17 October 2013

Making the Orioles a Champion in 2014: Starting Pitchers - Part 1

This post is part of the Making the Orioles a Champion in 2014 Series.  Below you will find links to the other articles.  We will do our best to make sure the links go live with each new update.
C | 1B | 2B (1, 2) | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | Bench | SP (1, 2) | RHRP | LHRP | Conclusion

During our offseason quest of turning the 2014 Baltimore Orioles into World Series champions, we’ve tackled several positions (see above).  Today, we turn our attention to the starting pitchers.  The starters will be looked at over a series of two posts.  This first post will look at what the Baltimore starting pitchers accomplished in 2013. In part 2, we’ll examine what the organization can do to improve in 2014.  

If you followed the Orioles in 2013 at all, then you already know that pitching was one of the main issues that kept the team from returning to the postseason.  While the team pitching as a whole was not strong, the starting pitchers as a unit were among the league’s worst.  As the table below shows, the 2013 Orioles starting pitchers were ranked toward the bottom in almost all pitching statistics. 

It’s actually worse than I initially thought.  I was hoping there may be at least one silver lining in there, but I’m struggling to find something positive to say about Baltimore’s starting pitching in 2013. 

The Orioles led the league in starting pitchers for the second straight year, which is not a good thing.  In 2013, 14 different pitchers started a game for the Baltimore Orioles.  In addition to the main starting pitchers (who will be discussed individually below), the following pitchers all started at least one game for the 2013 Baltimore Orioles: Freddy Garcia, Jake Arrieta, T.J. McFarland, Jair Jurrjens, Steve Johnson, and Josh Stinson.  These 6 pitchers combined to start 19 games, while collectively producing a 6.87 ERA.  That’s probably all that needs to be said about that group.  

Before we move on, a quick note on Freddy Garcia.  While he was absolutely terrible during his stint with the Orioles in 2013 (5.88 ERA in 52 innings, contributing -0.8 WAR per Fangraphs), he has pitched to the tune of a 1.83 ERA in 3 games started for the Atlanta Braves (contributing 0.5 WAR in only 19.2 IP), and started a postseason game for them (and pitched well in it too).  Sometimes, life can be cruel.  

Heading into the 2013 season, Gausman was considered by many prospect lists to be the Orioles #2 prospect, and a top 25 prospect overall.  After pitching effectively in the minor leagues, he was called up in late May.  He started 5 games, and was generally ineffective, giving up 21 earned runs in only 24.2 IP.  He may have been a little unlucky over a very small sample (high BABIP and HR/FB%), but he was also hit very hard, with a line drive rate of almost 28% as a starter (league average for starting pitchers in 2013 was 22.6%).  After his 5 starts, he was sent back down to the minors.  He later returned as a very effective relief option.

2014 Contract Status: Pre-Arbitration Eligible

Britton is another starting pitcher that merits a short discussion, as he has previously been a top prospect, but has yet to consistently produce at the major league level.  The 2013 season was no different, as Britton started 7 games and gave up 22 earned runs in only 36.1 innings.  What’s worse is that his command continues to struggle, as he walked more batters than he struck out in 2013. 

2014 Contract Status: Pre-Arbitration Eligible

In 2012, Jason Hammel emerged as the de facto “ace” of the Orioles’ starting pitching staff, setting career bests in ERA, FIP, strikeout rate, and ground ball rate.  Although he missed 50 games due to right knee surgery, it wasn’t completely unreasonable to expect Hammel to repeat his success in 2013.  This was not the case, as his performance took a nose-dive.  Not only were his statistics worse than 2012 levels, they were also worse than his career levels, as the table shows.  

The main culprits contributing to his terrible 2013 season are a decline in both the quality of his pitches and his command.  Zach Mariner took a look at the decreasing quality of Hammel’s pitches early in the season, and needless to say, Hammel’s stuff never really improved.  Pitch location and command were also significant issues, especially against left-handed hitters.  When his sinker was working in 2012, Hammel held left handed batters to a line of .202/.278/.307 (AVG/OBP/SLG).  In 2013, that line ballooned to .294/.373/.508.  Essentially, every left-handed hitter he faced in 2013 was the equivalent of Robinson Cano.  As the figure shows, Hammel left too many pitches up and over the plate to left-handed batters in 2013.

2014 Contract Status: Free Agent

Norris came over to the Orioles in a trade deadline deal that sent prospects L.J. Hoes, John Hader, and a 2014 competitive balance pick back to the Houston Astros.  Norris started 9 games for the Orioles down the stretch, posting a 4.69 ERA.  Despite the high ERA, he did manage to produce almost a win above replacement during his time in Baltimore (0.9 WAR according to Fangraphs), which was buoyed by the fact that he struck out nearly 25% of the batters he faced.  Additionally, he may have been unlucky in Charm City, as his BABIP, LOB%, and HR/FB% were all higher than his career levels.
Although Norris was a high profile acquisition at the trade deadline (in large part due to the lack of available starting pitchers), he’s generally regarded as a #4 starter.  Some talent evaluators have even mentioned Norris as a bullpen candidate due to his lack of a 3rd quality pitch and consistent platoon issues, as he his career FIP against left handed batters (4.66) is over a run higher than his career FIP against right handers (3.57).

Norris made $3.0 million in 2013 and is eligible for arbitration this offseason for the second time.  He’ll definitely get a raise in 2014, but he should remain a relatively cheap and effective starting rotation option for the Orioles in 2014.

2014 Contract Status: Arbitration Eligible (2nd time)

Scott Feldman

Feldman was another mid-season trade acquisition to help bolster the starting rotation for a run at the post-season.  He came over to Baltimore with catcher Steve Clevenger from the Chicago Cubs on July 2 in exchange for Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop, and an international signing bonus slot.  Feldman mixed some really good starts with some really terrible starts, but overall, he pitched about as well as expected.  He wasn’t brought over to the organization to be an ace, he was brought over to be a dependable starter who can give you 6 solid innings and give Baltimore a chance to win the game, and he did that by posting a 4.27 ERA (4.13 FIP) in 15 starts. 

One knock on Feldman is that he won’t typically pitch deep into games.  Due to him only having average stuff, he tends to nibble around the edges of the plate, which will lead to throwing a lot of pitches.  For example, during his 15 starts with the Orioles in 2013, he averaged almost 100 pitches per start, yet only pitched roughly 6 innings per outing.

2014 Contract Status: Free Agent

Even after 2 years of solid starting pitching, I’m not sure how Miguel Gonzalez does it. He’s made his way from an undrafted free agent all the way to the major leagues despite having so-so stuff.  And in both years that he’s started for Baltimore, he’s been about your average major league starter, producing 2.0 fWAR per 200 innings pitched.  Many of you know this, but it bears repeating.  An average major league starting pitcher is very valuable, especially when he has yet to reach arbitration.  For example, Kyle Lohse had roughly the same production as Gonzalez in 2013, and was paid $11 million, whereas the Orioles only had to pay Gonzalez $500,000. 

The secret to Gonzalez’s success is the fact that he is able to change speeds effectively to keep hitters off balance. According to Brooks Baseball, Gonzalez throws 5 different pitches, including a four-seam fastball, sinker, slider, curveball, and split-finger fastball.  Over the last two years, each pitch except for the curveball has a usage rate well over 10%.  And as you can tell from the table below, he’s not afraid to throw his secondary offerings in any count.

Since his career FIP is almost a run higher than his career ERA, I still remain somewhat skeptical about Gonzalez moving forward, but as the quality innings keep stacking up, I’m starting to become more of a believer. 

2014 Contract Status: Pre-Arbitration Eligible

Tillman also had his second productive year in a row, and it looks like he is inching his way closer to his potential.  Tillman followed up a solid 2012 by giving the Orioles over 200 innings pitched, sporting a 3.71 while earning his first trip to the All-Star game.  Additionally, he had the highest strikeout rate of his career, while keeping his walk rate below his career levels.  

While Tillman pitched well in 2013, there are some issues that cause some concern.  On a starting pitching staff that led the league in home runs allowed, Tillman led the way, allowing 33 balls to leave the yard, good for a HR/FB% of 14.2%, tied for 3rd highest in all of baseball.  Luckily, 23 of those home runs came without anyone on base.  Tillman’s ability to limit the damage on home runs is interesting, and it’s something I looked into earlier this year.  It’s well known that Tillman is a fly ball pitcher (about 5% more fly balls than league average) who pitches the majority of his games in the friendly confines of Orioles Park at Camden Yards.  This didn’t exactly do him any favors, as his HR/FB% was more than double at Camden Yards than it was on the road in 2013.  Despite the home runs allowed, Tillman actually decreased his fly ball percentage by 4.6% compared to last year.  He will likely never be a groundball pitcher, but if he can keep his FB% down, he should be able to keep his home runs allowed at a reasonable level.

2014 Contract Status: Pre-Arbitration Eligible

Chen was signed as an international free agent out of Taiwan by Dan Duquette in January of 2012, and has been one of the most cost effective international free agents signed recently.  In his two years pitching for Baltimore, he has produced 4.3 fWAR in just under 300 innings pitched.  He’s another flyball pitcher, although he has not been as prone to giving up home runs as some of the other pitchers on the Baltimore staff. 

Chen’s 2013 was arguably almost as productive as his 2012 (where he finished 4th in rookie of the year voting), even though he pitched about 55 less innings due to a strained oblique.  He finished 2013 with a 4.07 ERA and a 4.04 FIP, a 0.38 run improvement over his FIP in 2012.  Nothing about Chen is all that exciting.  He doesn’t have plus stuff and he won’t strikeout a lot of batters.  He pitches with good command, keeping his secondary offerings down in the zone.  His change-up (which he throws exclusively to right handed batters) is his key secondary pitch, and as shown in the figure, he was especially effective locating it in 2013.  

Chen faded once again down the stretch in 2013, posting his worst numbers of the year in August and September.  Due to the differences in the Japanese game and the American game, it didn’t necessarily come as a shock when Chen wore down towards the end of the 2012 season.  However, it's surprising that it happened again in 2013, especially since he pitched fewer innings as a result of the aforementioned injury.  The difference in his performance between the first 4 months of the season and the last 2/3 is stark (see the table below), and it should be something that the front office and coaching staff needs to pay attention in 2014.

2014 Contract Status: 1 year, $4.072 million remaining on contract (with 2015 club option)

In Part 2, where we’ll take a look at the necessary steps needed to improve the Baltimore starting rotation in 2014.


Unknown said...

It doesnt make a difference as much as we all love the O's we know deep down that they will not go out and get a big time Cuban Free Agent, or a big time Free Agent period. We will continue to be shoppers at the Super Bargin Bin. It isnt that we do not have the money. It is simply that they do not want to spend the money. We proved in the 90s we had the money and had winning years, yet after Albert Bell's injury it all dried up. Yes we do need to continue to build our minor league pipe line. But in truth if we are to start being a serious year in year out contender they have to spend money on REAL free agents that matter. Valencia isnt going to cut it at DH nor will Morse. We got a serious hole at 2nd base and now we need to get someone that can actually make a difference to us to help us take the next step. Above 500 is no longer good enough.
Attention Savers Shoppers there is a Blue light special on a 4x retread SP with no upside in the January Isle.

Jon Shepherd said...

The blue light special worked well with Chen and Gonzalez as backend guys. The team has been hoping on growing their own arms which seems to be heavily reliant now on Tillman, Gausman, and Bundy...which could be a great group or not so great.

It is nice they have chosen to ink the team's own players to big deals. But, yeah, if one wishes to build through free agency...this team probably won't do that. They will be built more similarly to how the Cardinals are built. Cardinals have just done better acquiring and developing talent.

Unknown said...

We have been hoping for years now. And now we got Bundy with surgery and Gausman that is up and down much like Tillman. Yes they got Jones locked up but not much else.
St. Louis is not the norm when it comes to winning. Oakland has been building and rebuilding and yet rebuilding every other year with their farm system and what has this gotten them? Nothing.
The reality is that teams need free agent signings that can help fill holes and that count and can make a difference not ones that they hope can. The time is NOW to get a couple of SOLID not super star but SOLID free agents to add to what we have which can not only help us go further now but can also give our farm a bit more time to grow.

Jon Shepherd said...

Oakland in the playoffs means nothing?

Most successful teams these days consist primarily of players that have developed with a couple complementary guys. Typically, if you do not have that strong base of talent...the talent you need will be expensive and largely unavailable on the market.

Add that to a lower middle market, which Baltimore is, money gets tight quickly. I would be surprised if the team goes over 100 MM.

Unknown said...

We are not a lower middle market. I refuse to belive that. In the 90s our payroll was well over 100Million and we won alot of games. Boston did not start winning until we stopped due to Belle's injury. We have the fan base, we have the market. We have a cheap owner who is gun shy.
The tigers got there with a mixure of both big time free agents and home grown. Heck Boston, Angles, Even the Royals learned with the trades and signings they have done. The exception is Oakland occasionally retooling every few years and Tampa which has pretty much run its farm system close to out. No hitters coming up and they are about to lose Price. They did have a good run of growning pitchers but bought no bats to go with them. Just sucks for them they have a crappy stadium.
Simple truth is you can not keep a solid competitive team anymore but purely farm system and cheap free Agents. You have to spend money.

Anonymous said...

The O's were able to spend big money, to rent big names, in the mid 1990's due to Camden Yards being a new novelty, and being filled to capacity regularly. There was no NFL in town, and it was a fun time. Camden Yards is no longer a unique style ball park, and the Ravens are in town winning Super Bowls. Baltimore will not be spending megabucks on free agent signings with Oriole Park at less than 50% capacity. The team has been fun and competitive the last two seasons, but is not pulling in the Benjamins the way they did when Angelos had his pockets lined with asbestos tort.

Unknown said...

camden yards was completed in 92 not the late 90s there were several years of middle of the road baseball before Alomar and company came a calling.
By the fact that the Ravens are able to put together winning teams shows that Balitmore is a big market. Detriot is considered a Big market team and it has a smaller population pool to draw from.
It is time to stop making excuses about our market size. If you own a team you got the money to spend. And Angelos is rated in the upper half of the wealthy owners in the MLB.
Only true die hard fans of any team will visit when their team isnt winning. People come to the park to see their team is winning. We were not winning they did not come. Time to take the next step. If he isnt willing to do that then it is time to sell.

Unknown said...

When the Nationals were created that removed about one-third of the Orioles income stream. And to conclude that Baltimore is a big-market city because the Ravens are a winner is frankly ignorant. The NFL has a very hard salary cap and near-total revenue sharing, so market size (read - Green Bay) is irrelevant.