Rick and I (Follow him on twitter @odetorick ) have picked and projected our starting rotation for the 2012 Orioles. We both have plenty of differences, and are probably going to be wrong on many aspects. Why? Because this years' rotation is just that crazy of a mess.
Rick has a much more optimistic view than I, as you can see from the totals to the left.
As you can see from above, we vary drastically in certain aspects of our projected rotation. The only common ground between us is essentially Hammel, Chen, and Britton. Below are our explanations and reasoning behind why we chose our five players, and why their numbers are projected as such.
Having four left-handed pitchers can be beneficial in the AL East, especially because each team is built to bash right-handed pitching. Usually, teams will employ bench players to specifically hit against left-handed pitching, most likely because these players are old, cannot field, and have limited hitting skills. With this in mind, these teams will have to play these players more, and will eventually have to play their right-handed lineups more often.
Of my starting five, three are proven ground-ball pitchers, two with 50%+ GB rates, the other having 45%+. The other two starters are strikeout pitchers. While they may be fly-ball pitchers by nature, having the strikeout attack helps a great deal. It doesn't mean they still cannot throw the ground-ball... they can, just not as often as the other three.
In order for our pitchers to be effective in Camden Yards, the ball needs to stay in the ballpark. Having three ground-ball pitchers and two strikeout pitchers will cut HR/9 tremendously.
Hammel has a nice repertoire of pitches, including a hard sinker and a 12-6 curve. The “bona fide” ace will have trouble against other #1 starters in the American League, but he can cut runs given up with his high ground-ball rate. He had career-highs in home runs, but let's face it, he pitched in Colorado – The Mecca of Home Runs. I can see Hammel still getting 180+IP and a 4 ERA, but it would be a solid improvement from last year.
Chen will be the best pitcher on our starting staff. Mark my word on that. While Japanese imports come with inconsistency, 9 out of 10 times, the first year in the majors is the best (see blog post in future about Japanese pitchers). Most of the time, ERA, strikeouts and HR/9 are stagnant in the transition from NPB to MLB, however BB rates increase slightly. The transition for Chen will be a relatively smooth one, in my opinion, and his stats will show it.
Britton will flash his brilliance once again this year, with his powerful sinker. I see him improving in his stats all across the board. He can make adjustments quickly to accommodate hitters... his home run rate will be low once again, and his stats will show that.
While I was surprised the Orioles traded for Eveland in the winter, I was quite pleased to see his underrated stats. Unbeknown to me, Eveland has averaged a 54% GB rate the past three seasons. Now I can see why Duquette wanted him to compete for a roster spot. With the highest GB% on the team, I can see Eveland finally thriving in the American League... he knows the division by now, when he was with the Blue Jays, so a transition shouldn't be too harsh. However, I do remember Eveland going 8+ against the Orioles, shutting them out.
Another surprise, perhaps? Matusz had an atrocious 2011 after battling multiple injuries. I think finally this year, he exceeds his 2010 stats. Last year was a wake up call for Brian, he needed to fail miserably, for he has never done so before. With his ability to strike out the masses, and show brilliance with his 2-seam fastball, look for the same Matusz we saw in 2010, only he pisses excellence.
The rotation is going to make or break the Orioles 2012 season. Duquette has seemingly attempted to harness quantity over quality. While this is beneficial in a depth aspect, it does not necessarily mean the Orioles will improve in any aspect. I think the rotation will actually be better than last year, but let's be honest... that is not really saying much. I do think that Duquette and Showalter would like to take some pressure off of the young pitchers, and that they will do everything in their power to keep players such as Arrieta, Matusz, Tillman, and Britton from playing over their head.
That being said, I am not nearly as optimistic as Rick is, and don't see many bright spots this season. I would feel a little bit better if the Orioles actually had a sound defense, but they are below the pack in many aspects defensively. I touched on that a little here. As we know, ERA can be varied through defensive performance, and the Orioles essentially suck at defense.
So while I wish the Orioles would be above average pitching wise this season, I highly doubt it. Here are my five starters.
Hammel is an interesting piece for the Orioles in 2012. He is probably a lesser version of Jeremy Guthrie (2.1 fWAR in 2011), in the sense that he probably won't pitch as many innings (I am projecting ~20 innings less). I don't see anything "sexy" from him this season, but I think he can be a decent innings guy for the Orioles, while putting up half decent numbers. I am midly worried about his declining K-rate last season. If that carries over to this season, he will almost certainly get crushed in the AL East. That is primarily why I have his numbers where they are. I could even argue that I was actually optimistic with his 6.04 K/9 that I gave him.
I am probably one of the more optimistic people when it comes to Chen. From what I have seen on film, and read on scouting reports, it seems that Chen has the chance to be a surprise in the AL East this season. At age 26, he is actually the same age as pitchers such as Tommy Hunter, Brad Bergesen, and Jake Arrieta. I agree with Rick that he can potentially be our best pitcher this season, but I also want to say that it would not surprise me if my projections end up being the exact opposite.
Britton was arguably the Orioles best pitcher in 2011. He certainly had his ups and downs, but that is to be expected out of a rookie. This season, I see Britton growing from his 2011 season. I think many are getting a little carried away with some of his projections, but if you had to choose one young pitcher who could take it to the next level, it would be Britton. I still worry that he does not have the durability as hoped, and that is why I have his innings at 162. Like I said though, if any young pitcher is making it into the rotation to start this season, I suspect it would be Britton.
Hunter has probably the largest variety of opinions out of all the pitchers on the Orioles' roster. Is he going to be a starter, reliever, long-man, possibly even traded? I think Showalter likes him, and plans to have him in the rotation. I am not 100% positive he will end up being the best option over the course of the season, but as of now I do not see his job threatened. I like Hunter as a 5th starter but am skeptical of his body of work in the rotation. He has been a very lucky pitcher with Texas, as indicated by his 2010 season ERA (3.73) and FIP (4.99) and 13-4 record. I still think he has value though, but on a club as a back-end rotation guy. I could see him moving to the bullpen at some point in the season also. Thus, why I put his innings at 143.0.
Last but not least, the first NPB pitcher the Orioles signed. I think he starts the season in the rotation regardless of what happens in spring training, unless he is injured of course. Duquette promised him this when they signed him, so it wouldn't come as a shock to see him there. I also feel as if he will not be terribly effective in the rotation. I see him as easily being the worst guy in the rotation, but I do like him as a long-man or relief pitcher. I think he pitches most of the season in the rotation, but is eventually moved to the bullpen due to fatigue, ineffectiveness, and a young pitcher proving their self ready.
We also compiled our Outside looking in candidates, which also varied obviously.
I see Wada fulfilling the long relief role and filling in for Chen in the occasional spot start. Having a Japanese tandem like this will help the rest period for one or the other.
Even though Hunter had one brilliant season in Texas, I still think he would be better suited for the relief role. It seems to me he can only get through a lineup once before he starts to falter.
While Simon has a good chance to start, he can be a Jack-of-all-trades. I see him in a plethora of relief positions, and thriving at it. I might see him as a starter in September, if we have injuries to the team once again.
I think Arrieta needs to start the year in AAA to work on the control aspect of his game. He gives up too many walks for my liking, and should be polished up. I see him coming up later in the year to fulfill a starting spot if one of the starting five starts to blow monkey nuts.
Tillman right now looks like a AAAA player to me. I think when AM was GM, we rushed him up too early. He should have stayed in the minors until he proved himself. Now, that is tarnished. He should stay in the minors until he can absolutely dominate with his cutter and secondary pitches.
I think Jake has first shot at the rotation once Wada, Hunter, or someone else falters or moves to the pen. He realistically should work on his command down in AAA to start, but I also would not be surprised if he made the rotation out of camp. I really like Arrieta, but I also know he needs to improve. He would be a damn good reliever in my opinion.
I think Matusz needs to stay in the minors and force his way back up to the show. He had one of the most historically bad seasons last year, and it is really tough for me to see someone be thrown into the rotation after that. They need to absolutely earn it back.
I think he could be a decent long-man but I don't have much confidence in him as a starter. Maybe he can be a surprise, but I honestly doubt it. He could become effective in shorts stints though. I'm just not sure if he is the type of starter you want to rely on in the AL East.
Oh believe me Brad, I did not forget about you. Bergesen is the ultimate enigma, and I am not quite sure what he truly is as a pitcher still. I wrote in much detail about him here. I think he could be a solid insurance option for the Orioles though.
I view him the same as Matusz. He needs to force his way into the rotation by showing sheer dominance in the minors. He needs to learn how to pitch longer than 5-6 innings and this largely comes down to control. 2012 is probably a very big year for him, as he needs to prove his value all over again.
There you have it, our projections, expectations, and analysis of 10 pitchers that will or could be in the rotation. As I said in the beginning, there is probably a large chance that we are terribly incorrect. I'd like it very much if the Orioles were closer to Rick's projections over mine.