Orioles 2011 Preview Part III: Starting Rotation
Posted by Z.R. Albright on February 24, 2011
Part I and Part II dealt with the lineup, an aspect of the 2011 squad that figures to be relatively static. The starting position players are pretty much set, and barring injury or trade they should remain the same throughout the season. The starting pitchers however, are not as cut and dry as the starting lineup. Jeremy Guthrie, Justin Duchscherer, and Brian Matusz will definitely hold the top three spots in the rotation. The bottom of the rotation will most likely be a mixture of Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman, and Zach Britton. Assuming everyone stays healthy, 64 starts will need to come from this group of four. For an easy split, let’s say Bergesen and Arrieta will each start 20 of those games, Tillman will throw 16 games, and Britton will start in eight games.
Guthrie has pitched in over 190 innings in each of his last three seasons with Baltimore. His average WAR for those three seasons is around 2.1. He has never posted a FIP below 4.41 in a single season, but he has had a sub-four ERA in three of his last four. He has outperformed his FIP in every season in which he threw more than 20 innings. This odd phenomenon can partially be explained by his .270 career BABIP, but he may just have a knack for outperforming what should be his “true talent” level. Guthrie should be worth around two wins in 2011.
Duchscherer’s injury history is well documented. He has never started more than 22 games in a season, and he has pitched a total of 28 major league innings in the last two years. However when healthy, the Duke has been effective. His career FIP is 3.86 and his ERA is even lower. He does not strike out many hitters (6.87 K/9), but he does not walk many either (2.40 BB/9). Coming off all the injuries and barely pitching in the last two years, he should be worth somewhere around two wins, and thats if he stays healthy.
Matusz has pitched in 220.1 innings in the majors, posting a 4.06 FIP, 7.39 strikeout rate, and a 3.15 walk rate. He has the potential to be the ace of the staff this season, and he is a huge piece of the Orioles’ future. In 2010, his first full season in the show, he had a WAR of 2.7. As he becomes more comfortable with big league hitters, his strikeouts should go up a bit. Hopefully his walks will shrink a tad as well. Matusz should be a three-win player in 2011, but nobody in Baltimore would mind a big breakout season from the young lefty.
Bergesen is only 25 years old, but he has never really been a big-time prospect due to his lack of “stuff”. His best attribute is probably his control (2.55 BB/9), but last year he struggled with keeping his sinker down in the zone and hitters simply mashed it. This led to the second-worst fastball, in terms of runs above/below average, in the entire league. Realistically, if Bergesen starts 20 games, he should be worth around 0.5 WAR.
Arrieta started 18 games in his debut season last year. He walked nearly as many batters (4.31) as he struck out (4.66) per nine innings. This led to a FIP of 4.76 for the 6’4” righty. Arrieta can no longer overpower hitters with his fastball, like he used to do in the minors. He needs to work on his secondary pitches, especially the changeup, and cut down on the walks. I am not real big on his upside, as some people are. He will be 25 by opening day, so he certainly has time to realize his potential. In 20 starts, he should be worth about one win. I want to believe he can contribute more than that, but I just do not see it this year.
Chris Tillman/ Zach Britton
Tillman has pitched in 118.2 innings with the O’s. He is still very young (he will be 23 in April), but the early results are not good. His FIP is at 6.00 and his ERA is only a little lower. Like Arrieta, control is a problem for Tillman. However, Tillman has better stuff than Arrieta in my opinion and still has some room to add weight to his 6’5” frame. Britton exploded onto the prospect radar with sub-three ERAs in Bowie and Norfolk in 2010. He has a good sinker from the left side and an above-average slider. He should reach Baltimore sometime in mid-2011, and he likely will not throw too many innings with the big-league club. Between Tillman and Britton they should be worth around one win in a limited amount of starts.
That gives us a total of 9.5 wins above replacement level for the starting rotation, only slightly better than the 7.7 WAR amassed by Baltimore’s starters in 2010 (second-to-last in the league). Pitching is not the team’s strong point, but it is the key to winning in the future. If Arrieta, Tillman, Matusz, and Britton all make progress this season, it would be a significant victory for the Orioles’ long-term hopes of contention. Part IV will take a look at the bench, the bullpen, and the overall win expectancy of the 2011 Baltimore Orioles.