What The Orioles Rotation Would Look Like If The Season Started Today
The offseason has been a rough, depressing ride so far for followers of the Baltimore Orioles, and unfortunately a new year that is quickly approaching doesn’t exactly hold much promise either.
For a quick recap, here’s what’s gone down so far:
- The Orioles shopped Manny Machado, didn’t see any offers they liked, and promptly took him off the block. I don’t believe they are actually done shopping him, but that’s where we’re at right now.
- Zach Britton ruptured his Achilles and is out 4-6 months, so you can forget about them trading him anytime soon either.
- The Orioles, who currently have only two legitimate starting pitchers, have apparently decided that free agent arms Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn will be too expensive for them. So if you were hoping for the return of Jake Arrieta, you might want to hedge your bets.
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Those three items don’t go well together for general manager Dan Duquette as he tries to fill out his rotation. It means that Duquette will either try to add starting pitching via trade – without dangling Britton or, perhaps, Machado, mind you – or he’ll be scavenging the free agent market for whatever cold carcasses are left over after the real big-league predators have had their fill.
There has been some talk that the Orioles might try to bring back Chris Tillman on a short, make-good, deal, which seems a tad overly optimistic, and also some rumblings that there could be a reunion with Miguel Gonzalez, who never should have been let go in the first place. But at this point the action is slow.
So what happens if the Orioles don’t add any arms and simply roll the dice with what they have in their organization? What would the rotation look like if the season started today? There is still a lot of time left, of course, and thank goodness for that. But at this point it’s worth preparing for as a viewer – and potentially making other plans.
Earlier this week Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports ran five names past “someone in the organization” and had those names confirmed as the current rotation if nothing changes moving forward. The names were Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Mike Wright, Miguel Castro and Nestor Cortes. Due to past comments from Duquette, however, we think Gabriel Ynoa is probably ahead of Wright (Alec Asher might be, too) so we’ll pencil Ynoa in for now.
By default Gausman is the ace, and we all know how frustrating that is. The right-hander, who turns 27 in January, has a tantalizing skillset – upper 90s fastball, excellent changeup/splitter — but also has some maddening flaws and a frustrating habit of starting his seasons slowly.
For his career, Gausman is a 4.94 ERA, 1.473 WHIP, 2.60 SO/W ratio guy in the first half, then turns into a 3.58/1.243/3.34 guy in the second half. One reason for this lies in his struggles finding an acceptable third pitch, as he has see-sawed between a slider and curveball. This problem seemed to be solved when he switched to a slider late in the 2016 season. But that slider proved quite hittable in the early part of 2017, and the trend continued.
Is this the year Gausman puts it all together? The Orioles certainly hope so. And Gausman, who has two more seasons before free agency, certainly does, too.
Once deemed the future ace of the Orioles before dealing with a series of injuries, Bundy finally blossomed in 2017, albeit into a solid mid-rotation arm and perhaps not the ace so many thought he would be. Still, every team needs solid mid-rotation arms, and the Orioles saw what happens last season when you don’t have enough of them.
After hurling 109.2 innings as a part-time starter in 2016, Bundy made the jump to fulltime starter and put up a 4.24 ERA over 169.2 innings, a 65 percent increase in workload.
That Bundy was able to withstand the additional action was a victory in itself given his history, and tempts one with visions of 200 innings and a low 4s ERA. That might be overly optimistic, but we’re going to stay positive here, because things are about to get worse.
Duquette has consistently hinted that Ynoa will get every chance to earn a spot during spring training, and with this group he has a pretty good chance to do so. With a fastball in the mid-90s and a slider and change that average in the mid-80s, he has a starter’s repertoire. He has also performed decently in that role at the big league level, producing a 4.02 ERA with a 3.00 K/BB ratio across seven career starts with the Mets and Orioles.
There are reasons for concern, of course. Ynoa was a fly ball pitcher last season (48.2 percent) and when you combine that with a 9.4 percent HR/FB ratio, it doesn’t bode well for a strong showing at Camden Yards. Also, opposing hitters hammered his fastball last season, hitting .352 with a .620 slugging percentage against the pitch. Perhaps mixing his pitches up a bit differently and trying to get more ground balls will do the trick. Ynoa is, nonetheless, a bit of a project.
The Orioles acquired Castro from Colorado last April and he was OK, if not great, out of the bullpen. He walked too many (28 in 66.1 innings) and didn’t strikeout enough to make up for it (38), but he was pretty good at getting groundballs and outs, as opponents hit just .239 off his fastball and .167 against his slider.
This question here, and it’s a big one, is whether he has the repertoire to survive as a starter. He really only throws those two pitches along with the occasional changeup, which has not proven to be that effective thus far.
“Rattle me off five really quality two-pitch starters,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Castro in September. “They don’t exist.”
Showalter made that comment prior to a trial start the Orioles gave Castro against Tampa Bay, a start in which he allowed three runs and couldn’t get through the fourth inning.
Castro has not been a regular starter since low-A ball in 2014. He was good then, but that was likely due to facing green competition that was uncomfortable facing mid-90s stuff with questionable control. The Orioles seem set on giving him a shot in spring training.
Cortes, who just turned 23 on Dec. 10, is a Rule 5 pickup from the New York Yankees and kind of fascinating as a prospect. The left-handed Floridian started the 2017 season in high-A ball but ended it in Triple-A. He was solid across the board, putting up a 2.06 ERA and striking out a batter an inning while walking fewer than 3 per 9. He had a 1.49 ERA and struck out 10.6 per nine at Triple-A.
Interestingly, he is not a lanky flame-thrower, standing a stocky 5-11, 205 with a fastball that sits in the high 80s/low 90s. He was also slightly better as a starter than out of the pen last season, allowing just a .204 batting average against with a 1.98 ERA in 13 outings.
“He has good pitches and good experience,” Duquette said. “He had very good success at every level.”
Is there hope in this five-man rotation? Sure, there is always hope. Gausman could find his sea legs early, Bundy could continue to develop, Ynoa could keep the ball down, Castro could magically come up with some secondary stuff and Cortes could prove undaunted by the majors.
You shouldn’t count on it, however, any more than you should count on Britton returning mid-season and converting into a starter. Most likely what you’ll see is the Orioles unearth a couple of cheap free agents to fill the rotation and then give the No. 5 spot to some combination of Ynoa, Castro, Cortes or somebody else. The interesting thing is, even with all the uncertainty the 2018 rotation could actually be an improvement over 2017. So they’ve got that going for them at least.