The Opening Day starter in baseball is not that important in the grand scheme of things, but the naming of that starter is symbolic of who the team believes will be the leader of the rotation. Rotations are supposed to be organized from best to worst starting pitcher, of course, but please raise your hand if you think Kevin Millwood was the best pitcher on the Orioles last year. Anyone? No. He was named the OD pitcher because of his experience and because the Orioles were trying to sell us on his ability to mentor the young rotation into success.
Prior to Millwood's arrival, Jeremy Guthrie was given the ball as the team ace in 2008 and 2009, but will he be given that honor again in 2011? Guthrie is the longest tenured Oriole in the starting rotation, and aside from a substandard 2009 has been quite good for the team since joining the rotation in 2007. Other than Justin Duchscherer he is the oldest member of the rotation and his 122 career games started are just five less than the combined number of starts made by Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz, and Chris Tillman. Of the pitchers in competition for the 2011 starting rotation, one could say that Guthrie has the best pedigree for the position of 2011's #1 starter. But does that mean he should get the job?
Guthrie has been a good pitcher for the Orioles, a bright spot in seasons when we didn't have much to enjoy about the team. But the tide is turning to a new set of pitchers, and what better way is there to show that they've arrived then by naming the OD starter as Brian Matusz? Who better to lead the new generation of pitchers into what is hopefully going to be a season where the Orioles are significantly better than they were in the past?
The smart money is on Brian Matusz being the best pitcher on the team in 2011, and it might not even be a close race. Through the final three months of the regular season last year, the Orioles went 13-3 in starts made by Matusz. His ERA in those sixteen starts was 3.62 and batters hit .225/.304/.359 against him. His K/9 was a touch over 8, his BB/9 3.5. He'll be twenty-four years old on Opening Day and could feasibly be the OD starter for years to come, anchoring the staff throughout his twenties.
By the way, so that you don't think I'm trying to hoodwink you regarding Matusz vs. Guthrie, I offer up the fact that Guthrie's stats were a little better than Matusz's over the time frame I mentioned above. Guthrie held opponents to a .241/.294/.404 hitting line with a 3.38 ERA. He also pitched 24 more innings in the same number of starts. My intention in citing them wasn't to say that Matusz buried Guthrie in performance, but rather to point out that he got better as the year went on, and it's just another thing to add to his age, his upside, and the fact that he does symbolize a better and brighter future for the Orioles.
I like Jeremy Guthrie. If the Orioles decide to anoint him OD starter I certainly won't have a problem with it. But to an extent Guthrie represents the past as much as Matusz represents the future. If Matusz is ready to take his place at the top of the rotation, 2011 is a good time to start.