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The All-Star Break Roster Review, Pt. 1: Pitchers

I think we all knew that pitching was going to make or break the O's chances at being competitive this season. Here's a rundown of the starting rotation:

Rodrigo Lopez
2004: 3.59/1.28, 14-9, 6.38 K/9
Preseason Thought: "When he's healthy, he's a reliable enough middle-of-the-rotation guy."

2005: 4.47/1.31, 8-5, 5.73 K/9
Mid-Season Thoughts: He's been healthy and I guess a reliable enough middle-of-the-rotation guy, a bit inconsistent, and a good number of great starts this year mixed in with a bunch of really bad outings. Like Bruce Chen, has been dominant at home (4-2, 2.61/1.10). Roddy is not a frontline guy is his only problem. As a third or fourth starter, Lopez's inconsistencies would be easy to deal with. Basically, he's the guy you wish Ponson could get in gear and become.

Daniel Cabrera
2004: 5.00/1.58, 12-8, 1 SV, 4.63 K/9
Preseason Thought: "I'm really not a Cabrera guy because even though his control has been good this spring, his K:BB was so ugly last year that I still search the statistics at least three times a week for reasons his rookie season was considered a success. Still, he's 24 in May (at least for now), and his minor league numbers showed a very good K-rate if... well, not a whole lot else to get too excited about."

2005: 4.90/1.42, 7-7, 8.25 K/9
Mid-Season Thoughts: Cabrera still isn't consistent. He still walks too many people (4.63 BB/9). But he inspires hope so far. He's not giving up many hits (88 in 97.1 IP), and when he's on, he can be downright filthy. He has all the tools that scouts drool over - size, presence, a monster fastball, and loads of untapped potential. He tends to lose his head and his control still, but his K:BB is obviously much better than last year. He's taken some steps forward. I'm a convert to Cabreraism.

Sidney Ponson
2004: 5.30/1.55, 11-15, 4.80 K/9
Preseason Thought: "We all know the problems - he doesn't get people out and he's becoming a distraction."

2005: 5.93/1.73, 7-7, 4.94 K/9
Mid-Season Thoughts: He's actually managed to be worse this year. The day that Sidney Ponson is no longer an Oriole should be celebrated with great gusto.

Bruce Chen
2004: 3.02/1.15, 2-1, 6.04 K/9 (Baltimore); 3.22/1.21, 4-3, 10.23 K/9 (Ottawa); 8.71/2.13, 0-1, 6.97 K/9 (Syracuse)
Preseason Thought: "I would love it if this nomad became a cog in the Orioles rotation, because we could use a story like that. And if Chen pitches to his ability, we could damn sure use a pitcher like that."

2005: 3.87/1.30, 7-5, 6.26 K/9
Mid-Season Thoughts: Some thought I'd lost the ol' marbles with all the confidence I had in Chen. I am very happy to have been right. Chen has been a savior this season in many respects, providing stability and only having a couple of ineffective starts through his first 17. He's basically set all of his career highs this year. We were a team in a position to roll the dice on Bruce Chen and we did it. He impressed last year late in the season, won the fifth starter's spot in the spring, and has been the best full-time starter in the rotation. Maybe he's having his Kent Bottenfield year - probably without the 18-7 record - or maybe he's starting a string of successful seasons finally. Either way, here's to Bruce Chen, one of the great surprises of the first half for us.

Erik Bedard
2004: 4.59/1.60, 6-10, 7.93 K/9
Preseason Thought: "He's 26, and when Jim Palmer was 26, he won 21 games with a 2.07 ERA. Bedard has a better K-rate than Palmer had. Thus, I conclude Erik Bedard is ready to strike out about 190 batters and win 20 games with a sub-3 ERA. Why do I compare Bedard and Palmer? Why do I do anything! ... I think Bedard could emerge as our best starter."

2005: 2.08/1.04, 5-1, 7.8 K/9
Mid-Season Thoughts: It was a fun two months until Bedard went down with a strained MCL on May 22. We thought he'd be back by now, but he's not. And judging by the fact that he's just started throwing off flat ground, it doesn't appear as though he's going to be back to give us a lift too immediately. It's too bad, too. Bedard was pitching like a true ace for nine starts. You don't judge a guy on 60 innings, but he had shown promise in 2004, just walked too many people. Well, his walks are down, his hits are down, and his K-rate is pretty steady. He's got the stuff to be a long-term key to the O's rotation. He cannot get back fast enough, but I don't quite expect him to be putting up a 2.08 ERA the rest of the year either.

Hayden Penn
2004: 4.87/1.52, 3-0, 8.85 K/9 (Bowie); 3.80/1.08, 6-5, 7.49 K/9 (Frederick); 3.32/1.13, 4-1, 1 SV, 8.52 K/9 (Delmarva)
Preseason Thought: None. Didn't think we'd see him this season. Had him ranked No. 3 in the prospects top 20.

2005: 6.75/1.74, 2-2, 3.82 K/9
Mid-Season Thoughts: Penn's stint with the big club was telling. At 20 years old, he pitches like he's 20 years old, instead of a phenom. He's not Mark Prior or anything. He's just not that naturally gifted. He's got a fastball to burn and the makings of a good curve and changeup, and he'll probably get a lot better.

And the bullpen:

BJ Ryan
2004: 2.28/1.14, 4-6, 3 SV, 12.62 K/9
Preseason Thought: "Was maybe the most dominant lefty reliever in baseball last year, although by park-adjusted ERA+ Kline was the better pitcher (234 to 210). He'll get a shot at closing, which makes me feel like people are thinking again."

2005: 2.52/1.09, 1-2, 19 SV, 13.6 K/9
Mid-Season Thoughts: His strikeout numbers are better. His walks are down. Hits are up a bit, but I wouldn't be too concerned with that, because he was almost unhittable last season and isn't much more hittable this year. Ryan is one of the best relievers in baseball and a deserving All-Star. Thank God they decided to see if he could close. Obviously, he can.

Jorge Julio
2004: 4.57/1.42, 2-5, 22 SV, 9.13 K/9
Preseason Thought: "I wish we could have traded Julio above his actual value thanks to him having saves the last three years, but that wasn't in the cards. Since it wasn't, here's hoping he's in shape and pitches effectively."

2005: 4.24/1.21, 2-2, 7.86 K/9
Mid-Season Thoughts: Started out phenomenal (0.71 ERA in April, 2.03 up through June 6) and since then has gone back down the drain. We should've dealt this guy when we had the chance. We should've dealt him in the offseason when we might've had the chance. We should deal him now before he gets any worse. I'm appreciative of the good work he did for us in the first part of the year, but if we're going to use him in tight spots, he's going to continue to lose games.

Steve Kline
2004: 1.79/1.07, 2-2, 3 SV, 6.26 K/9
Preseason Thought: "I've always really liked Kline. He's had two fantastic seasons ('01 and '04) with a couple decent years between them. He's not old, so he should be expected to be effective throughout his contract. It was a solid signing."

2005: 5.57/1.61, 2-3, 7.03 K/9
Mid-Season Thoughts: His strikeouts are up, but his walks are way up. He's also giving up more hits than he usually does. But really, it's the walks. He walked 17 people in 50 innings for St. Louis last year, and in 32 innings for the Birds, he's allowed 21. If his walks were consistent with prior years, he'd probably be pitching closer to his 2003 numbers (3.82 ERA) than the stinkbombs he's putting up now. His homers are also way up: seven HR allowed this year, eight in the previous two combined. Frankly, I still like Kline and don't want to give up on him. Maybe he can pull it together after the break. I don't think it's all that likely, but I think there's a decent chance. Any way you slice it, though, he's been a bust.

Steve Reed
2004: 3.68/1.35, 3-8, 5.18 K/9
Preseason Thought: "Reed is a professional reliever to the bone. He can pitch. He's been doing it for 13 years. He's not a dominator but he's probably going to be a solid middle innings guy."

2005: 6.61/1.59, 1-2, 4.19 K/9
Mid-Season Thoughts: Hits are are up, walks are up, strikeouts are down. What I optimistically overlooked about Reed in the assessment above is that every pitcher, even ones that have been good for a long time, eventually falls off the wagon to varying degrees. Reed looks done. Finished. Kaput. It's disconcerting. If he doesn't improve in a big, big way over the second half, it will be the worst year of his major league career by far. Another bust.

Todd Williams
2004: 2.87/1.12, 2-0, 3.73 K/9
Preseason Thought: "Had a good spring. May get squeezed out. Has pitched 79 career games over a five-year career that has spanned ten actual years."

2005: 3.23/1.18, 4-4, 4.85 K/9
Mid-Season Thoughts: I like The Todd. We all do. He's a good story. Journeyman finds a home. And he's pitched pretty well. But The Todd is skating on thin ice. His K-rate sucks, his BB-rate isn't good (4.15 BB/9). Another guy that had a fast start - no ER allowed in April, then bam! Three games into May and his ERA is 3.95. It climbed as high as 4.74 after getting slapped around by Pittsburgh on June 8, but he's recovered well since then, allowing just one run in his last 11 appearances. I'd rather see him than Julio.

Tim Byrdak
2004: 4.19/1.69, 2-1, 2 SV, 11.27 K/9 (Ottawa); 5.45/1.68, 3-0, 5.92 K/9 (Portland)
Preseason Thought: None.

2005: 4.15/1.15, 0-0, 1 SV, 17.6 K/9
Mid-Season Thoughts: That is an obscene K/9 number, but it's over 4.1 innings, so, you know. He's never shown that kind of power before. Byrdak should just change his name to Todd so he can be The Todd-L, and Williams can be The Todd-R. They have had similarly silly career paths that make you want them to succeed. Williams is 34 years old, and has pitched in the majors in 1995, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004 and 2005. Byrdak is 31, pitching in the majors in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2005. Byrdak may be stealing some high-leverage innings from Kline, but if that's the front office's idea of a solution, then I'm a smidge uneasy about it. Byrdak was a fifth round pick out of Rice in 1994 by the Royals, and Steve Kline apparently thinks he's much younger than he actually is, calling him "kid" and wishing him luck.

Chris Ray
2004: 3.80/1.39, 6-3, 9.08 K/9 (Frederick); 3.42/1.20, 2-3, 8.28 K/9 (Delmarva)
Preseason Thought: None. Ranked No. 6 in the prospects top 20.

2005: 0.77/0.86, 0-0, 12.1 K/9
Mid-Season Thoughts: Chris Ray can get it done. A starter over his minor league career, he has all the stuff to be a great big league reliever, if that's what he sticks with. He's not allowing hits, not walking people, striking people out, and he's come into some very tough situations lately and not freaked out. Not bad for a 23-year old rookie. He may end up taking Julio's job full-time very quickly. I welcome the idea.

James Baldwin
2004: 15.00/3.00, 0-2, 1.5 K/9 (Mets); 4.08/1.32, 3-2, 6.97 K/9 (Norfolk); 3.73/1.12, 5-7, 4.75 K/9 (Toledo)
Preseason Thought: "Never in his major league career has he posted an ERA below 4.42. Even his prime years were fluky. He's never been an impressive major league starter."

2005: 1.61/0.90, 0-0, 4.89 K/9
Mid-Season Thoughts: I believe in James Baldwin about as much as I believe in the Easter Bunny. He's 34 in a few days (July 15, to be exact) and has never had a year where he really inspired you to think he was a good pitcher. A useful one, at times. Many years ago. So if anyone really thinks James Baldwin should be given a chance at the starting rotation, I want you to really, really ponder what you're saying. If James Baldwin goes into the starting rotation, the Orioles may as well close up shop, because no team starting James Baldwin every five days is going to the playoffs, and certainly not one with four of our other starters at his side. If your other four guys are Roger Clemens, Johan Santana, Roy Oswalt and Mark Buehrle, I suppose you would make the playoffs. At any rate, you are requesting complete abandonment of any logic.

James Baldwin seems like a great guy that's willing to help this team, and I hope he continues to put up a pretty ERA in junk innings after someone has blown the game for us or we're way ahead, but that's as far as I'm willing to go, because to be totally honest, Baldwin is a shitty pitcher. And if you respect Lee Mazzilli's opinion more than mine (as I certainly expect you do), consider this: Baldwin has pitched in 12 games this year. We have lost 11 of them. Eight of them were games we lost by four or more runs (12-3, 9-4, 9-3, 8-1, 6-2, 11-2, 10-6, 10-1); two of them were games that someone else had choked away our lead in (May 29 and June 3 against Detroit). The other loss was at Atlanta on June 24, when Penn got us into a 7-1 hole and Baldwin came in to eat up some innings. We eventually got back into that game, but Baldwin came in because we were getting blown out. The one game we won? June 1 at Boston, 9-3.

This clearly demonstrates a lack of confidence, I believe. Trust that lack of confidence.