Baltimore Orioles: The Value of a Consistent Rotation


Oct 15, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter (black jacket) comes out to relieve starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez (50) during the sixth inning against the Kansas City Royals in game four of the 2014 ALCS playoff baseball game at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

After all of the worry about starting pitching for the Baltimore Orioles as the 2014 season began, the rotation became a strength for the O’s throughout particularly the final two-thirds of the campaign. A total of only six pitchers started 161 of the 162-game regular schedule – all but one game by T.J. McFarland.

The six pitchers of course were Chris Tillman (34 starts), Wei-Yin Chen (31), Bud Norris (28), Miguel Gonzalez (26), Ubaldo Jimenez (22), and Kevin Gausman (20). The question has been raised as to what the Orioles are going to do with six starters for five positions. This examination today explains why the O’s don’t necessarily need to get rid of anyone, and why they will almost surely need every one of them.

Taking a look back at the last 20 years since the strike-shortened 1995 season, just how special or unusual was this last year’s performance?

There was no other season in the past 20 years where so few starters were used. A close example would be in 2006 when the top six starters on the team pitched 159 of the games, and a total of eight starters were used. Also in 2010, the top six starters began 153 of the Orioles’ games.

Here is a chart that shows the numbers of games started by the top six starters, the number by the top five starters, the total number of different starters used, and the final team record for that season…

YEARTop 6Top 5TotalRecord

*1997 – four starters tallied 130 starts

Let’s take a closer look at several of these seasons and compare them to the most recent year. Remember that the five starters other than Jimenez ranged in ERAs from a low of 3.23 by Gonzalez to a high of 3.65 with Norris. Ubaldo’s was 4.81.

Relative to 2010, though the Orioles likewise only used six primary starters that year, look at the ERA numbers compared to 2014!!  Oh my gosh!  They are awful, which explains why the team was 66-96. Kevin Millwood was paid to be an innings-eater, and Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen, Jake Arrieta, and Tillman were being brought up to the majors, ready or not, to learn on the job.

2010 stats ….

Jeremy Guthrie3111143.8332209.11.161
Kevin Millwood354165.1031190.21.510
Brian Matusz2310124.3032175.21.343
Brad Bergesen248124.9828170.01.435
Jake Arrieta24664.6618100.11.535
Chris Tillman22255.871153.21.528

The situation in 2006 was very similar. And though the rotation was very regular, it was far from a good situation, again evidenced by the final 70-92 record. The WHIP numbers are just dreadful in this rotation, and looking back at some of these seasons, it really makes one appreciative of just how improved the Orioles are in recent years.

2006 Stats ….

Erik Bedard2715113.7633196.11.350
Rodrigo Lopez309185.9029189.01.550
Kris Benson3111124.8230183.01.404
Daniel Cabrera259104.7426148.01.581
Adam Loewen22665.3719112.11.540

So simply having a consistent rotation is not the full answer. Who the pitchers are in that rotation matters significantly.

More from Baltimore Orioles

The season with the best final record was 1997, at 98-64. At the end of the era where pitchers started more often and threw longer into games, the Orioles had three dominant starters in Jimmy Key, Mike Mussina, and Scott Erickson who combined together for 100 starts (with Scott Kamieniecki adding 30 more). Add to that the four highly-effective relievers in Jesse Orosco, Randy Myers, Armando Benitez, and Arthur Rhodes … and you have quite an excellent pitching staff.

The Orioles could actually have such a staff next year. It won games in 1997, and it would do it again in 2015.