15 March 2018

Orioles Fifth Starter Competition Should Last All Season

To some extent the Orioles have a blessing and a curse. Their fifth starter position in their rotation looks to be rather undecided. On top of that, Chris Tillman looked very shaky on Tuesday. Plus, Andrew Cashner is no one's idea of a sure thing. This should give the Orioles an opportunity to test out their young arms by using a swingman. What I mean is that the Orioles could keep to four days off and one day on for their starting pitchers. With off days, this increases the frequency that the top of the rotation pitchers will enjoy.

Slot Strict 5 Priority 5
1 33 36
2 33 36
3 32 35
4 32 31
5 32 24

Standard practice these days tends to give starters as much rest as possible. What you typically see is that everyone takes their place in the rotation, which is why you wind up with about 32 starts per pitcher with the first two slots looking at 33. What a swingman role will do is give greater opportunity to your best pitchers. Gausman, Bundy, and Cashner will potentially get more opportunities. Tillman would get about the same and the fifth starter will get far fewer. Yes, rainouts, injuries, and performance will change the distribution, but this is the general idea.

So what would this mean?  Below I tabulated the expected number of total runs for each pitcher.  Data shows that ERA does not significantly differ between four days of rest and five days of rest, so we will assume that run rates will not change.  Gabriel Ynoa (boot and all) is standing in as our generic fifth starter.

Strict 5 Priority 5
Kevin Gausman 91 99
Dylan Bundy 100 109
Andrew Cashner 111 122
Chris Tillman 111 73
Gabriel Ynoa 103 77
516 480

What this suggests is that bringing back a true swingman and prioritizing starts for pitchers with at least four days rest would result in a decrease of 36 runs scored.  If such an approach could be taken and if these numbers hold out, it would mean a bump of four wins.

For fun, what if the club signed Alex Cobb.  We would slot him in Cashner's place and bump Cashner down to the fourth slot.  Tillman would then enter the fifth starter abyss.  The priority five run total would drop from 480 to 454 runs score, another 26 runs.

This means that changing from a straight five approach to a priority five approach plus Cobb would net the club 62 runs, which is about seven wins.

But, wait, there is more.  Going back to the swingman, the club can get creative here.  You could imagine Chris Tillman getting a few starts to open the seasons or be placed on the DL with some starts later on. Nestor Cortes could be given a shot.  Mike Wright could try to put it all back together again.  Miguel Castro might have a whirl or two.  In the minors, the likes of Alec Asher, Michael Kelly, Yefry Ramirez, Tanner Scott, Jayson Aquino, and Eddie Gamboa could be run through.

The swingman approach could rekindle what was beneficial with the 2012 team, which was the ability to give opportunities to pitchers in order to find out whether Chris Tillman or Miguel Gonzalez could put it all together.  The swingman approach also reduces the importance of finding those guys.  Time spans between fifth pitcher starts could be as long as 14 and 17 days between, which allows the club to beef up the pen to make up for the starter's tendencies to not go deep into games.

The opportunity to find useful starters or, at worst, provide more depth for the bullpen or bench could well be worth another win.  If Fangraphs is right that this is a 75 win team, then this approach plus Cobb would get them to a projected 83 wins.  That club would be playing meaningful baseball into August, at least.


Unknown said...

A friend and I were discussing pitching rotations and we agreed that, given the decreased demands being placed on starting pitchers, some team will decide to go with a straight four-man rotation with a strict 75-80 pitch limit. The approach this article describes seems to be a logical step in that direction. Especially with the increased number of off days, anything to increase the number of meaningful innings pitched by your best pitchers makes sense to me.

Anonymous said...

YES. Nice analysis. Wonder if this is one way Buck seems to squeeze a few extra wins over prediction every year. If you pair this with someone hitting above prediction as described in the prior article (especially Rasmus or Jake Cave???), the O's will not be nearly as bad as everyone fears. Getting Cobb is the key, though. Always has been this offseason in my eyes.

Stevesse said...

Cobb is the key.Without him we have nothing. Tillman is not a major league pitcher at this point. Has anybody checked his velocity? He used to grt high swinging strike, but because his velo is down, these become walks.The pitch doesn't fool ml batters any more.

Pip said...

I made this comment on the earlier post, but it bears wondering whether Tillman will even break camp with the team.
They have been hiding him in simulated games, but they've seen what he's done, and his first public game was entirely without virtue.
He's guaranteed $3 million, whether he makes the team or not, what are the chances that he doesn't?

Jon Shepherd said...

Velocity is down to 89 to 90. Bigger issue is that since last year he has had trouble getting on top of the ball. You can see how his curve runs.

Jon Shepherd said...

Reports were that he was sharp in practice and his arm dropped in the game. His shoulder may still be a mess.