The Baltimore Orioles currently sit with the third highest team winning percentage in all of baseball. They are 8.5 games ahead of both the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays (who are both losing as I write this) in the American League East and look to be the leading candidate for home field advantage now that the Los Angeles Angels lost their top starting pitcher.
But the Baltimore Orioles are not a perfect team. I know no team is perfect, but the Baltimore Orioles have three glaring problems: They might have the worst everyday offensive position player, Manny Machado is likely out for the rest of the season, and their rotation is a much weaker rotation than any of the other contenders.
Let me look at the bright spots first. The Orioles’ rotation has been pretty healthy all season. They have four starters who have made 20 or more starts and another who has 19 starts. Top prospect Kevin Gausman has 13 starts and only one other pitcher started a game: T.J. McFarland.
The Orioles have not had to shuffle starters much this season. They really only ran into trouble when Ubaldo Jimenez hit the disabled list but that allowed Kevin Gausman to step in and provide an upgrade over the Orioles’ big ticket free agent.
Outside of Ubaldo Jimenez, who is sporting a ridiculously pathetic 4.83 ERA, 4.89 FIP, and 5.40 BB/9, the other five starters all have an ERA of 3.80 and under. That, though, is about where the good news ends.
Orioles Starters Do Not Take Advantage of The Great Infield Defense:
The Orioles have built a team that has one of the best, if not the best, infield defense in the game when all of their players are healthy. Yet, the Orioles starters are not ground ball pitchers. Proof: 41.6% ground ball rate, which ranks 27th in the majors.
I think it is safe to say that Camden Yards is not a safe haven for fly ball pitchers and there is evidence in the fact that the Orioles’ starters have the 27th worst HR/9 at 1.07, behind the Colorado Rockies, Texas Rangers, and Arizona Diamondbacks, all of which play in extreme hitter’s parks. And it is not as if the Orioles have been unlucky. The league-average HR/FB rate is 10% and the Orioles’ starters are at 10.4%.
Orioles Starters Do Not Go Deep Into Games:
The Mariners, Mets, Cubs, and Rockies are the only teams with less than two complete games in the majors, the exact number the Orioles’ starters have compiled.
To make matters worse, the Orioles starters work an average of 5.873 innings per start which ranks 23rd in the majors, behind all of the teams that have less complete games than they do. The rotation is rarely giving the great bullpen a break.
Orioles Starters Walk Way Too Many Batters:
Blame Ubaldo Jimenez for this. Actually, blame them all except Wei-Yin Chen. If it was not for Chen the team would likely be last in the majors in walk rate. Their current 8.1% walk rate ranks 27th ahead of only the Rangers and Rockies.
Orioles Starters Do Not Strike Anyone Out:
It would be one thing if the Orioles’ starters were walking players in addition to striking them out but that is far from the case. The rotation’s 17.5% strikeout rate ranks 23rd and is 0.05% from being 27th in the majors.
We can place a large portion of the blame on Ubaldo Jimenez for the high walk rate but his 20.3% K% is the only one that is even at the league-average among Orioles’ starters, and it’s exactly the league-average. The rest of the starters are all significantly below-average in terms of strikeout rate.
The Orioles’ starters rely heavily on their fielders as they rank 28th in FIP and 29th in xFIP while posting the sixth best BABIP in the game.
The Baltimore Orioles may have a problem with its rotation that cannot keep the ball in the park, cannot strike out opposing batters, and issued too many free passes.
Is there hope out there? Sure. They can throw the farm at the Rangers and pray Yu Darvish is healthy but I doubt the Rangers would even deal him. Jon Niese is out there but might command a decent return. Gio Gonzalez also cleared waivers but I do not see the Nationals parting with him.
Only time will tell if this Orioles rotation is good enough to go deep into the postseason. I guess it is a good thing the Orioles have one of the best bullpens in the majors.