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