When Jake Arrieta makes his major league debut tonight, he'll be the last of the so-called Big Three to join the major league team. Chris Tillman was the first, debuting on July 29, 2009. Brian Matusz followed him just six days later on August 4, 2009. These are the three pitchers upon which the Orioles and their fans have heaped their hopes for the future. Starting tonight, the future is here
I can't speak for anyone else, but I always imagined that by the time all three were in the rotation I'd be a much happier Orioles fan. Instead, we're in the midst of the worst Orioles baseball I've ever seen. Every night is a miserable exercise as the Orioles leave men on base, make errors in the field, and give away games. That's why we need the Big Three more than ever.
There is no hope for the present. The 2010 Baltimore Orioles have been a lost cause since the second week of the season. But if these three young pitchers can use this season to prepare themselves for 2011 and beyond, it might just make the games this summer worth watching. If these three can succeed, the future is suddenly a lot more attractive.
But is Jake ready? He has made 11 starts and 1 relief appearance this year, pitching to a 1.85 ERA with BB/9 of 4.03 and K/9 of 7.58. His high walk rate is of concern as it has followed him through his minor league career, but it's worth noting that in his last 24 innings he has issued only 6 walks. Whether that is a sign that he's improving or just the false hope of a small sample size, time will tell. His low ERA is due to an impossibly low opponents batting average of .188, fueled by a BABIP of .239 (his BABIP over 344 career minor league innings is .279).
I would personally feel more comfortable if Arrieta was given a bit longer in AAA to work on his control, but other than the walks, it does appear that Arrieta is ready for a promotion. He has now pitched 171 AAA innings with a K/BB of 2.11, a K/9 of 7.47, and a BB/9 of 4.2. His AAA ERA is 3.01. In 95 AAA innings in 2009 his FIP was 3.97; that has dropped to 3.51 in 76 innings this season. It'll certainly help if he can keep his ground ball % near the 49.5 it has been this year in Norfolk (well, as long as opponents only hit the ball to Izzy).
It's been a bumpy road this year for both of Arrieta's counterparts. Tillman pitched himself off the Opening Day roster in Spring Training and started the AAA season with a few rough outings before settling down enough to earn the call back to the MLB. In three starts since coming up he's walked 7 in only 13 IP and had one disasterous 1.1 inning outing. He also hung in with CC Sabathia last night, holding the Yankees to just 2 earned runs over 6 innings, and he's only allowed 2 home runs so far in 2010. After three starts in 2009 he'd allowed 5, on his way to 15 in 65 IP.
Brian Matusz, the great hope for 2010, has also faced his share of troubles. With a 3.6 BB/9, he's walking more batters than he ever has before in his short career. He's had several disasterous games on the season and has yet to pitch any one game that could be described as fantastic. The closest was his 7 inning, 0 run outing against the Indians on May 15th, but even that is marred by 4 walks. He has yet to make a start longer than 7 innings in his big league career. However, in 8 of his 12 starts this season he has allowed 3 runs or less (3 runs three times, 2 runs two times, 1 run two times, 0 runs one time) and his last start he allowed only 4 hits to the Red Sox while striking out 7.
It's hard to be excited about the Orioles this season, and it's hard to muster up the interest to watch the games. But today is a big day for our little team, and if anything is ever going to go right with them, it starts with the Big Three. Consider me cautiously excited.
All stats from FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference.com, and Minor League Splits