So just how much has changed since 2010 in the roster construction? How did we get to this particular collection of players that has the O's just four wins from a World Series appearance? Let's take a look at just how we got to the current starting roster of the Orioles by tracing its roots in that 2010 roster that Buck inherited. This entry will focus on the starting rotation.
Much like real estate is all about location, location, location, winning in the regular season in Major League Baseball is all about starting pitching, starting pitching, starting pitching.
Jeremy Guthrie took the hill as the starting pitcher on Tuesday, Aug, 3, 2010 to begin the Buck Showalter era of the Baltimore Orioles. Over the next four games, he was followed by Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen and Kevin Millwood.
Of those starting pitchers, none currently starts for the Orioles, and only Brian Matusz remains on the roster. Chris Tillman would make five starts to end the year in September after a smattering of spot starts in the first half of the season. When the Orioles start the American League Championship Series against Kansas City tomorrow, the rotation of Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, and Miguel Gonzalez (with Kevin Gausman moving to long-relief) will be a very different collection of pitchers than Buck Showalter inherited in early August, 2010.
Kevin Millwood, mentor though he was, was no longer needed after a decidedly lackluster 2010 season for him. A veteran presence may be welcome in just about any MLB locker room, but 4-16 record with a 5.00+ ERA isn't. The O's moved on from Millwood, and he moved on to Colorado and Seattle for two more seasons before retiring.
Brad Bergesen would be the next of the original Showalter Five to move on, although in his case, two injuries played a large part in the decision. His 2009 had started with such promise, only to end after a cringe-inducing baseball to the left shin off the bat of the Royals' Billy Butler. He then missed part of the 2010 Spring Training after injuring his shoulder during a promotional video shoot for MASN that featured him firing pitches at full speed. In December. Because those are the types of decisions the Orioles used to make. Bergesen was last seen pitching in Japan in 2013. He did not pitch professionally in 2014.
Jeremy Guthrie was everybody's favorite. His smile, his shoe collection, his biking to the stadium, his unabashed love for the music of Justin Bieber and his bulldog mentality on the mound led him to being a fan favorite. And Guthrie was pretty good in 2007 and 2008, putting up an ERA+ of 125 and 122 in those two years. He'd never be that good again. 2009 saw his ERA balloon to over 5.00, and while 2010 saw his numbers improve with an ERA under 4.00, an ERA+ over 100, the improvement was temporary. 2011 saw his numbers slip again, and the O's brain trust decided he would be more valuable as a trade piece, and thus Jeremy Guthrie became Jason Hammel.
Brian Matusz eventually lost his spot in the rotation, but not the team. His ERA inflated to over 10.00 for 2011, and 2012 didn't start much better. He was finally moved to the bullpen in the second half of the season and pitched in the ALCS. Let's not chat about the results, shall we? He's been a useful arm out of the bullpen the past two seasons, but Andrew Miller has taken over the mantle of "Go-To Lefty" from Matusz since he was acquired.
Jake Arrieta was another part of the vaunted "Cavalry" of Orioles prospects that was to lead the rotation to greatness. But neither Jake Arrieta, nor Brian Matusz, nor Brad Bergesen, nor Jason Berken, nor David Hernandez would ever find starting success with the Orioles. Arrieta may have been the most infuriating flameout, with so many games where he would appear unhittable for 4-5 innings and then just implode. The O's finally gave up on the potential of Arrieta in 2013, trading him mid-season with Pedro Strop for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger.
Chris Tillman was acquired in the same trade that famously brought Adam Jones to Baltimore from Seattle. While Jones was the centerpiece of the trade and George Sherrill went on to make an All-Star Game appearance for the O's, the steal of the trade was a little-known (except to scouts) right-handed pitching prospect named Chris Tillman. He made his MLB debut in 2009, starting 12 games with a 5.40 ERA. 2010 saw more of the same, with a WHIP that would just not drop below 1.50. And 2011 wouldn't get much better. But something clicked in the second half of 2012, and the Chris Tillman who would become the Game 1 ALCS starter on Friday started to emerge. The Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) number dropped, the Walks and Hits Per Inning (WHIP) dropped, and his ERA dropped below 3.00 for the season. He hasn't had as good a season since, but the back half of 2014 has been pretty special in its own right. He sported a 2.33 ERA after the All-Star break in 14 starts.
Zach Britton was the next great left-handed starting prospect, coming on the heels of Brian Matusz. The Orioles tried to make him a starter. Goodness knows they tried. Britton was given 46 starts between 2011-2013, including a staggering 28 in his rookie year of 2011. He was OK, with 11 wins and 11 losses and a mediocre ERA of 4.61. He would never get any better in the next two years, with his chances becoming fewer and farther between. Asked to go to the bullpen in 2014 Spring Training and focus on his sinker control, he did. And by the beginning of June, he was the closer, and by the end of September, he had 37 saves.
Alfredo Simon was a closer, then a starter, then gone. Lihgtly used in 2008 and 2009, he was given the closer's role in 2010 and saved 17 games. He was made into a starter in 2011 (after he was arrested on involuntary manslaughter charges in the Dominican Republic, and acquitted after the season), and while his WHIP and ERA dipped slightly, the extra innings of a starter meant Simon's weaknesses as just another guy were exposed. He was DFA'd in April 2012, picked up by the Cincinnati Reds, and developed into one of the better starters in the National League. Go figure.
Tommy Hunter, affectionately known as Tommy Go Boom, Tommy Big Game Hunter, or The Judoka, was part of the Chris Davis trade when the O's shipped Koji Uehara to Texas in mid-2011. His is a story of yet another failed starting prospect becoming a serviceable reliever. And while not the 8th inning specialist the TBS Network announcing crew would have us believe, Tommy has had his two best years in the bullpen in 2013-14, save for a ill-suited audition as the team's closer in 2014. His ERA for both years has been under 3.00, and his platoon splits for left- and right-handed hitters basically disappeared this year.
Wei-Yin Chen was signed in one of Dan Duquette's first forays into the Asian market, as he signed Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada in the off-season before the 2012 season. Wada tore a ligament in his elbow and never threw a pitch with the O's (although he, much like Jake Arrieta and Alfredo Simon, found success with the Cubs), while Chen has become a left-handed mainstay in the Orioles rotation. He was the starter in the 3-2 Game 2 ALDS against New York, pitching 6.1 innings and giving up just two runs, one earned. Stats have never liked Chen much, as his ERA+ has never exceeded 108 and he was just 19-18 entering 2014. This year saw him finish with a 16-6 record, an ERA half a point below any previous season at 3.54, and career lows in FIP and WHIP. His performance in the 2014 ALDS was less than inspiring, but if the O's are to win 8 more games this season, Chen will almost certainly be a reason why.
Jason Hammel was the object of the Jeremy Guthrie trade, and was a big part of the 2012 playoff run. His stats weren't eye popping (as few of the 2012 O's pitches were), but he did make 20 starts after the trade, pitched to a 3.43 ERA and making two starts in the ALDS. He threw 5.1 IP, giving up two runs in each game, both losses for the Orioles. He wasn't offered a contract after the 2013 season (a 4.97 ERA will do that) and signed, where else, with the Cubs.
Miguel Gonzalez was found on the bottom of the shoe of O's international scout Fred Ferreira, or the next closest thing, the Mexican League. In 15 starts in the latter half of 2012, Gonzalez pitched to a 130 ERA+ and pitched 7.0 inning against the Yankees in the 2012 ALDS Game 3, a game the O's lost after he departed. His ERA for 2014 is back under 3.30, and he will most likely start Game 4 for the Orioles in the 2014 ALCS.
Scott Feldman was the very definition of a rental when he was acquired from the Cubs (along with Steve Clevenger for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop) in July of 2013. He wasn't quite adequate, pitching to a 4.27 ERA over 15 starts, and after the O's didn't make the playoffs, he signed with Houston for 3 years and $30 million. Good for you, Scott Feldman. Glad we didn't pay it.
Bud Norris came to the Orioles from Houston for Josh Hader, L.J. Hoes and a 2014 round A competitive balance pick. Josh Hader may develop into a good MLB pitcher, but this trade is looking pretty good for the O's with every passing Norris start. Norris' 2013 was pretty pedestrian for the O's, but as 2014 has worn on, Norris has gotten much, much better. He pitched to a 3.27 ERA after the All-Star Break, and out-pitched former Cy Young winner David Price in Game 3 of the 2014 ALDS. The O's got a playoff winning starting pitcher for Josh Hader and LJ. Hoes. Imagine that.
Ubaldo Jimenez was the O's big money bet in the off-season leading into 2014, and so far, the O's have lost that bet. Jimenez has been bad. How bad? A 4.81 ERA, a 4.67 FIP, a 1.561 WHIP (that's three base runners every two innings), 5.5 walks per 9 innings, and a 1.0 home run per 9 innings allowed. Those are not the numbers the O's expected for $50 million over 4 years, and he will almost assuredly not be on the ALCS roster. Better luck next year, Ubaldo.
Kevin Gausman was seen as the next great pitching prospect for the Orioles when drafted in 2012. The former LSU Tiger has had his bumps in the road, as evidenced by his 2013 numbers in MLB: a 5.66 ERA, a 1.343 WHIP, an ERA+ of just 72. His 2014 campaign didn't start in earnest until almost the All-Star Break, and he was shuttled between Norfolk and Baltimore on numerous occasions to make spot starts and almost always immediately optioned back to the minors. His season totals don't inspire awe (3.57 ERA, 1.315 WHIP are good, not great), but his ALDS Game 2 effort basically gave the O's a chance to win after Wei-Yin Chen's disastrous start. He will again serve as the long-relief fire brigade if needed in the ALCS. One hopes this will be just the first of many playoff runs with Kevin Gausman taking the mound for the O's. He's gonna be a good one.