Welcome to the 2014 season! For previews this year, we're going to change up the format just a little, by trying to stick to the most relevant stats and adding brief scouting reports on opposing pitchers. We'll still provide some matchup numbers, just for fun, but since they're not really predictive, we're trying to de-emphasize those.
That said, if you have a suggestion for what you'd like to see in future preview articles, leave us a note in the comments! We appreciate the feedback.
Monday, 31 March: Chris Tillman vs. Jon Lester
Chris Tillman gets the Opening Day nod for the 2014 season after putting together a very good 2013. While his .269 BABIP and 80.5% strand rate are likely not sustainable, Tillman has also managed to increase his strikeout rate over the last few years: 16.0% in '11, 19.0% in '12, and 21.2% in '13. The league-average strikeout rate in 2013 was 19.9%. If Tillman's improvement in that regard holds - and it'll need to if he's to have the kind of results he did last year - the O's just might have a reliable starter with an above-average strikeout rate, something they've sorely lacked for the last several years.
Lester is all too familiar to Baltimore fans, as he's thrown over 150 career innings against the Orioles while keeping his ERA under three. He throws four- and two-seam fastballs about half of the time, with cutters making up another quarter or so of his pitches, and the remainder are mostly curveballs and the occasional changeup. The cutter and curve see a lot more use when he's ahead in the count or has two strikes, while the changeup is just there to keep righties guessing.
Maybe hot: Nelson Cruz (1.409 OPS, 24 PA),
Shane Victorino (1.053 OPS, 12 PA)
Likely not: Chris Davis (.526 OPS, 26 PA), David Ortiz (.313 OPS, 20 PA)
Wednesday, 2 April: Ubaldo Jimenez vs. John Lackey
Jimenez is certainly going to be interesting to watch over the course of his contract. Hopefully, it won't be "interesting" in this sense. Rather than rehashing the many articles discussing Jimenez's rocky career, let's take a look at the new Oriole's repertoire. Jimenez is mostly a fastball-splitter guy, though he started throwing his slider a lot more in 2013. There's a good chance he tries to continue that going forward, since it may have contributed to his renewed success last year. He likes to use his sinker early in the count or when behind, but saves his four-seam fastball for when he's ahead or has two strikes. He'll also throw first-pitch sliders to righties nearly half of the time, while generally saving the splitter for lefties, against whom he'll throw it in any count.
Lackey came back after losing 2012 to injury and had a solid season for Boston in 2013, posting a career-low walk rate and his highest strikeout rate since 2006. He's a fastball pitcher first and foremost, throwing four-seamers roughly half of the time. Against righties, he rarely uses anything except the fastball or his slider, while he mixes in a curve more often against lefties.
Maybe hot: Chris Davis (1.073 OPS, 32 PA), Jonny Gomes (1.417 OPS, 14 PA)
Likely not: Matt Wieters (.333 OPS, 30 PA)
Thursday, 3 April: Felix Doubront vs. Wei-Yin Chen
Chen lost some time to injury last season, but otherwise was pretty similar to the 2012 version: an average starter with modest strikeout rates, good control, and flyball tendencies that he usually gets away with. He did manage to cut down on his homer rate in '13 (11.7 -> 9.9 HR/FB%), despite allowing even more flyballs (37.1 -> 34.4 GB%). Chen isn't flashy, but is a steal for the O's so far, as he's making just over $4M this year and could be an Oriole again next year for $4.75M. Ideally, sure, he's not your #3 starter, but young, competent, cost-controlled pitching is valuable, regardless of whether the guy's a home-grown prospect or an international free agent.
I always forget about Doubront when thinking about Boston's pitching, even though he's started more than fifty games for them over the past two seasons. Like Lackey, he throws four-seam fastballs about half of the time, especially on the first pitch of an at-bat or when behind in the count. When ahead 0-1, Doubront goes to offspeed stuff more often, in particular his curveball. A sinker, cutter, and changeup get mixed in for most counts as well, with the changeup naturally seeing more use against righties.
Maybe hot: Chris Davis (1.137 OPS, 17 PA), Dustin Pedroia (1.514 OPS, 21 PA)
Likely not: Adam Jones (.284 OPS, 18 PA)