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Pondering the Starting Pitching

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Going into Spring Training last year the Orioles had two definites in the starting rotation: Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara. The candidates to round out the last four spots included Danys Baez (the overpriced disappointment), Brian Bass (the scrap heaper), Brad Bergesen (the long shot), Mark Hendrickson (the long man), Rich Hill (the reclamation project), Adam Eaton (the awful one), Alfredo Simon (the old one), Hayden Penn (the fallen star), David Pauley (the one I can barely remember), and Chris Waters (Mr. AAA). It was a putrid bunch, out of which the starting five became Guthrie, Uehara, Simon, Hendrickson, and Eaton. Does it make you want to vomit? Because it makes me want to vomit.

Spring Training 2010 (which begins on February 17th, just over a month from now) will have a lot less "suspense." In fact, it seems that the rotation is pretty much set with Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz, and Chris Tillman. It's been speculated that the Orioles would like to add another starting pitcher to the fold, and I continue to advocate for Erik Bedard. One of these fellas is going to get injured or something, and with Erik hopefully ready a few weeks into the season he'd be able to step in for any of them. Then when that pitcher is ready to come back I'm sure Bedard will have pulled his butt muscle or gone all French on us and will need a trip to the DL so they can just swap.

The only real reason I can see the rotation changing from those five is injury or trade, and the only one I can possibly see being traded is Guthrie (although I don't think he will be). Millwood and Guthrie are the vets and if they're on the team, they're starting. Bergesen has more than earned his spot. Matusz ended 2009 on such a roll that I can't imagine they'll send him back to the minors, and while Tillman had his troubles at the major league level in 2009 he certainly proved himself in AAA.

Kevin Millwood - Millwood, as has been discussed ad nauesem, is not a great major league pitcher. He is a mediocre major league pitcher. Hopefully he'll be able to average at least 6 innings/game in 2010 to help keep the bullpen a little fresh. That's certainly been a problem over the past few years and one of the reasons Millwood was brought onto the team. In 2009 he averaged 6.4 IP/G. Over the past three years he's averaged 5.93 IP/G, and for his career he has averaged 6.13 IP/G. All of those are above the Orioles average of 5.42 IP/start in 2009, which was worst in the majors.

Jeremy Guthrie - Guthrie's 2009 was a huge disappointment and while I try to keep the faith, I worry that 2010 will be more of the same. Hopefully with his regular routine in spring instead of the World Baseball Classic Jeremy will have more success. As we all remember, his main trouble was with giving up the home run, as fly ball % shot up to 46.5%, much higher than both his 2008 (38%) and career (40%) totals. Both Bill James and CHONE project him to be better in 2010 than 2009, and honestly I'd be happy with their numbers.

Brad Bergesen -  If not for that jerk Billy Butler and his line drive to Bergesen's shin, Baltimore may have had itself the 2009 Rookie of the Year. Bergesen had a hell of a 2009 and I'm excited to see what he can do in 2010. Anyone expecting a 3.43 ERA from Bergesen will probably be disappointed, but I don't see any reason he can't have continued success in the majors. After years of Daniel Cabrera and his merry band of wild pitchers, 3E1N's 2.3 BB/9 made me swoon.

Brian Matusz - Brian Matusz is 23 years old with less than 50 ML innings. He's going to have a few troubles in 2010. Brian Matusz is 23 years old with less than 50 ML innings. He's going to have a few troubles in 2010. Brian Matusz is 23 years old with less than 50 ML innings. He's going to have a few troubles in 2010. Brian Matusz is 23 years old with less than 50 ML innings. He's going to have a few troubles in 2010. Brian Matusz is 23 years old with less than 50 ML innings. He's going to have a few troubles in 2010.

I have to keep repeating that to myself otherwise the joy I feel over Brian Matusz might actually cause my head to explode. All I can think of when I think of Matusz is his domination of the New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium last September and the few starts leading up to it when we could see him lock in to being a major league pitcher. I am so, so excited about Brian Matusz.

Chris Tillman - If any of these pitchers isn't in the starting rotation on Opening Day for a reason other than injury, it'll be Tillman. I have no idea what to expect from him in 2010. Given that on Opening Day 2010 he'll still be just 21 years old (turning 22 on April 15th) I want to have patience with him. I will have patience with him. But I'm just so excited about the entire thing that it's hard not to be disappointed with his issues. He has got to learn to do something more with his fastball or the major league hitters will continue to tee off on it and it won't matter how amazing his breaking stuff is.

Needless to say, the Orioles success in 2010 will be largely dependent upon their starting pitching. I honestly have no idea what to expect, but I do know that I'm more excited for it than I have been for Orioles pitching in a long, long time.

Just for fun (since I put hardly any stock in them, especially a W-L record, how on earth do you predict that?), here are Bill James and CHONE projections for that starting rotation. It's just a few of the stats they project, but you can see the rest on each players's page on FanGraphs. Hell, I threw Bedard in there too, although I should probably stop getting myself all hopped up on the idea of him returning to Baltimore in 2010 before it happens.

Millwood
Guthrie
Bergesen
Matusz
Tillman
Bedard

Bill James
CHONE
Bill James
CHONE
Bill James
CHONE
Bill James
CHONE
Bill James
CHONE
Bill James
CHONE
GS
29
30
33
30
27
24
N/A
18
22
29
15
18
IP
175
178
216
184
168
141

100
123
144
88
105
ERA
4.37
4.75
4.38
4.60
4.18
4.72

4.59
4.90
5.00
3.58
3.69
FIP
4.13
4.59
4.26
4.76
4.26
4.76

4.39
4.50
5.08
3.60
3.58
WHIP
1.40
1.46
1.37
1.36
1.32
1.42

1.40
1.43
1.49
1.28
1.27
K/9
6.48
5.66
5.71
5.23
4.55
4.66

7.2
8.49
6.81
8.90
9.60
BB/9
2.83
3.24
3.04
2.79
2.09
2.74

3.42
3.66
3.94
3.58
3.43
HR/9
0.98
1.06
1.21
1.37
0.80
1.15

1.17
1.10
1.44
0.82
0.94
K/BB
2.29
1.75
1.88
1.88
2.18
1.70

2.11
2.32
1.73
2.49
2.80


Using the CHONE projections (since Bill James rudely didn't project Brian Matusz), you get the following combined numbers:

44-51, 149 GS, 852 IP (5.72 IP/GS), 4.61 ERA, 88 HR, 593 K, 293 BB (2.02 K/BB)

Guthrie, Bergesen, Hill, Tillman, Uehara, Hendrickson, Matusz, Jason Berken, and David Hernandez combined for 151 starts in 2009. Their numbers in those starts were:

41-63, 151 GS, 828 IP (5.48 IP/GS), 5.18 ERA, 139 HR, 504 K, 290 BB (1.74 K/BB)

So if CHONE is anywhere near on target (and the O's swoop in on Bedard) the pitching staff will be quite a bit better in 2010. Not great, but better. I'll take better. Baby steps, right? Oh, and also in 2009 the Orioles got 8 starts from Adam Eaton, 2 from Alfredo Simon, and 1 from Chris Waters. I left them out so that the number of starts would be roughly the same. Imagine how much worse the 2009 numbers would look if I'd swapped Matusz's 8 starts with Eaton's?