23 March 2016

Southpaws Without Options: Orioles 5th Starter?

Throughout the offseason, several drums beat for the Orioles unendingly.  One of those drums was a search for a viable southpaw to diversify their starting rotation.  Conventional wisdom suggests that a rotation performs better when there is a lefty in the mix as it makes clubs less succeptible to teams with a high density of exceptional left handed bats.  Currently, the left handed starters the Orioles have in their system are simply not ready for prime time and with the trials and tribulations of Kevin Gausman and Miguel Gonzalez, a new starting option might be preferable.  Around the league, though, several left handers are battling it out for fifth starter gigs or are looking in from outside the expected rotation.  Perhaps one of these players could be acquired.

Tommy Milone
Minnesota Twins
Year Age IP ERA+ FIP BB9 SO9 GB%
2013 26 156.1 94 4.30 2.2 7.3 35
2014 27 118.0 90 4.69 2.8 5.7 39
2015 28 128.2 106 4.30 2.5 6.4 42
5 Yrs 619.0 99 4.23 2.2 6.5 38
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/22/2016.

Milone is not an exceptional pitcher.  He is a good command lefty with a fastball that tops out 89 mph if the breeze blows just right.  His ability to be a back end southpaw is based on his mix of changeups, curve balls, and cutters.  Milone's success last season was derailed for a bit with a forearm strain and some time rehabbing in the minors.  Upon his return, the cutter disappeared and his starts were less useful.  Removing the cutter from his repertoire is a concern as it suggests that the injury issue was still present or, at least, he was concerned the cutter would hurt his ability to improve arm strength.  That said, he only threw about a mile per hour slower upon his return.

In Twins camp, Milone is trying his best to be the only lefty in the Twins rotation.  He is currently facing off with the very well paid (but so far disastrous) Ricky Nolasco for that fifth starter spot.  One could imagine Milone being available from the Twins, but what exactly could the Orioles offer in return?  Also keep in mind that the Twins also have Danny Santana and Oswaldo Arcia who could provide some left handed outfielder options for the Orioles.

Chris Rusin
Colorado Rockies
Year Age IP ERA+ FIP BB9 SO9 GB%
2013 26 66.1 98 4.75 3.3 4.9 48
2014 27 12.2 55 4.08 3.6 5.7 48
2015 28 131.2 88 4.71 2.8 5.9 52
4 Yrs 240.1 84 4.70 3.0 5.7 50
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/22/2016.

Where Milone still stands in perceived competition to get into the rotation, Chris Rusin instead looks toward sticking on as a longman who will spot start.  The Rockies appear to be shifting toward collecting pitchers who light up the guns and away from those that depend highly on off speed pitches.  Rusin finds himself chucking a 90 mph fastball occasionally, but that is not where he lives.  He lives with his 89 mph sinker and induces a great deal of groundball contact.  A curveball and change up round up his pitches.

His troubles in Colorado largely dealt with poor defense, his sinker not sinking as much, and poor receivers.  In Baltimore, he would not have to deal with many of those things.  He would not be great, but I would think Rusin's 50% groundball rate would play better than Millone's 40% rate.  Rusin is a player who I think is quite likely to find himself pitching for another team by the end of Spring Training.  Maybe the Orioles, he certainly does a few things Baltimore likes.

Brett Oberholtzer
Philadelphia Phillies
Year Age IP ERA+ FIP BB9 SO9 GB%
2013 23 71.2 147 3.65 1.6 5.7 36
2014 24 143.2 88 3.56 1.8 5.9 37
2015 25 38.1 91 4.49 4.0 6.3 49
3 Yrs 253.2 100 3.72 2.1 5.9 39
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/22/2016.

Like Milone, Oberholtzer is trying to insert himself as the lone left hander in a rotation, but appears to be seen more as a long relief left handed option.  He, too, is a lefty who tops out in the upper 80s.  He has gotten by with a two seamer, a change up, and a knuckle curve.  Last season saw an uptick in groundball rates from his historical 40% to 50%, which also coincided with him having trouble with blisters.  That trouble led to issues throwing his knuckle curve.  I would put his profile between Rusin and Milone, but Oberholtzer's past prospect status was slightly more rosier.  However, the bloom is off that rose.

It is questionable whether the Orioles would be able to get Oberholtzer from the Phillies without giving up something of some significance.  Phillies are going nowhere and it helps having a guy who can log innings.  They have long had a shine for Parker Bridwell, so a one for one could make sense.

Felix Doubront
Oakland Athletics
Year Age IP ERA+ FIP BB9 SO9 GB%
2013 25 162.1 95 3.78 3.9 7.7 46
2014 26 79.2 72 5.13 3.7 5.8 38
2015 27 75.1 73 4.45 3.1 6.7 47
6 Yrs 513.2 85 4.32 3.8 7.7 44
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/22/2016.

Doubront use to have a low 90s fastball and was a promising back end arm in the Boston rotation.  In the last three years though, a shoulder injury was followed with loss of velocity and poor command of his pitches.  To make amends, he has embraced the cutter.  However, the new proportional pitch mix has given little indication he may be able to replicate what he did in his early to mid 20s that made him somewhat interesting.

The Athletics appear to be eyeing a long relief role for him, but would probably deal him for an interesting fringe prospect.  So what is a left handed pitcher worth who strikes out few batters, walks too many, and gets tagged hard?  Eh.

Brad Hand
Miami Marlins
Year Age IP ERA+ FIP BB9 SO9 GB%
2013 23 20.2 129 4.02 3.5 6.5 42
2014 24 111.0 85 4.20 3.2 5.4 50
2015 25 93.1 73 4.08 3.1 6.5 46
5 Yrs 288.2 82 4.54 3.7 5.9 44
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/22/2016.

Hand is another fringe 5th starter who gets the ball on the ground and has decent velocity for a left hander.  He works both a four and two seam fastball, an inconsistent curve, and a decent change.  His main problems are that he has difficulty hitting his spots and difficulty missing bats.  Hand has performed better as a reliever than he has as a starter and it would not be surprising for the Marlins to value him as the long man.  He is still fighting for that 5th slot though.

Sean Nolin
Milwaukee Brewers
Year Age IP ERA+ FIP BB9 SO9 GB%
2013 23 1.1 13 15.05 6.8 0.0 30
2014 24 1.0 59 16.13 0.0 0.0 25
2015 25 29.0 77 5.13 3.7 4.7 42
3 Yrs 31.1 60 5.91 3.7 4.3 41
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/22/2016.

Sean Nolin feels like a left handed version of Miguel Gonzalez.  He gets by with an above average changeup and needs good command of a lackluster 90 mph fastball.  He also mixed in plenty of cutters and a show me breaking ball.  There are question marks, of course.  In 2014, his fastball rode around 93-94 mph.  A hernia surgery, groin issues, and shoulder soreness saw him working for the Athletics in the upper 80s.  Now with the Brewers on a waiver wire pickup, he is a low value, high risk kind of pitcher.  Again, this is MiGo though MiGo was never supposed to work out.  Nolin is a longshot as well.

Tyler Lyons
St. Louis Cardinals
Year Age IP ERA+ FIP BB9 SO9 GB%
2013 25 53.0 79 3.73 2.7 7.3 47
2014 26 36.2 83 3.65 2.7 8.8 43
2015 27 60.0 106 4.53 2.3 9.0 39
3 Yrs 149.2 90 4.03 2.5 8.4 43
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/22/2016.

While we are on comparisons, Lyons makes me think of Brian Matusz.  Lyons was a somewhat promising southpaw (though nowhere near as promising as Matusz) and has been roughed up in his stints starting for the Cardinals.  At best, they see him as a swingman, but probably have him slated on the edge of the bullpen as a lefty one out guy.  He works with a fastball, sinker, slider, and changeup which happens to be what Matusz works with.  The main difference is that Matusz' slider is a little harder than Lyons.

Lyons would give the Orioles a cheaper left handed option in the pen for this year and beyond.  He will provide a potential solution to Matusz' exit after this season.  Of course, one does not plan much to ensure there is a situational lefty on the squad and Lyons' days starting may be as wishful as Brian Matusz still having that option.


Pip said...

What a bunch of lousy options…
I was going to ask you what you thought of potential waiver candidates, and who among them might be able to help the team.
If this is that article, then it sure seems like there's no one available except players with the same flaws we already have in plenty.
What about just rolling with what we have?
I don't know how many of our available pitchers project to be major league average, but Wilson, Wright, and Drake all have higher upside in the guys mentioned in this article, not least because we already have them.

Jon Shepherd said...

As starters, Drake does not have a higher upside. Beyond that, you would bring one of these guys in for a couple reasons. One, a short term placement in the rotation and then a more permanent placement in the pen as a lefty arm. That overall would be the most likely point. Throwing filler into the gap with something that had secondary worth. Wilson, Wright, and Drake do not provide that secondary value.

So it largely depends what one wants out of the 40 man roster and how that availability shifts during the season. Lets say Matusz is out. Zach Phillips fills in with maybe Chris Rusin throwing a few forgettable starts. When Gausman is ready to return, you then have an option of staying with Phillips or pushing Rusin into a relief role.

No, there are no great solutions, so you try to figure out what does best to prevent a bleed out.

Pip said...

If left-handedness is a big deal, and I'm not saying it's not, then what about the lefties we already have? Especially Beliveau, Who has an excellent K rate, and has major-league experience. I don't know why he got dumped, so he must have some kind of problem, but do none of our current lefties present a better alternative?

Jon Shepherd said...

Injury issues. Pitch quality.

Anonymous said...

Interesting column. Some good ideas in there that I was not thinking of.

9inchnails said...

Having a lefty on staff is over rated. 6 teams since 1973 have won the WS with an all right pitching staff....If you had 5 Rogers Clemens, would you let on go looking for a lefty, NO!

Go Orioles! World Series bound!

Jon Shepherd said...

Sweet. We missed that the club had five Roger Clemens'. I hope there is no analog degradation with the cloning.

Anonymous said...

And to think, we could have non-tendered little Gonzo, saved 5.1!!!! million, and gotten better results paying Wilson the minimum!!

Roger said...

Of the ones you mention I think Hand and Lyons sound most interesting. I read that Milone is actually in line to get the 5th starter job for the Twinkies. Hand was a highly regarded prospect and is still quite young. And Lyons has a good K rate and will at least run the clock back on Matusz a couple of years. Maybe someone could take Matusz off our hands at the deadline for something.

That said, Beliveau is still around but won't be available for a few weeks. He is a decent option. And I still don't see how Cabral can't handle a LOOGY job. There should be some half decent options on the waiver wire. Last year Texas got some mileage out of Wandy after the Braves dropped him.

vilnius b. said...

What about Trevor May of Minnesota? Right now he's languishing in their bullpen, but his numbers suggest he could be a decent #4 or #5 starter. For the time being, he's going to be a great holds guy and a swing man, but if and when that flamethrower Burdi they have gets the call to the bigs, then May becomes expendable. And Berrios is on the way too.
I like Lyons as an option too. I suspect his story isn't over.
Milone is what Milone has always been: a LHP with a nice changeup and not much more. His velocity, which was low when he started with the A's, has only been going down. Couple that with his high FB rate and he seems like a bad fit for Camden Yards.
I like the idea of Doubront as well. The guy has always had talent; perhaps a few tweaks could make him a decent back end of the rotation guy. Only problem: Rich Hill apparently has returned to being Rich Hill, issuing walks and hitting batters this spring, Hahn is injury prone and the A's have already lost Parker to another injury. I suspect they want Doubront as insurance if the worst case scenario happens.
And Nolin would be a good idea but for the fact that the Brewers are in full rebuild mode. That means they'll collect as many good young arms as they can and see who's left standing after the dust settles.

vilnius b. said...

Please ignore the Trevor May part of my comment. Half asleep and didn't remember he's not a LHP. My apologies.

dpsmith22 said...

I like Brad Hand actually. He has had good success in the minors and especially in the hitting friendly PCL. He just hasn't translated it into the big leagues. I think a change of scenery could help him and he would certainly be someone of interest.

Problem is he is only 25 and in Miami so I wouldn't expect him to be available.

dpsmith22 said...

Millone is pitching well today, FYI

Roger said...

Somebody tell me why the Cubs and O's are fighting over Edgar Olmos? Does he have something that Riefenhauser and Cabral don't have? The O's let Riefenhauser go to the Cubs too. But they got Olmos back......

Jon Shepherd said...

They are not fighting over Olmos. Cubs could have kept him.

Roger said...

LOL, Jon, OK. Why are they fighting over who has to take him.......

Jon Shepherd said...

I would not think much about Olmos. The last three slots on a 40 man roster are not exactly consequential. Club is looking for filler. Club won't be sending anyone of much importance to Chicago.

Roger said...

Any thoughts on Luebke? Nice notes on him today from MLBTradeRumors. He has an opt-out and could be a good Matusz replacement.

Roger said...

So the Braves are looking at Luebke or O'Flaherty, whoever doesn't make the Pirates' roster. Now I read we're considering poaching Sean Burnett at his opt out time with the Nats. If he's healthy, he's a darn good LOOGY option. O'Flaherty is having a strong spring after a long long recover from TJ.