08 September 2014

Postseason Roster Crunch: The Pitching Staff

Ryan Webb

The Orioles manage their 25-man roster as meticulously as any team in the league. Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter regularly shuffle the roster throughout the season in order to make sure the best assets are available to help them win on any given day. However, when the postseason arrives, the day-to-day changes to the 25-man roster will no longer be an option. In the postseason, once a team submits its 25-man roster, it is set for that series. The only exception to this is that a team can replace an injured player during a series with permission from the Commissioner’s office. The injured player is not available for the duration of that series or the following series. In terms players available for the postseason roster, a rule change this season has expanded the pool to any player on the 40-man roster as of August 31st, as well as the same DL stipulations from previous years.
With added days off during a postseason series, a team has the opportunity to get creative with how their roster is constructed. However, in 2012, the Orioles went with the conventional 12 pitchers in the ALDS series vs. the Yankees, including all 5 members of their rotation on the roster for that series. While they could decide to do something different this year, the safest bet is that they will carry 12 pitchers, 5 of them being the current members of the rotation (Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, and Miguel Gonzalez). For the final 7 spots, Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, and Andrew Miller are all locks to be on the postseason roster, barring injury. The frontrunners for the final 4 spots are Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Brad Brach, and T.J. McFarland. However, I think there’s a chance, to a varying degree, that any of these 4 players could be left off the postseason roster for at least a round. 

Here’s a look at the pitchers I think will fill the final 4 spots on the postseason and roster and why that may or may not end up being the case.  

Tommy Hunter-Hunter on the postseason roster is all but a sure thing, but he’s not as safe as the trio of Britton, O’Day, and Miller. Yes, Hunter has spent the entire season on the 25-man roster (other than a D.L. stint) but he’s out of options, so including him in the roster shuffling wasn’t a possibility.  After a rough start, Hunter has put together a nice season. In many ways, Hunter has actually put together a better season this year than in 2013.


Brian Matusz-I’d be equally surprised if Matusz wasn’t included on the postseason roster but I also don’t consider him a 100% lock either. Matusz hasn’t been as sharp this year. His 4.28 FIP in 2014 is a far cry from 2013’s 2.91. He hasn’t been as effective vs lefties, his strikeout rate has dropped, and he’s giving up more home runs.  There are certain opponents that will ensure Matusz is on the 25-man. For example, he will definitely be on the roster if the Orioles face the Angels due to the fact that Josh Hamilton is 1-for-13 with 8 K’s vs. Matusz. But if the Orioles play someone such as Kansas City, there’s no matchup that jumps out as to why Matusz must be included on the roster. At the same time, there’s no better option that jumps out as a reason to exclude Matusz. The most likely scenario in which Matusz is excluded is if the Orioles face the Tigers (although I’d still expect him to be on the roster). While much of the damage was done to Matusz by righties while he was a starter, the Tigers current roster has a slash line of .373/.415/.573 in 75 AB’s vs. him. Still, Matusz is all but assured a spot, in large part because he’s the primary lefty specialist option, despite the other LHP options available to Showalter.

Brad Brach- At the start of the season, no one had Brach pegged as a favorite to land a spot on the postseason roster. While he’s not as likely as Hunter or Matusz to be included, his 2014 performance will probably land him a spot. There are 11 pitchers who have thrown 10 or more relief innings for the Orioles this year. Out of these 11 pitchers, Brach ranks are respectable: ERA (6th), FIP (7th), and K/9 (5th). Along with the fact that he’s been on the 25-man roster since mid-June, Brach will more likely than not be on the postseason roster.

T.J. McFarland-While I think McFarland is the most likely candidate to grab the last bullpen spot, he’s also the most likely, of these 4 relievers, to not make the postseason roster. If the Orioles again carry all 5 starters, there is an all but zero chance that each them are in the rotation in the best-of-5 ALDS series. With a starter pushed to the bullpen and thus able to be the long-man, does McFarland lose his spot on the postseason roster? A case can be made for keeping him regardless. After Britton, his 58.6 GB% is the best in the bullpen. He’s also had a solid 2nd half, posting a 2.38 FIP. McFarland isn’t generally used as a matchup pitcher, but track record vs. the opponent will play a role in the decision. Yes, the sample sizes are small, but Showalter is known to heavily factor such things. Here’s McFarland’s career numbers vs. the O’s potential opponents.

McFarland vs.
Stats courtesy of ESPN.com

The Angels have a grand total of 2 PA’s vs. McFarland.

Given Showalter's tendency to weigh matchups so heavily, the most likely scenarios in which McFarland isn't on the postseason roster is if the Orioles face the Royals or the Mariners. 

Who is the most likely to replace one of the above relievers?

Ryan Webb-Nate did a great job of discussing why demoting Webb was a questionable decision. Simply put, he’s been one of the team’s better relievers when he’s been up. But he didn’t do himself any favors in Norfolk, posting an ERA (4.76) and FIP (3.27) inferior to his marks in Baltimore this year. I’d like to see Webb on the postseason over McFarland or Brach.


Matchup wise, there isn’t any particular hitter or team that Webb has had notable success against that will help his case to be included. The strongest case to include Webb is that he’s simply one of the 7 best relievers the Orioles have.

Evan Meek-Unlike Webb, Meek pitched effectively during his time in Norfolk, posting a 1.94/2.49 ERA/FIP. He was also entrusted with the closer role, picking up 16 saves. Nonetheless, Meek is a long shot to make the postseason roster given his performance in Baltimore this year. While some of that is due to an inflated BABIP and HR/FB, there are too many better options available to believe Meek will be on the active roster come October.

Ubaldo Jimenez-Well, here we are. Barring something drastic, Jimenez won’t be on the postseason roster. While it’s a topic for another time, I’m not writing Jimenez off in terms of ever being a productive player for the Orioles. But man, he has been bad this year. Since the year 2000, a pitcher has totaled 110+ IP in a season 1976 times. Of those 1976 instances, only 10 pitchers have had a higher BB/9 than Jimenez’s 5.51 this season. I tried to find a reasonable circumstance in which Jimenez makes the postseason roster and I don’t think one exists. I suppose if two starters go down with injuries, the Orioles may be forced to use him. Maybe Showalter will fall in love with the fact that the current Oakland roster has a .203 average vs. Jimenez (126 PA)? Finding a circumstance in which he makes the postseason roster is just an exercise in grasping at straws.

Preston Guilmet hasn’t been terrible this season, but I see no indication from the way he’s been used that he’ll be considered for a spot on the postseason roster. Joe Saunders also won’t be included.

The bullpen I believe the Orioles should use is only slightly different than the one I think they will use. I think that all 5 current SP (Tillman, Gausman, Chen, Norris, Gonzalez) will be on the roster. After that, Britton, O’Day and Miller are locks. Hunter and Matusz will also be included. Here’s where I think I will split from what the Orioles decide to do. Brach and McFarland will likely grab the last two spots, but I’d like to see Webb in place of either of them. Regardless, this staff is solid, and the bullpen is worth getting excited about no matter who grabs the final spot or two out there. What is even more exciting is the fact that it is the second week of September and we find ourselves able to talk about the Orioles and their all but certain postseason appearance.

All stats (current as of 9/6/14) courtesy of Fangraphs, unless otherwise noted. Photo by Keith Allison


Philip said...

Nice article. Could you offer some reasons why you think Matusz would be a better choice than Brach?
Brach is equally good against either hand, and seems to have been far more versatile and dependable over the course of the year than has Matusz, Who strikes fear in the heart of every Baltimore fan every time he faces a hitter.
I could be wrong, but that sure how it seems.

Pat Holden said...

Thanks, Philip.

One thing I didn't mention in the article, mainly because it was already long enough, is how good Matusz has been in the 2nd half. He's a 1.23 ERA, 1.96 FIP and 12.89 K/9. He has been used less frequently, though.

In terms of vs. L, while Brach hasn't been bad, and Matusz hasn't been as good as last year, Matusz is still the much better option.

Hope that answers your question.