The Orioles starting rotation isn’t known for its eye-popping numbers. In the recent 4-year run of non-losing seasons, the Orioles rotation has only ranked in the top half of the American League once in ERA. The highest they have ranked in terms of IP is 9th. They have been in the top 3 in homers allowed every season. The highest they finished in K rate was 7th one season and the best finish they have had in terms of BB rate is 6th worse in the league. They usually were top 3 in that category.
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So, let’s review what that means. This is a staff that doesn’t eat innings, doesn’t strike out guys, walks a lot of batters and gives up a ton of homers and this has been a consistent theme for 4 straight years, so the sampling is there. Make no mistake about it, this staff really isn’t that good and needs a lot of help to perform.
One of the ways this staff was helped is by their collective BABIP. Last year, they had the 6th worst BABIP of any staff in the AL. However, from 2012-2014, they were one of the best staffs in baseball in terms of BABIP. That can be attributed to the stellar defense behind them.
Last season, we saw Hardy and Schoop miss time and Schoop’s defense dropped off after being hurt. Is that a trend or tied to the injury? We will find that out this year. Those guys being out impacted the defense and that likely hurt the BABIP numbers. How healthy Schoop and Hardy can be could help determine if the Orioles staff can get back to the low BABIP numbers.
However, there is another reason we may have seen an uptick in BABIP. The Orioles staff saw a big increase in their GB/FB rate. In 2015, they finished 8th in the AL at a 1.23 rate. They had been one of the worst teams in the league in terms of GB/FB as a starting staff. Why did we see an increase? Chris Tillman had a career high GB/FB rate at 1.23. Ubaldo Jimenez saw his rate jump from 1.13 to 1.70. It hadn’t been that high since 2009. Gonzalez saw it go from .89 to 1.13. That was the first time in his career it had ever been above 1. Only Chen and Gausman saw there rates stay the same (as in the case of KG) or have a slight decline (as in the case of Chen). With Chen now gone, the Orioles have added Yovani Gallardo to the staff. Gallardo has seen his GB rate be above 1.7 for 3 straight years and it hasn’t been below 1.26 since 2008.
When you look at the Orioles bullpen, they have been at or right near the top for GB rates the last 4 seasons. That is obviously helped out greatly by Britton and his incredible rates (over 6 in 2014 and over 8 in 2015).
What you are seeing, IMO is the Orioles trying to transition into more of a ground ball staff. When you look at the pitch usages for the starters, you can see why the ground ball rates have improved. Brooks Baseball does an excellent job of charting pitches and you can see here why we have seen an increase in some of these numbers. There is also a good article on Tillman here, talking about his increase.
Now, the downside to this is the staff didn’t see an improvement in HR rate last year. It was still one of the worst in the league and I am not sure how much they will improve. My expectation is that Gausman’s HR will be significantly better, but that Gallardo will see an increase. On the other-hand, I don’t buy that Gallardo’s rate will match Chen’s level this past year. So, the hope is that while the staff will give up its fair share of homers, that we do see a decrease in that stat and that the defense behind these guys will go back from being merely very good to elite again.
If this staff is able to keep the ball in play at a higher rate and the defense is able to get back to that elite level and keep the BABIP down, this staff could get back to the 2012 and 2014 “actual” numbers and perform well. Of course, the downside to being more of a GB staff is that you likely will see an increase in BABIP, since ground balls are more apt to be hits vs. fly balls but when you have the potential of an elite defense behind you, some of that can be mitigated.
To me, this is an interesting aspect of this rotation to watch this year. Was the increase in ground ball rate a 1-year aberration or is this a sign of things to come? I think it’s pretty obvious that Orioles Pitching Coach Dave Wallace and O’s Manager Buck Showalter made a conscious decision to get these guys to throw more ground balls last year and I am guessing this trend will continue.
Rob has interviewed guests from outlets such as ESPN, Sports Illustrated, NBC Sports, CBS Sports, FOX Sports, Baseball Prospectus, Athlon, Sporting News, MLB Network, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Info Solutions, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Sports on Earth, Grantland, NFL Network, FanGraphs, Football Outsiders, ProFootballFocus, etc. etc. The Baltimore native lives in Perry Hall with his Wife Lindsay, and two young sons. He has appeared as a guest on 105.7 The Fan, Q1370, and WNST 1570. Co-Host of The Warehouse: https://anchor.fm/the-warehouse Co-Host of Sports Tonight: https://anchor.fm/sports-tonight