth, but they also have two five-star rookies (Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman) in the pipeline. Plus, Miguel Gonzalez did not start for a full season this past year and Hammel got better as the season progressed. Chen tired, but I think he'll be better next season and Joe Saunders should be back as well. Yes, they need starting pitching but it's not as dire as you think. Plus, you're overrating Jackson — Saunders is better than he is anyway and you don't even mention him.

    • Saunders never has been near the pitcher of Edwin Jackson, and it's not even close. Saunders doesn't strike out as many batters, walks about the same, yet gives up more home runs, and has a slightly lower GB rate. He should be considered a fall back option.

      It is quite possible that neither Bundy or Gausman will be ready to be starters for the Orioles this year. Neither could handle a 30+ start workload, and at best are late summer/september call ups. Their future is very bright, but you can't just assume these guys will be there. Remember when Britton, Tillman, Matusz and Arrieta were supposed to give the O's top of the rotation stuff. None of them have come close. While I have every faith in Bundy and really like Gausman alot, waiting on them means you are letting your playoff window slip by.

      Mighuel Gonzalez is a horrible bet for 30+ starts, if he earns it great, but he has ZERO track record to support that projection.

  2. Resign Saunders Sign Tim Stauffer-RHP,move Hunter to 8th inning guy,o'day/Patton-7th inning,Strop-5th-6th..Give Steve Johnson-5th starter,Wada/Stauffer-4th,Gonzalez-3rd,Chen-2nd,Hammell-1 Saunders competes with S Johnson for 5th starter/Long Relief

    • Unfortunately that is not a pitching staff that is likely to contend for the postseason. Why should the O's act like a small market team?

    • what does Tim Stauffer bring to the table? The Orioles need big upgrades to their staff, not just reshuffling the deck chairs.

  3. I still have the feeling that Duquette and Co will not be spending heavily this year. I think we have an outside shot at getting Hamilton if we offer 5 year 125 mill, but besides that, I think we will look to try to get a real ace. I am not talking about Zack Greinke. I speak of Dan Haren. Yes, he was injured last year and his velovity was down, but if we could get him for a 2 year deal at 12-13 mill per year, we would have the chance to have one of the underpaid aces in baseball. Sure, he may be hit by the injury bug again, but it is not a huge commitment all things considered. As recent as 2011, he was an ace workhorse and even last year while injured, he didn;t pitch terrible. If he lost the velocity on his fastball and still pitched decently, sign me up! What do you think?

    • @Ryan- I am a big Dan Haren fan overall, and when I went into writing this I thought I'd be highlighting him. Looking at him more though I had noticed that his GB% has been dropping and over the last 4 years is roughly 41% (never higher than 42.9%). That is down from his 45% ealier in his career and worries me with the move to Bal and the AL East (a number of hitter friendly parks). His HR rate has also been higher the last couple of years than Jackson/Sanchez, which scares me. I think he's def. still worth it if he's fully healthy, but it sounds like he prefers West Coast teams.

  4. I don't see a need for two starting pitchers; one, yes; but not two. Hammel, Chen, Tillman, and Gonzalez are LOCKS. We'd be laughed at by 29 other teams if any one of them doesn't make the rotation. I see Tsuyoshi Wada and Steve Johnson serving as long men out of the bullpen. Arrieta, Britton, and Matusz in AAA working with Rick Petersen(hopefully he stays in the organization!!!) with Bundy in AAA as well. We have plenty of starting pitching depth. One mid-rotation starter on a one year deal with option would be great(Saunders).

    • @Matt

      The Orioles starting pitching last year was really bad, and the worst among all playoff teams, so you wouldn't change a thing? You have to upgrade over Saunders something that both Jackson and Sanchez are major improvements over. And you can't rely on Gonzalez and Tillman. Why are they locks? What have they done to suggest they can even come close to repeating that performance over 30+ starts? Why are the Orioles still acting like a 60 win team?

      • The second half starting pitching was not bad. You must remember the team's starters in the first half included Matusz, Arrieta, and Hunter- three pitchers with terrible years/bloated ERA's. Hunter will be throwing upper 90's out of the pen, and Matusz/Arrieta will be in AAA, NOT being counted on to carry the team in 2/5 of our games. As Tillman and Gonzalez came in, they solidifed the rotation into a very good one. Sanchez is a better pitcher than Saunders, Jackson…not so much. But to what extent would you be willing to have Sanchez in your rotation over Saunders? Certainly not the difference in money Anibal is going to recieve over Saunder's recieving. I don't really undrstand your logic here with Tillman and Gonzalez. You're looking at two pitchers who dominated in the major leagues for half a season, and you're content with not giving them a chance to see if they can repeat their performance over 30 starts? They are going to be in our rotation. period. period. Sure, you don't count on them as being sure things over 30 starts. Thats why you have depth; not costly pitchers that take your rotation spot.

        • @Matt

          Just because Gonzalez had a nice stretch doesn't mean you can count on him. He's a career minor leaguer who has never pitched more than 145 innings (last year) in a season. As for Tillman maybe he turned the corner, but maybe he didn't. There are plenty of years of pitchers with one good or half a good season. Remember guys like Daniel Cabrera or Rodrigo Lopez?

          Jackson is WELL above Saunders and not it's not close. Just b/c Saunders has more wins doesn't mean he's near the pitcher Jackson (or Sanchez) are. Saunders has just been on good teams that got him victories. Jackson is a far superior pitcher who can be counted more to carry a team. And yes I'd rather pay Jackson $10 million a year and have a good number 3 starter than Saunders $7-8 million a year for a good number 5 starter. The Orioles need starters if they want to be a playoff team, they can't just hope to mix and match these guys (Tillman for 15 starts, Britton for 15 etc.) You don't make the playoffs unless you have at least 4 pitchers who can be counted on for innings. Esp. in a hitter friendly park in the AL East. Maybe if we were in Petco you could rely on your depth, but not here. You need groundball pitchers who can limit home runs.

          • Player A ERA since 2008:
            4.42, 3.62, 4.47, 3.79, 4.03
            Player B ERA since 2008
            3.41, 4.60, 4.47, 3.69, 4.07
            Player A is Edwin Jackson. Player B is Joe Saunders. Where do you see the sizeable difference? I Don’t look at wins, wins are pointless.
            Okay, you point to two pitchers who had a good run for short periods of time. This is why you have depth for pitchers like Tillman and Gonzalez. You can’t count on any player coming into the league. So since you can’t count on them, what, leave in the minors forever? No, you give them a chance and have depth in case they falter. How does any rookie come into the league then? You can’t count on them being productive?

          • Look at these numbers over the last 4 years:

            K's per 9 innings: Jackson: 6.77, 7.78, 6.67, 7.98, Saunders: 4.89, 5.05, 4.58, 5.77, that is on average an extra 2-2.5 strikeouts per nine innings pitched for Jackson.

            BB's per 9 innings: Jackson: 2.94, 3.35, 2.79, 2.75, Saunders: 3.10, 2.83, 2.84, 2.01, Saunders is slightly better here, but those are pretty high walk rates without the corresponding strikeouts.

            WHIP: Jackson: 1.26, 1.39, 1.44, 1.22, Saunders: 1.43, 1.46, 1.31, 1.34 Again Jackson wins here, which is telling since his walks are slightly higher.

            GB%: Jackson: 39.1%, 49.4%, 43.8%, 47.3%, Saunders: 47%, 43.7%, 44%, 43.1%, Saunders isn't bad here and earlier in his career this is how he made his money, but for a non-strike out pitcher under 45% is not ideal. Jackson is over 45% 2 of the last 3 years, and he's a far better strikeout pitcher.

            The Orioles are a playoff team, how many other playoff teams or contenders (i.e. teams like Dodgers, Angels, Rays, Blue Jays) are going into the year without their starting rotation basically set. And if they have a hole they have one hole, not three. The Orioles can't afford to try this pitcher or that pitcher for a certain number of starts, now that they are a contender. If they need to use these guys b/c of injury so be it. But they have their depth for the future and what leftovers they can look to trade for future assets or depth among position players.

          • Wouldn't let me reply to the other post, so I'll just put it here. You mention many statistics, but the most important one. Saunders and Jackson have let up the almost exactly same amount of runs the past 5 years. Jackson is gonna get alot more money than Saunders and I'am not going to pay alot more for a pitcher we can get for less. I've said it before and I'll say it again, you don't have two pitchers that dominated for half a season in the minors waiting for an injury. We'd be laughed at if Gonzalez and Tillman don't make the starting rotation. They dominated for half a season in the major leagues, so lets just send them down because we still don't know if they can get minor league hitters out.(sarcasm) Granted, you need depth for them, but don't make them the depth. You can’t count on any player coming into the league. So since you can’t count on them, what, leave in the minors forever? No, you give them a chance and have depth in case they falter. How does any rookie come into the league then? You can’t count on them being productive?

          • Runs are not entirely in a pitchers control which is why many people look at stats like FIP or xFIP, ERA-, etc. that normalize things based on fielding, and league and ballpark factors. Jackson does better in these metrics, and given that the Orioles are in the toughest League/division, play in a hitters park, and project to have at least an above average defense, it makes him the safer bet.

            One of those guys (Gonzaleez/Tillman) will need to be in the rotation, the other is either a long man, in the minors (not sure on Tillman's options) or trade bait. To rely on both pitchers would be basically saying that a return to the post season isn't important.

          • ERA can be flawed over a year. But not over 5. There is no way you can get unlucky or lucky over 5 years. These are two entirely different pitchers…..that let up the same amount of runs. You will not find many other people that agree with you. Tillman and Gonzalez pitched better than almost every free agent pitcher on the market for half a season, given they came into 2012 with no expectations. What do they have to prove in the minors? Why would they go to the bullpen after dominating when starting? I guess you and me share two different opinions, you want to buy your way into the playoffs, and I want to go down the much less expensive, risky, and efficient path by emphasizing on development, scouting, and making the free agetn acquisiton when needed. This way also saves money for the big free agent signing in a couple of years.

          • The Orioles have no choice but to "buy their way" into the playoffs, Baltimore doesn't have the current talent to get back there. And counting on two pitchers who only pitched half seasons sums that up pretty well (throw in Hammel if you want as well). Guess what the Orioles starting pitching even with these two was the worst for the year among all playoff teams, that needs to be fixed big time. Just praying that Gonzalez and Tillman are legit it a sure-fire way to finish around .500 this year.

            Signing guys likes Jackson and Sanchez should have little impact on the Orioles ability to re-sign their own guys or other FA's in the coming years. Especially since winning will bring in more money through both ticket sales and the value for MASN. Given the increased revenues from the league, the O's should be able to maintain well over $100 million payroll.

            Finally, Jackson strikes out more batters, has more ground balls and fewer line drives, without a big gap in walks. Those are all the factors that contribute to runs so you want as many of those types of pitchers as possible. I don't know who would want to take lesser pitchers if they didn't have to, that makes zero sense.

          • Okay, its official! You can only pitch starting pitchers if they've had a full year in the majors. Makes perfect sense. And it also makes zero sense to buy the same caliber pitcher for much less money. Getting the same value for alot more money is way better.

  5. I feel O's starting pitching would be good enough if we can score more clutch runs. Go after both-B.J.Upton for left field & Nick Swisher for 1st base. You can probably get both of them for about the same 5 year contracts of Josh Hamiliton alone. Hamiliton is too risky. Have we not learned from Glenn Davis & Albert Belle signings. Upton has speed , power & defense. Swisher has power, is a switch hitter & a great competitor. Plus both players I believe are about 29 years old.

    • @Gary- The Starting pitching was the biggest problem last year, and the one thing the O's didn't have a problem with was "clutch runs". I'm obviously fine with Swisher, but Upton doesn't make sense since he's a CF and will be paid like one. He's alos a low OBP guy and the O's have too much of that.

  6. Why you would feel Jackson is a good buy is anyone's guess. He averages 6 innings or less. OK so you say, our many other pitchers pitch that way. Ok, but they do not ask $11 million or more for multiple years. My guess is that if Jackson would take a 3 year contract at under $8 million a year, someone might sign him. Note his annual innings compared to Sanchez.

    Sanchez is not worth 6 years x $15 million and until that is resolved or the Tigers blink, no one is signing him.

    • @David:

      Jackson for the last 4 years has averaged 6.48 innings pitched per start, over the same time period Jason Hammel has averaged 5.83 (just counting innings as a starting pitcher). That might not seem like a big deal, but that extra essentially 2/3 an inning each start is significant. I believe just Chen and Gonzalez averaged 6.0 innings among starters for the O's last year. It's a big reason why the bullpen was so overworked. As for Jackson he's a good workhorse pitcher and there is a lot of value in that.