Baltimore Orioles: Is an Average Rotation Good Enough?

Feb 25, 2015; Sarasota, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Chris Tillman (30) throws a pitch during spring training workouts at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 25, 2015; Sarasota, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Chris Tillman (30) throws a pitch during spring training workouts at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

If the five presumptive starters in the rotation of the Baltimore Orioles all had an average year relative to their history, would that be good enough to result in a winning team?

As usual, the varied national baseball publications are pretty much all predicting the Birds to finish either fourth or fifth in the American League East. In every brief write-up that gives an explanation for their reasoning, some immediate mention is made that the starting rotation is simply inadequate.

There is insufficient evidence to argue for the assumed rotation to be a team strength, while the opposite is true of the bullpen and the powerful offense and defense. But the strengths are completely negated by the reputation of the rotation.

I chaff at such oversimplifications, even as I admit — and statistics below will reinforce — that the Orioles’ fate in recent years has indeed risen and fallen with the performance of the rotation.

There is no doubt that the starters have to be better than a year ago. But how much better would be good enough?  What if the five presumptive starters — Yovani Gallardo, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Kevin Gausman, Ubaldo Jimenez — each have a season that equals their statistical career average? What would that look like? Would it be sufficient, given the other strengths of the team?

Though it is possible that more of them have terribly down years than those at average or worse, it is logical to think that, as a group, while one is better than average another may be worse … but that it should average out over the group. Of course, they could all do well at the same time (but that is called “2014” I think).

To give us some basis for comparison, let’s chart the following stats for starting pitchers for the Orioles over the past four seasons. We’ll note their W/L record as starters, their combined earned run average, and their combined batting average against / on-base percentage against as well …


These brief numbers really do show what a good year was 2014 and what a down year was 2015. It would also point out that if the Orioles could somewhat split the difference between those seasons — posting an ERA of maybe about 4.05-4.10 and BAA in the upper .250s — that should be good enough. This would especially be true given the optimism that the Orioles are surely going to score a very high number of runs.

So, could these five starters do that? How close would it be to this goal if they cumulatively lived up to their historic averages?

Here is a chart of the historic numbers for the assumed Orioles rotation starters (giving their career stats as starters) …


Overall, charting these numbers, they look better than I would have expected. The worst of the group is Kevin Gausman, yet he has the most upside potential of the five (having only made 42 career starts).

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Presuming (and yes, it is a big, big presumption) that the five starters could all be healthy for the year and make most of the starts for the team, and presuming they had an average year cumulatively relative to their histories, the combined stats are indeed within the targeted area discussed above.

The combined ERA of average performance of all five would be 4.00, and the batting average against would be .253; adding also a better-than-league-average (which is .322) OBP of .319 (even with Ubaldo’s wildness).

Next: Ranking the AL East Starting Rotations

All of this analysis today is to say this: The Orioles starters do not have to be All-Stars for this team to excel. They need to live up to and pitch up to their career averages (with hopefully Gausman breaking above that level) and it will be sufficient for the O’s to have a highly successful 2016 season. It is not crazy to be hopeful!