How will the rotation fare in 2015?

Over the next few weeks, I will be putting out a series of articles focusing on the rotation, bullpen and offense. In these articles, I will look at what I feel are the best and worst case scenarios for each member of the unit I am discussing. I will also provide my prediction on what I feel each player will do.

(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)

This week, I will focus on the rotation. As we all know, the Orioles have 6 starters right now. My hope is one of them is dealt but as of right now, that hasn’t happened and I am not sure how likely that will happen at this point in the off-season. So, since we don’t know who is the odd man out or if someone will get dealt, I am going to discuss each player as if they will play a full season here in Baltimore. We also can’t assume injury and although its very likely at least one of these guys misses time do to a injury, I am not going to assume who or how long they will be out. The last thing I will mention is that obviously, worse case could mean a player struggles through injury all year long, are very up and down and really fall on their faces. The opposite is also true. A best case scenario could mean all world , Cy Young level seasons that come out of nowhere. So, I am going to look at what I feel are more realistic best and worst case scenarios.

Chris Tillman:

(August 8, 2013 - Source: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images North America)

(August 8, 2013 – Source: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images North America)

Tillman is coming off his second straight 200+ inning season. He saw his K rate drop, his BB rate essentially stay the same and his HR rate went way down. His FIP was much better in 2014 vs. 2013 but he saw his xFIP raise in 2014 vs. 2013. Most of his other peripherals stayed very similar. The LD%, GB/FB rate and BABIP were just a few of the stats that stayed in the same area. He did see a drop in his swinging str%, which does help to partially explain the drop in K rate. He is starting to assert himself as a solid, dependable starter whose durability is becoming a real asset for this team.

Best case:

Historically speaking, the peak age for a baseball player is 27 and Tillman turns 27 in April. If Tillman can continue to see his BB and HR rate decline(or, at least if his HR rate can stay similar) and if he can get the K rate back up to the 8 or so level that it was in 2013, Tillman could be in for the best year of his career. Tillman had a 3.34 ERA in 2014. Can Tillman do better than that? I think it’s possible if he does get the K rate back up. A 3.10 ERA and 210 IP isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Worst case:

Tillman is a guy that doesn’t wow you with his stuff. His velocity is inconsistent and the curve ball isn’t a pitch he can consistently throw for strikes. If his K rate continues to drop and his stats regress to the levels of his FIP and xFIP usually are, we could see a 4-4.25 ERA season from Tillman. Now, that won’t be a BAD season but he won’t be much more than a league average starter and it could be below average. The Orioles will need more than that from Tillman in 2015.

My prediction:

I expect more of the same from Tillman. An ERA in the 3.50 range and 200 IP. I don’t expect his K rate to jump back to the levels it was in 2013 but somewhere in the 7 range sounds right to me.

Bud Norris:

Norris

Norris seemed to turn a corner in 2014. In the first half of 2014, his ERA was 3.96. In the second half, it was 3.27. He averaged 6 IP per start and he saw his BB rate drop by over .5 BB per 9 IP. That is a key stat for him. His BB rate is normally in the 3.5+ range but it fell below 3 last year. In what will be a pattern for our starters, he also saw his ERA be much better than his FIP and xFIP were. His BABIP dropped far below his career number and he did it with basically the same batted ball rates. The 2014 season was the first full year Norris was able to play in front of our defense, so maybe his BABIP will still lower?

Best case:

The aforementioned BABIP stays low, he stays healthy enough to start 32-35 games and throws 200+ IP. The K rate stays solid and the walk rate continues to drop. He ends up with a 3.3 ERA and puts himself in good position to get a nice free agent contract.

Worst case:

His BABIP gets back into his career range, the BB rate goes back up and he continues to fall well short of the 200 IP mark. He ends up with a 4.25-4.50 ERA. If he is on his way to doing these things and the other guys are performing well and no one is dealt, Norris is moved to the pen.

My prediction:

I think Norris will set a career high for IP(his current career high is 186). His ERA will be around 4, not great but not bad either. His K rate will stay in the same area but the BB rates goes back up some and the BABIP also heads north. He will be a solid but unspectacular starter and we will wish we had dealt him because of his the combination of salary and performance. Again, not necessarily because he will be bad but because we will have been able to get similar for less. He could also be a July deadline trade candidate if we still have the 6 starters.

Ubaldo Jimenez:

(February 21, 2014 - Source: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

(February 21, 2014 – Source: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

To say 2014 was a disaster for Ubaldo would be an understatement. The biggest issue was his BB rate. That rose all the way to 5.53. That was just way too many free passes to give up. His career rate, going into 2014, was around 4. While that is still too high, Ubaldo has proven he can be successful with a rate in that area. A big reason why is the K rate, which continues to be above average. The BABIP against him was right around his career rate. Batters only hit 239 vs. him, which is again in his career range. The LD % was up a little big but not a ton. The other big issues we saw was that he was missing fewer bats and his velocity was way down. Ubaldo would get hit hard at times but overall, he wasn’t a guy teams were killing the ball off of. He just allowed way too many free base runners and his confidence was shot to hell. He pitched better at the end of the year and the team talked about how they made some adjustments to his mechanics. The other thing we have to hope for is that a real offseason will do wonders for him. We haven’t really heard any reports about Ubaldo this offseason, so hopefully he is working hard and the velocity will go back up.

Best case:

Ubaldo gets that velocity back up, the BB rate goes back down to his normal career levels and a full offseason allows him to be the pitcher the Orioles hoped he would be when they gave him the 4 year deal. He has 5 seasons of a 3.3 WAR or better and he was very good at the end of 2013. If he can find that again, he can be a big time asset for this team in 2015. He has several 200ish IP seasons under his belt and a career ERA of 4.00. Can he get back to the sub 4 ERA guy he has been several times in the past? I think it’s very possible.

Worst case:

Basically what we saw last year. A terrible BB rate, continued decline(or even plateau) of his velocity and just general inconsistent and mostly poor pitching. If that keeps up, a move to the pen(not sure I like that idea) or just cutting him could be possible.

My prediction:

I think Ubaldo ends up a candidate for comeback player of the year. I think a full offseason will do wonders for him. I think his numbers normalize back to their career norms and pitching in front of our defense will help. 180+ IP and a sub 4 ERA is what I think happens. Like the rest of our rotation outside of Tillman and KG, he could be a trade candidate in July if he is pitching well. He may scare teams but it’s also possible they like that he is signed for a few more seasons at a number where surplus value is possible. In all likelihood though, he isn’t a trade candidate until the offseason.

Wei Yen Chen:

(August 30, 2014 - Source: Rob Carr/Getty Images North America)

(August 30, 2014 – Source: Rob Carr/Getty Images North America)

Chen saw 2014 be his best season. His BB rate dropped below 2. The K rate dropped some but not a lot. His FIP and xFIP were both below 4 and while they were higher than his ERA, it wasn’t a huge margin. The HR rate stayed similar. His BABIP and LD% were around the same they always have been. Is GB rate saw an uptick, which is a positive change. His missed bats stayed around the same as well. All in all, while his ERA dropped, it was basically business as usual for Chen. He has proven himself to be a solid ML starter. He has had to deal with a few nagging injuries but he has gone 185+ innings in 2 of his 3 seasons. He has averaged 6 IP per start in each of his 3 seasons.

Best case:

Chen sees his K rate jump back up over 7, the BB rate stays under 2 and he is able to get to that 200 IP mark. The GB rate continues to go up and therefore, he gives up less homers and uses his defense more. A 200 IP season with a 3.20ish ERA is very possible. Like Norris, he is in the final year of his contract, so that is also a positive for us as he tries to earn that big contract.

Worst case:

His BB rate goes back up and his K rate continues to drop. The homers become a bigger issue and his ERA ends up in the low 4s.

My prediction:

A 3.75 ERA and 190ish IP. Chen has been pretty consistent thus far in his career, so I expect more of the same from him.

Miguel Gonzalez:

miguel-gonzalez

Miguel is probably my second favorite pitcher on this team. I really enjoy watching him pitch. He works quickly, mixes his pitches well and battles all game long. He shows good command and doesn’t let the big stage bother him. His K rate has basically been the same, which is below average. His BB rate is ok but not great and he tends to give up a lot of homers. He usually allows less than a hit per 9 IP, which is always a number you like to see. His FIP was close to 5 last year and his ERA was close to 3. That’s obviously a huge spread. His xFIP was also a lot higher than his ERA. Most of his batted ball stats were similar outside of his HR/FB ration, which was about 1% higher than his career and that isn’t some huge difference but that does directly effect his overall numbers. The big strike vs. Gonzalez is his inability to consistently go deep into games.

Best case:

Gonzalez stays in rotation all year and gets up to 180-190 IP. His ERA continues to hover close to 3.

Worst case:

The lack of Ks and the homers allowed catch up to him. His struggles and inability to get deep into games send him to the pen where he isn’t used consistently enough and just basically becomes someone that is an after thought for this team.

My prediction:

If he stays in this rotation, a season where he has 160-170 IP and an ERA in the 3.75 area seems likely. He will continue to be a solid pitcher and a guy I want to see out on the mound in the big situations.

Kevin Gausman:

kevin-gausman-p1-single-image-cut

I wrote about Gausman a while back, so I won’t get to in depth here. Suffice it to say, I think he has a good chance at being our best starter in 2015. I still have some doubts about KG but he erased many of them in 2014. Still, I want to see improved FB command and an improvement on his third pitch. If he can do those things, he could really vault himself into a TOR starter but year’s end.

Best case:

KG puts it all together and is a Cy Young candidate. His stuff and upside is that good and if the command gets better and his slider(or some other pitch) improves, he could be really good.

Worst case:

They continue to yo yo him. He spends some time in the minors, some in the pen and some in the rotation. He never gets really settled in anywhere, so he doesn’t see many improvements and therefore, we don’t have a good feel of where his game is heading into the off-season.

My prediction:

If he gets the 30+ starts he deserves, he is going to be our best starter. His ERA could be right around the same as Tillman but it will be obvious who is better and who you would prefer out on the mound. I think he finishes with close to 200 IP and a sub 3.50 ERA.

You will notice that there isn’t a tremendous difference between the best and worst case for these guys. The reasons for that are pretty simple:

1) These guys are similar. Perhaps not in how they get outs per say but generally speaking, you would expect around the same production. We have 3 guys with high upside and 3 guys with ok upside. Only Ubaldo is a guy you can see really falling on his face. Because of this, the predictions just aren’t going to be much different.

2) Team defense. The Orioles staff continues to outperform their FIPs and the defense is a huge reason why. We actually should see improved defense in 2015 as well. Manny being back and healthy is huge for any defense. We have 3 GG caliber guys in the IF and first base is ok. Jones saw an improvement in positioning lead to better defensive play. As of right now, the corner OF spots are also in good shape defensively , provided Delmon Young isn’t out there.

Those 2 things are pretty big factors here. The lack of Ks from some of these guys is an issue but the team defense makes up for that. That defense will make anyone look better and run prevention is going to be huge for the Orioles in 2015.

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Finding the Right Player at the Right Price: Javier Arenas, Slot Cornerback

The Ravens should sign Kareem Jackson.

The Ravens should sign Brandon Flowers.

The Ravens should sign Chris Culliver.

Every year, fans look through the list of available free agents and hope that the Ravens will make a splash in the free agent market. That is not what the front office does. The Ravens pride themselves on finding the right player at the right price – a solid veteran on an undervalued deal.

A great example is Corey Graham.

The primary reason Corey Graham signed with the Ravens was that he was promised with an opportunity to compete for a job on defense. Graham played in the league for 5 years primarily on Special Teams. Let’s apply the same formula that was used to sign Corey Graham to this year’s list of free agent Cornerbacks in search of the next Corey Graham. Starting with the Pro Football Focus list of available Free Agent Cornerbacks, we will add overall grades for special teams. The goal is to find a solid special teams player who played well as a Cornerback on a limited number of snaps.

PFF-JavierArenas

Chris Cook was eliminated due to his off-field issues and perceived lack of motivation. That leaves us with Javier Arenas, a 27 year old Slot Cornerback who played for the Atlanta Falcons last year. Arenas is a small Corner. He is 5’9″ and 195 pounds. He played College Football for Nick Saban at Alabama. Cornerbacks that played in the Alabama are known for 3 traits:

  • Tackling ability
  • Man to man coverage
  • Play the ball in the air

I’ve taken Javier Arenas’ draft report and modified it based on the game tape from the 2010-2014 seasons. Below is a summary of what he could potentially bring to the Ravens:

Top_Secret_PowerPoint_Template.pptx

Let’s look at some examples of Arenas’ play on the field. Have a comment? Discuss this on the BSL board here

Man Coverage

Man Coverage is where Arenas shines. Here is an example against the Colts.

Arenas man coverage

Arenas  challenges receivers on the release and jams the receiver within 5 yards of the LOS to disrupt the route.

Arenas jam

This puts Arenas in a position to take control of the route and re-direct or ‘flatten’ the route of the receiver.

Arenas re-route

Tackling

Arenas is a solid tackler for his size. He wraps up and brings his opponent down in the open field. For his career, Arenas missed 4 tackles out of 97 attempts. Arenas has difficulty bringing down bigger receivers due to his size. He is a solid tackler against the run. Bigger backs such as Le’Veon Bell at 244 pounds may pose problems for Arenas primarily due to size.

Arenas_FF

Penalties

Javier Arenas plays with great discipline. Arenas was flagged for 3 passing penalties on 184 passes thrown at receivers that he covered. Here is an example of a ball knocked down in coverage.

Pass defense

Weaknesses

Arenas’ biggest weakness is his height. He will struggle against bigger and taller receivers. A great example was his matchup against Tony Gonzalez. Arenas was able to stay on the hip of Gonzalez throughout the play, but was unable to deflect the ball due to his height.

Arenas-Gonzalez

Another area where Arenas struggles is that he does not possess long speed. Receivers are able to beat him on long vertical routes. When he is on the field, there should always be Safety help up top. Bigger receivers similar to Damarius Thomas really pose matchup problems for Arenas in that they can shield him from the ball using their body or catch the ball on deep throws with their height advantage.

Arenas_Negatives

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They Said, We Say: Orioles Talk January 24th

A week from today the Baltimore Orioles will have their annual FanFest event. In less than a Month (February 19th), their Pitchers & Catchers will report for the start of Spring Training. Once again we venture around the web to see what others are stating about the O’s, and to give our own reactions.

(Discuss this on the BSL Board here.)

baltimore.cbslocal.com

baltimore.cbslocal.com

The links:

Baltimore Sports Report: 8 Internal Candidates For Orioles GM

They Said: Considering the lengthy (and sometimes embarrassing) search that ensued prior to Duquette’s hiring and the short time frame before Spring Training, I think the best route for moving forward in the front office might be hiring from within. Is there anyone that might be a good fit?

We Say: If Duquette’s move becomes official, I have the full expectation that Showalter, Anderson, and Graham will share the job on at-least a temporary basis while a larger search is held. It would be very easy at some point to lift the interim tag. That would disappoint me. There are plenty of highly qualified external options that are interested in this potential vacancy (and I’m not talking about the names the O’s leaked previously – Ned Colletti, Kevin Malone, Omar Minaya, and Kevin Towers). There is zero reason that a larger search should not occur. Let’s play a hypothetical where Duquette leaves for Toronto tomorrow (Sunday the 25th). Name the Showalter, Anderson, Graham trio as the temporary replacements. Spend Monday through Friday (the 26th through 30th) interviewing two candidates per day. On Sunday the 1st have second interviews with the three finalists. On Tuesday the 3rd, announce the hire.

That type of window should not be overly compressed for the O’s. After all, the Duquette to Toronto rumors broke December 7th. There has been plenty of time to establish a list of prospective hires, and compile necessary background information. It would be a disservice to the organization to not bring in numerous potential options and go through that process.

Where I do agree with BSR, is with their allusion to where we are on the baseball calendar. It would be difficult for an external hire to bring in ‘their guys’ this year. That would probably have to wait until next October. While unfortunate, I don’t think that should prevent the O’s from going and finding their new face of Baseball Operations now (again, should things become official with Duquette leaving). I also don’t think the internal options represent optimal choices vs. what is available to the O’s if they do a larger search.

CSN Baltimore: Four weeks from Spring Training, the O’s have questions

They Said: Do the Orioles have to keep Ubaldo Jimenez? Jimenez celebrated his 31st birthday, and he’s hoping this year will be much better than last year. A healthy and productive Jimenez in the spring creates an issue for Showalter: six starters for five spots. Of course, the Orioles can try again to trade Jimenez, but there’s nothing new on that front. That tried early in the offseason, but couldn’t. 

They can send Kevin Gausman to the minors, but they don’t want to do that. Or they can try and trade one of their other starters, Wei-Yin Chen or Bud Norris, both of whom are entering their free agency years. That doesn’t seem likely. 

Jimenez’s effectiveness is sure to be one of the big stories at camp.

We Say: Unless Chen or Norris are moved, the O’s should be going into the year with Jimenez pegged for the bullpen. BSL’s Jeff Long wrote about the approach Jimenez should take if he was in the pen, and then a status report once he was moved there.

I have not given up hope for Jimenez as a starter. Jimenez has always had control issues, but last year was absurd as he struggled with his mechanics. Just getting back to his career norms would make a significant difference. There was some changes made in September, but you don’t want to make too much out of that. Jimenez fought his mechanics on a pitch-by-pitch basis last year. He has to show some positive consistency first. Nobody expects him to be the guy he was in the 2nd half of 2013, but if he gets locked-in mechanically for a stretch – it is possible the upside which caused the O’s to sign him shows again.

That said, his contract should not mean that a rotation spot is waiting for him to begin the year.

As an aside, the other alternative not mentioned by CSN Baltimore was Gonzalez. If Jimenez looks strong in Spring Training (and again Chen or Norris have not been traded), you could potentially use Gonzalez out of the bullpen if you decide you want Jimenez starting when the seasons starts. There is no scenario in my mind where Gausman being sent back to AAA becomes an acceptable scenario. Hand him the ball every 5th day.

MASN: Quick Update on Reimold

They Said: The Orioles were on the verge of signing outfielder Nolan Reimold to a minor league deal last month on the final day of the Winter Meetings, but it didn’t get done and other teams joined the mix. I’ve heard that the Indians are the most aggressive suitor at the moment and may have moved past the Orioles.

We Say: In a Winter where basically nothing has been accomplished, even a Minor League contract for Reimold will illicit nothing but groans from O’s fans should it happen. Count me as one that would welcome the signing though. I’ve always been a Reimold fan, and a Minor League deal means nothing. There is no risk. He goes to the Minors and if he performs, maybe he earns another shot in the bigs at some point. If he does not perform, there was nothing lost. In 2014, Pearce took advantage of an unexpected opportunity and had a breakout season at age 31. You won’t convince me that Pearce holds any talent advantage over Reimold.

MLB Pipeline.com: Christian Walker #7 1st Base Prospect

They Said: Walker has quickly made it to big league-ready status following a college career that included consecutive national championships and just two-plus years in the Minors. While his first full season was solid, he really broke out in year two, leading the organization in home runs and RBIs.

We Say: There continues to be conjecture in O’s circles that Dariel Alvarez could force his way onto the Opening Day roster. If you are going to consider that possibility, there should probably also be some consideration for carrying Walker. If you carried Alvarez and him starting in RF, then you would have De Aza in LF, and Pearce as the DH. If you carried Walker, you would have De Aza and Pearce on the corners, and Walker at DH.

Alvarez turned 26 in November.
2014 (AA & AAA combined): 532 ab’s, .306 baa, 15 hr’s, 87 rbi, 37 doubles, 3 triples, 21 bb’s, 62 k’s, .330 on-base %, .472 slugging %, .802 OPS.

Walker turns 24 in March.
2014 (AA & AAA combined): 532 ab’s, .288 baa, 26 hr’s, 96 rbi, 25 doubles, 2 triples, 56 walks, 132 k’s, .357 on-base %, .489 slugging %, .846 OPS.

In Alvarez’s favor is a strong arm, and additional experience. Maybe more of a line-drive / gap-power bat? More contact. He would give the O’s another OF, while Walker would be relatively locked into DH (with occasional starts at 1st). Walker could help himself as a player if he showed he could be a competent (Pearce esque) LF.

In Walker’s favor appears to be a higher offensive ceiling, with more raw power now. Might pile-up significantly more k’s, but also looks more willing to take a walk.

I don’t love a scenario where either player is starting in the bigs during 2015, and being depended on. If one player were to get that nod, I can see the logic in Alvarez having a leg-up; just think if you are going to consider that – Walker should be in that conversation as well.

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