Baltimore Orioles: Why it is Always About Starting Pitching


Sep 20, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Kevin Gausman (39) looks up as he gives up a three-run home run during the fifth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Orioles, some would say, may be cursed.

Who is the last pitcher that the Orioles drafted, developed, and became a good starting pitcher for the Orioles? I’ll keep you guessing until the bottom.

Other teams are able to develop pitching, even if it is just one guy. And if they develop pitching, it gives them trade chips.

Let’s look at the AL East. The division-winning Blue Jays have Marcus Stroman, who they drafted and is on his way to becoming a very good major league starter. They traded Daniel Norris and Jeff Hoffmann away this year, for guys like Troy Tulowitzki and David Price.  That is what good starting pitching gets you.

The New York Yankees have Luis Severino who also looks like he could be a breakout star pitching in pinstripes. While they have also struggled to develop pitching, they also have the luxury of one of the deepest pockets in baseball, where they can sign guys like Masahiro Tanaka and C.C. Sabathia.

The Tampa Bay Rays turn out pitching stars left and right. David Price, James Shields, Chris Archer, Matt Moore, etc. Sure, some of these players got traded away because the team could no longer afford them. But they developed them, and helped them acquire other players.

The Boston Red Sox are another team that, like the Yankees, has the luxury of not needing to develop pitching. Whether their pitching acquisitions have been successful is another topic, but they signed what made up almost an entire starting rotation last year in Justin Masterson (who they originally developed), Joe Kelly, Wade Miley and Rick Porcello. Then there was Eduardo Rodriguez, who came from the Orioles, where he never made it to the majors. He was traded for a rental, Andrew Miller, who the O’s could not re-sign.

However, the Sox have developed Clay Buchholz, who returned to form last year, and Henry Owens, who showed signs of success last season for the Red Sox.

Then there are the Orioles. In 1995, the starting rotation included Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown, Jamie Moyer, Scott Erickson, Ben McDonald and Rick Krivda. Some good baseball names, but Brown, Moyer and Erickson were in the midst of careers that started elsewhere. Krivda went 9-14 as an Oriole, never making much of a career that spanned a few seasons in Baltimore. McDonald was the first round / first overall pick who showed glimpses of who he could be, but couldn’t get past injuries. He would finish his Orioles career a pedestrian 58-53, and 1995 was his last year in Baltimore.

1996, and more journeymen pitchers like David Wells and Kent Mercker. There was also Rocky Coppinger, but he only had one year where he was able to stay in the majors, and that was 1996.

1997 added AL east vagabond Jimmy Key to the rotation with Mussina and Erickson. Scott Kamieniecki was there as well, coming from the Yankees. Those four remained healthy, and the O’s used spot starters to fill in as needed on their way to first place and the ALCS.

1998 saw a new player added to the rotation who was developed by the Orioles, Sidney Ponson. Ponson went 73-85 as an Oriole, not exactly winning him any awards. Yet, he was at the top of the Orioles’ rotation for several years. He partnered with Erickson, Mussina and more guys who bounced around to several teams in Juan Guzman and Doug Drabek in 1998.

1999 was Ponson, Mussina, Erickson, Guzman and Jason Johnson, who was drafted by the Pirates. Johnson went 34-53 as an Oriole.

2000 saw a young pitcher from my neck of the woods, John Parrish, make the Orioles as a 22-year-old. Parrish would go 12-12 in his Orioles career, never starting more than one game in a season after 2000.

2001, and a 63-98 record. The O’s rotation is a mess. Mussina is gone to New York, leaving behind Ponson, Johnson, Jose Mercedes, Calvin Maduro and Josh Towers. Maduro was drafted by Baltimore in 1991, traded to the Phillies in 1996 for Pete Incaviglia and Todd Zeile, and then came back as a free agent. However, he did nothing to make his career even remotely successful in Baltimore. Towers was a 15th round pick who pitched all of two seasons in Baltimore, finishing his time with an 8-13 record.

And so it goes from here. 2002 added Rodrigo Lopez, who came from San Diego. He would go 60-58 as an Oriole, but wasn’t developed by the team. Other starters included Travis Driskill and John Stephens.

2003 is Ponson, Johnson, a number of journeymen, names like Omar Daal and Pat Hentgen, and a pitcher named Eric DuBose. A first round pick by Oakland, DuBose showed promise, but never fulfilled it. Matt Riley made his first start as an O in 2003. Another high round pick (third round), he went 4-4 as an Oriole.

In 2004 two new names were added: Erik Bedard and Daniel Cabrera. Cabrera had control problems his whole career, despite showing great promise. He would last five years in Baltimore, and leave with a 48-59 record. Bedard was drafted in the 6th round in 1999 and went 40-34 in five years for the Orioles. Of course, most O’s fans now recognize him as the player traded for Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill and Kam Mickolio. Those words are still very sweet to type.

2005 was what would be the core Orioles’ staff for several years. Cabrera, Lopez, Ponson, and Bedard. Three of these guys were homegrown talent. Yet none developed into a pitcher who won more than six games more than they lost (Bedard, 40-34).

2006 was interesting, because two names got added to the starting rotation. Kris Benson, who was more interesting because of his wife being in Baltimore, and Adam Loewen. Loewen was a fourth OVERALL pick who went 8-8 in 29 starts over three years. 

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2007 brings another first round pick, Garrett Olson, to the Birds; he was 10-13 in 33 starts over two years. Jeremy Guthrie was acquired from the Indians and would be a mainstay for several years in the rotation.

2008 saw Guthrie, Cabrera, Olson and three O’s talents, Brian Burres, Radhames Liz and Chris Waters in the rotation. Burres went 13-18 in Baltimore. Liz started 21 games, going 6-8 before coming out of nowhere to make the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2015 after six years away from the major leagues. Waters was drafted by the pitching-rich Atlanta Braves, came to Baltimore and in his major-league debut, went 8 innings, left up one hit, walked three and no runs. He would only start 11 more games as an Oriole.

2009 saw Brad Bergesen, Jason Berken, David Hernandez, Koji Uehara, Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz start games. The cavalry has arrived, many thought. Bergesen went 7-5 in 2009, followed by 8-12 and 2-7. Being line-drived in Toronto and suffering a freak accident during a commercial derailed a career that had showed potential. Berken struggled from the beginning in Baltimore, going 6-12 in 2009 and never starting another game as an Oriole. Hernandez and Uehara both struggled as starters, but they made fine relievers. The same argument could be made about Brian Matusz, but he was another fourth OVERALL pick (just like Loewen) that never became even a mediocre starter.

2010 and it was Guthrie, Kevin Millwood, Matusz, Bergesen, Tillman and a man named Jake Arrieta. You may have heard of him… Those six combined to go 46-65, with Millwood, who was brought in to teach the young pitching, going 4-16. Arrieta went 6-6 in 18 starts, Matusz 10-12 in 32 starts, and Tillman 2-5 in 11 starts. Only Guthrie had an ERA lower than 4.30.

2011 and another last place finish. Guthrie, Arrieta, Tillman, Matusz, Alfredo Simon and another young pitcher, Zach Britton, made up the rotation. Matusz went 1-9 in 12 starts. Guthrie went 9-17, but kept the O’s in games. No starter had an ERA under 4.33 (Guthrie). Arrieta was 10-8, Britton 11-11. Simon played in the minors for several teams before making it to Baltimore.

2012 brings in Dan Duquette, Wei-Yin Chen, Tommy Hunter, Jason Hammel and a full season of Buck Showalter. Tillman goes 9-3, a great signing out of the Mexican League named Miguel Gonzalez goes 9-4, and Arrieta goes 3-9 in 18 starts. The O’s make the playoffs, as Joe Saunders comes in to stabilize the rotation for the stretch run. Gonzalez had pitched in the Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels farm systems before being signed. 

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2013 featured a lot of different pitchers, with a lot of stories behind them. Chen, Tillman, Hammel and Gonzalez are still there. Joining them are Arrieta — the opening day starter who was traded for another starter — Scott Feldman, Freddy Garcia, Bud Norris — who was traded for at the trade deadline — and Kevin Gausman. Gausman is the latest draft pick, ANOTHER fourth overall pick.

2014, and the division-winning O’s get stellar seasons from Tillman, who looks like an ace, Norris, and Chen. Ubaldo Jimenez, the big acquisition, was not quite as good as hoped. Gonzalez regressed a little bit, and Gausman continued to ride the Norfolk to Baltimore shuttle.

Which brings us to 2015. Tillman struggles, Norris is awful, Chen is very good again, Jimenez is much better, Gonzalez struggles, and Gausman shows flashes of what he can be, but is inconsistent. Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson make their first career starts, also showing glimpses of why they could be good major league pitchers.

Next: Looking back at AL East predictions from the beginning of the year

So, back to where we started. Who is the last good starting pitcher the Orioles developed? Depends who you ask. You could say Erik Bedard, but I wouldn’t call him successful as an Oriole, with a 40-34 record. However, the trade that sent him to Seattle makes you argue that his success was far more pivotal than anyone else. Could you say Ponson or Cabrera? Well, both played on bad teams, so their records were going to be bad. But, neither was consistent, and both only lasted around five years in the organization before flaming out.

So in my opinion, the last good starting pitcher the O’s developed was Mike Mussina. Maybe we should be calling this the curse of Mussina. Maybe when he gets in the Hall of Fame (which he certainly should) it will be broken.

This was supposed to be a cautionary tale about top-level Orioles pitchers, namely Dylan Bundy. Instead, it showed the futility the O’s have had in developing starting pitching.

A lot more on Bundy to come…