July 20, 2012; Cleveland, OH USA: Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez (50) throws a pitch in the second inning against the Cleveland Indians during the game at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric P. Mull-USPRESSWIRE
Miguel Gonzalez certainly has been a pleasant surprise. Since his mid-July call-up, he's been more or less a solid starter for a team chasing its first play-off berth in a decade and a half.
Moved to the O's rotation out of necessity in early July -- the club had demoted three starters in the previous week -- Gonzalez has gone six or more innings in nine of his first 12 career Major League starts, posting a 3.03 ERA with the exclusion of an eight-out nightmare on July 25, a start Gonzalez made despite being ill the entire morning.
Now, the stats in that sentence show Gonzalez's worth to the rotation, but it also reminded me that the demotion of 3/5ths of the starting rotation occurred in just a five day span.
And those demotions may have saved the Orioles' season.
July 6, 2012
Optioned RHP Jake Arrieta to Norfolk (IL).
July 1, 2012
On July 6th, when the third pitcher from the Opening Day rotation was demoted as Jake Arrieta got on a bus for Tidewater Virginia, Orioles starters had a won-loss record of 28-30. Yes, pitcher wins are a tad simplistic, but they provide an easy and comparable snapshot over a sample set. And it confirms what we thought – the rotation that included Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz wasn't going to cut it. Jake Arrieta pitched to a 6.13 ERA as a starter, with opponents' OPS of .770 against him. Tommy Hunter had a 6.11 ERA with opponents' OPS of .879. Matusz was slightly better than both in ERA at 5.42, but his OPS was just as bad at .874.
On July 6, the Orioles' team record stood at 45-38. Within a week, the record stood at 47-44 and the O's were 10 games out. It felt as if the season may be slipping away.
Those moves brought about the ascension of Miguel Gonzalez, Zach Britton and Chris Tillman to the rotation. Since those moves, the Orioles' starters have been 28-22 and the team took a AL East deficit that stood at 10 games a week after their ascension down to a single game as we go into Friday night's action and a tie for the lead in the American League Wild Card.
The moves made on July 6 – establishing a rotation that included Gonzalez, Britton and Tillman – set the team right. Tillman, with his 130 ERA+, has been a new pitcher since his half-season in Norfolk. His ERA is 3.22 since his call-up and his opponents OPS is .668. Britton has stumbled of late, but for five starts between Aug. 18 and Sept. 4, he was the winning pitcher five times, pitching at least 6 innings, and had an ERA in that span of 1.87. Gonzalez has been a 2.1 WAR player in only 2.5 months of action with the stats Ghiroli cited.
Ironically enough, all three starters that were demoted in that five-day span have come back to serve useful purposes. Brian Matusz became a shut-down LOOGY with a reliever ERA of 1.74 and an opponents OPS of .418, Jake Arrieta has blossomed in his role as a long man with opponents' OPS down to .493 as a reliever, and Tommy Hunter has filled in with spot starts and adequate relief appearances while dropping to a 4.79 ERA since his recall. His opponents' OPS , well, it still sucks at .866, but since he's basically Kevin Gregg 2.0 at this point, it's not hurting the team. The three starters that took their place have fueled the surge to the playoffs, and the three that were demoted have returned, with two excelling in their new roles.
And it took three bold moves in just five days in July to set the wheels in motion.