The State Of The Orioles: Starting Pitching

Posted Tuesday May 14, 2013 at 8:33:36 am in Real Sports

With the recent (bad) news of Wei-Yin Chen most likely heading to the DL with the dreaded right oblique strain, I think it'd be a fun exercise to take a step back and look at the state of starting pitching for the Baltimore Orioles as an organization.

  And I say 'as an organization' because I'm not just looking at the big club. I'm looking at the organization as a whole. I'll start with the majors and then move down the ladder with starters that could contribute to the Orioles this year or in the future.

So, first stop: the Baltimore Orioles. Prior to the start of the 2013 season, the rotation consisted of the following:

However, after bouts of inconsistency and ineffectiveness, Jake Arrieta is now in the minors pitching for the Norfolk Tides. His slot has been filled multiple times with the likes of:

Chen isn't the only original starting pitcher injured. Miguel Gonzalez is on the 15 day disabled list with a blister on his right thumb (throwing hand). Gonzalez last pitched on May 3rd against the Angels and left after pitching 6 innings. He's eligible to come off the DL on May 19th (Sunday). He'll throw a side session on Tuesday (originally scheduled for this past Sunday). If all goes well, he'll pitch in a rehab game on Thursday/Friday (according to ESPN).

The Orioles have been patching together a starting rotation with Stinson, Britton, Garcia, and Steve Johnson as of late.

 

There's talk that with Chen going on the DL that the Orioles will call up RHP Jair Jurrjens (more on him later). Assuming Gonzalez's side session goes well on Tuesday, he'll be eligible to be activated on Sunday. That would make the Orioles starting rotation as follows (in order):

  • RHP Chris Tillman (5/14 against the Padres)
  • RHP Freddy Garcia (5/15 against the Padres)
  • RHP Jason Hammel (5/17 against the Rays)
  • RHP Jair Jurrjens (5/18 against the Rays)
  • RHP Miguel Gonzalez (5/19 against the Rays)

You'll notice that the rotation will be completely made of right handers. Food for thought.

That's the Baltimore Orioles. Next up is the Norfolk Tides.

AAA (Norfolk Tides)

IMHO, the starting candidates that could (or already have) contribute to the Baltimore Orioles are the following:

  • RHP Jair Jurrjens (4-1, 3.14 ERA, averaging 6 2/3 IP, 1.14 WHIP)
  • RHP Josh Stinson (1-1, 4.11 ERA, averaging 6 IP, 1.467 WHIP)
  • RHP Zach Clark (1-2, 4.56 ERA, averaging 5 IP, 1.442 WHIP)
  • LHP Zach Britton (1-1, 3.38 ERA, averaging 5 IP, 1.667 WHIP)
  • RHP Jake Arrieta (2-1, 2.75 ERA, averaging 6 2/3 IP, 0.966 WHIP)
  • RHP Steve Johnson (1-1, 4.41 ERA, averaging 5 2/3 IP, 1.286 WHIP)

Now, I'd have to put the pecking order as follows:

Jurrjens, Johnson, Arrieta, Britton, Stinson, Clark

Jurrjens has an opt out clause in mid June, so now is as good as ever to call him up. He's going the deepest into games, has the best WHIP, and has a respectable 3.14 ERA. I think you'll see Jair take the spot of Chen in the rotation.

Steve Johnson is up next. I wanted to comment on his performance in Minnesota. Steve only went 4 innings allowing 6 earned runs, 7 hits and walking 4 while striking out 3. While Johnson will never be mistaken for a control pitcher (he owns a 3.8 BB/9 in the minors), he's also not the kind of guy that would walk 4 in 4 innings. Or allow 7 hits in 4 innings. His H/9 in the minors was 8.6. I think the weather played a huge factor. It was windy (25 mph) and cold (in the 40's and 50's). Steve relies on deception. It looks like he never got a feel for his pitches...and lost his control in the 3rd and 4th innings. I expect him to bounce back. He was optioned back to AAA after his start, FWIW.

Arrieta is a guy I've detailed on in the past. His problem is up in his head. When runners are on or if he gets rattled, he gets in his own head and his mechanics and control go out the window. He needs to work with a sports therapist and iron out his mechanics in situations when runners are on. He also has "shoulder tenderness", so his next start was skipped. 

Zach Britton's ERA looks respectable, but his WHIP is abysmal (1.667). It's mostly because of the walks. He's not going deep into games. He's basically throwing too many pitches. His sinker is back, his control, however, is not. He shouldn't see time with the Orioles until he's completely ironed out.

Stinson shouldn't see time with the O's as a starter this year. 

Zach Clark is down in AAA reinventing himself (slightly) by adding a knuckleball to his repertoire.

So there are options in AAA. Two are very solid: Jurrjens and Johnson. The others need work.

On to AA (Bowie Baysox). Starting candidates:

AA (Bowie Baysox)

  • RHP Eddie Gamboa (0-3, 4.14 ERA, averaging 6 IP, 1.234 WHIP)
  • RHP Kevin Gausman (1-4, 3.35 ERA, averaging 6 IP, 1.091 WHIP)
  • LHP Jake Pettit (2-0, 3.86 ERA, averaging 6 IP, 1.200 WHIP)

Gamboa is mostly an organizational guy, but he could help in a pinch. 6 seasons in the minors, 3.13 ERA, 1.152 WHIP, 7.0 BB/9, 1.9 BB/9. He may not be up anytime soon (which would be a good sign for our starters) as he's working on a knuckleball now. 

Gausman is a no brainer. But the organization will want to control his service time, so he won't be up until July at the earliest (unless he's absolutely needed).

Jake Pettit is rather intriguing to me. He was drafted 42nd overall by the Orioles in 2010. In 4 minor league seasons, he has a 3.44 ERA, a 1.188 WHIP. Not a big strikeout guy (6.6 SO/9) but good control (2.1 BB/). He's a lefty, so that's certainly a benefit for a very heavy right handed rotation (all right handers with Chen on the DL).

Last is the Frederick Keys (A ball).

A (Frederick Keys)

There is one guy I'd focus on and that's Eduardo Rodriguez. Many scouts say that our big 3 minor league pitching prospects are Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, and Eduardo Rodriguez.

Eduardo Rodriguez is only 20 years old. And he *just* turned 20 in April. In 4 seasons in the minors, his numbers:

  • 3.11 ERA
  • 1.189 WHIP
  • 0.2 HR/9
  • 3.0 BB/9
  • 7.6 SO/9

...and did I mention he's a lefty?

On The Way?

Now, not currently in the majors or in the minors is another lefty by the name of Tsuyoshi Wada. Wada was signed to 2 year deal with an option for a 3rd year in 2011. On May 11, 2012 Wada underwent Tommy John surgery due to a partially torn ligament in his pitching elbow.

Wada has been pitching since spring training and just finished extended spring training by going 7 no hit innings while striking out 10. His first rehab start will be this Thursday for the Norfolk Tides. Expectations are that he could join the Orioles by early/mid June. Keep in mind that Wada has a clause in his contract that prevents him from being optioned to the minors without his approval.

My take on Wada?

Wada is a control guy, but also a lefty. 2.4 BB/9, 8.1 SO/9...that's pretty damn good. He's averaged about 7 IP per start out in Japan with a 1.145 WHIP. If he has some deception and control, he can be a very valuable starter for the Orioles.

From Wikipedia:

Wada is a 5 ft 11 in, 170 lb, left-handed pitcher with an unorthodox delivery, throwing from a high three-quarters arm slot (nearly over the top) but deceiving hitters by keeping his throwing arm back and delaying its swing as he drives to the plate with his lower body.

Wada's four-seam fastball has good late life but decidedly below-average velocity, topping out at 146 km/h (91 mph) and usually sitting at 135 to 141 km/h (84 to 88 mph). He compensates for this with his deceptive arm swing and late release point,[18] complementing it with a solid-average slider and a changeup.[19][20]

While Wada has good command of his pitches overall, recording a career walks per nine innings rate of 2.46 (until 2011 season), he has established somewhat of a reputation as a pitcher who is prone to throwing mistake pitches and giving up a large number of home runs. However, he has shown marked improvement in this area since making his professional debut, giving up progressively fewer homers in every season of his career except for 2005.

And of course the dark horse candidate: Dylan Bundy.

The Super Prospect

Everyone in Birdland is worried about Dylan Bundy. After all, whenever a pitcher is mentioned in the same breath as Dr. Andrews...it's rarely a good thing. But there is some reason for optimism.

I think what's important to note about Dylan Bundy's situation is that it is not a tear. Apparently it was just tightness in the flexor pronator muscle (flexor mass). This seems to be a stress injury. Dr. Andrews didn't find any structural damage, meaning nothing wrong with the UCL...the UCL is the key word here since it's the one most synonymous with Tommy John surgery.

The suggestion/administration of PRP along with rest is for the hope that it's just a repetitive stress injury.

The O's are hoping he's ready to roll middle of June. And by ready to roll, I mean ready to start a throwing program.

A thing to note is that originally Stephen Strasburg was diagnosed with a flexor pronator muscle strain...but upon further inspection/tests he was diagnosed with an UCL tear...and we all know how that went.

So, Bundy originally diagnosed with flexor pronator muscle tightness, upon further inspection found no structural damage by the best in the game (Andrews). So, that's a cause for some optimism.

Wrap Up

So there you have it. The state of starting pitching in the Orioles organization. It's not all doom and gloom. There is a laundry list of pitchers available now. There will be a couple available within the next 30 days (hopefully) in Chen and Wada. And we may very well see Kevin Gausman in July.

The hope is that Chen is back sooner than later and Wada pitches effectively. This would make Garcia and Jurrjens expendable (trade bait). This would allow the Orioles to either trade for a bat or load the farm system. After all, Jair isn't a free agent until 2015. If he can prove that he's somewhat back to being the pitcher that he was in 2011, there's value there. There's also value in an effective veteran like Freddy Garcia.

There's optimism to be had in Birdland. Duquette has loaded the system with depth. And it's necessary in a sport like baseball with such a long season ahead.

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view