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Outlook on the Orioles Postseason Rotation

Tillman and Chen are shoe-ins. Who else should join them in the rotation?

Brian Blanco

This may be jumping the gun a bit. Nothing has been decided and the Orioles could still end up staying home when October comes. However, they have a 10 game lead in the division and ESPN gives them a 99.9 percent chance of making the playoffs in some capacity. So, I say it is time to look towards who, exactly, will be on the roster of those playoff-Orioles. More specifically, what will the starting rotation look like?

First, we need to take a gander at history. Back in 2012, Buck Showalter went with a four-man rotation against the New York Yankees in the ALDS. Jason Hammel started games one and five. Wei-Yin Chen was the man for game two, Miguel Gonzalez in game three and Joe Saunders in game four. Chris Tillman was on the roster, but he did not make a start. One thing we know for sure: Saunders won't be starting this time around.

Anyway, that likely means that one of the current stable of starters -- Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez, Bud Norris and Kevin Gausman will make the conversion to the bullpen for the team's playoff run. Who should it be?

In order to make that decision, one should examine both their season stats and their numbers against the potential playoff teams in 2014. This upper-echelon of opponents could prove to be the best barometer against which to evaluate how they will perform in the fall.

Here are the teams that I would consider to be playoff contenders: Royals, Tigers, Angels, Athletics, Mariners, Nationals, Cardinals, Giants, Pirates, Braves and Brewers. The Orioles have not played the Dodgers or Braves this season so we are down to nine teams.

2014 Pitching Statistics

Player Innings Pitched W-L ERA FIP BA Against SO BB HR
Chris Tillman 182.2 11-5 3.40 4.07 .233 128 61 18
Wei-Yin Chen 161.0 14-4 3.69 4.05 .271 119 31 22
Bud Norris 147.0 12-8 3.92 4.32 .250 116 44 18
Miguel Gonzalez 142.1 9-7 3.22 4.92 .255 101 46 22
Kevin Gausman 96.1 7-7 3.83 3.40 .262 73 35 5

Statistics Against Contenders

Player Games Innings Pitched W-L ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9
Chris Tillman 11 67.0 4-0 3.76 1.13 7.25 2.42
Wei-Yin Chen 8 49.2 5-0 3.08 1.15 6.89 1.09
Bud Norris 9 54.0 2-6 4.17 1.33 5.67 2.33
Miguel Gonzalez 7 36.0 2-3 5.25 1.44 5.00 2.50
Kevin Gausman 7 39.2 3-3 4.76 1.51 6.35 3.40

Chris Tillman

Why he should be in the rotation:
Opposing hitters have the most trouble getting on base against him out of anyone in the rotation; a .233 batting average against is pretty darn minuscule for a starter.

Tilly is eighth in the league in run support with five runs per start. For whatever reason, the Baltimore bats come alive with this guy on the hill.

He performs against the big clubs too. One of his strongest outings of the year came in Kansas City on May 6. He went all nine innings for a complete game shut out, allowing only five hits and one walk to go along with three strikeouts. You know who the Orioles have a good chance of playing in the division series? Yeah, those same Royals.

Why he needs to go to the 'pen:
When he blows up, he does so in a big way. Do you remember the May 21 game in Pittsburgh. He went one whole inning before giving up eight runs on seven hits and three walks. Somehow, he walked away with a no decision on that one.

Where the heck did his fastball go? He used to hit the mid-90s regularly. Now, he will routinely throw some 89 mph fluff towards home plate. I can actually hear the hitters licking their lips.

Yeah, he was on the 2012 playoff roster, but he didn't even pitch. He might as well be a rookie because he has no experience under the spotlight.

VERDICT:
This is too easy. You know this guy is going to be in the rotation, likely starting game one and game five, if it comes to that. He is rock steady. Even with his occasional wobble, he still finds a way to get back on track and put the O's in a position to win.

Wei-Yin Chen

Why he should be in the rotation:
He leads the team in wins and, when we get down to brass tacks, wins are the stat that really matters.

Chen doesn't walk anyone. He has the fewest base on balls on the staff. If you step in the batter's box, you best be ready to swing that stick in your hand. No freebies here.

The southpaw eats good teams for breakfast. His 3.08 ERA is the lowest in the rotation against playoff-contending clubs. Not to mention he also leads the crew with five wins.

He is the only real left-handed option. Opinions vary on how important this is, but it would be nice to give the opposition a different look and force them to switch their lineup around a bit.

Why he needs to go to the 'pen:
He gets hit...A LOT. That .271 batting average against is tough to look at. The guy has got to do a better job of having batted balls turn into outs.

Many of those hits sail out of the ball park. The 22 home runs he has allowed on the season is tied for the team lead. One poor pitch could be the difference in a ball game.

VERDICT:
He is the obvious number two. There are even more positives for him. He got a W in the ALDS back in 2012. On top of that, he has thrown 12.2 innings to KC this season and allowed just three runs. He is familiar with them. Not to mention he is as consistent as they come.

Bud Norris

Why he should be in the rotation:
This guy is a gamer. From the crotch grab in Anaheim to the brush up with Torii Hunter when the Tigers were in town, he wants to compete and isn't going to back down from anyone.

At one point this season, he was the best pitcher on the team and it really wasn't even close. He kept the team afloat for a two or three week period. A run like that could prove very valuable in October.

He pitched very well against Kansas City back in May, going 7.1 innings and allowing one run on four hits, even though he came up with the hard luck loss.

Why he needs to go to the 'pen:
That personality fits in the bullpen perfectly. He can get all kinds of psyched up and throw smoke. He doesn't need to control himself for six or more innings. He can just go out and throw. That may be good for him.

His season ERA is the highest of the five being considered for the postseason rotation. Sabremetrics are cool and all that but those are runs he actually allowed. Too many runs allowed leads to an early playoff exit.

VERDICT:
I see him getting that number three spot. No matter what, the third game is a huge one and Norris has a demeanor that can rise to an occasion. If Buck doesn't like what he sees, he will have plenty of options to relieve him.

Miguel Gonzalez

Why he should be in the rotation:
He is the ultimate hot hand right now. The guy has just made back-to-back starts in which he has not allowed a run. Granted, neither was against a super potent offense, but these are still Major League rosters. Getting hot at the right time can be all you need some years.

He is headstrong. Things don't seem to get to him. Getting demoted to Triple-A for a few days? No big deal. Bouncing between the bullpen and rotation? He's got this.

Gonzo pitched in the 2012 ALDS and was really good. He threw seven innings of one run ball and struck out eight. The O's lost the game, but he was fabulous.

I don't know how, but it is. His ERA is the lowest of the five gentlemen that could be in the postseason rotation.

Why he needs to go to the 'pen:
I thought Chen let a lot of guys hit the long ball. Gonzalez has given up the same number of home runs as the lefty, but in nearly 20 less innings. No bueno.

FIP is a statistic that basically tells us what a pitcher's ERA should be. The Mexican's FIP is 4.92. That's not good. As a matter of fact, it is the highest on the staff.

He has pitched in the bullpen before. He has done it this year. He knows what he needs to do to get ready for a game from that 'pen.

The righty has struggled badly with good teams. His ERA is over five and he really struggles to miss their bats, which could cause him some trouble.

VERDICT:
On the bubble.

Kevin Gausman

Why he should be in the rotation:
His FIP is the lowest in the rotation by a wide margin. Second-place Chen trails Gausman's 3.40 FIP by more than half a point.

It is pretty obvious that he is the most talented option that the Orioles have. His fastball is consistently in the mid to high-90s, even late in the game. That change-up can be nasty sometimes.

You didn't draft him to be a middle reliever, so why use him as one. A first round draft pick needs to be in the thick of things, helping the team fight for a World Series

Why he needs to go to the 'pen:
His stuff converts to a one or two inning role seamlessly. Keeping a lineup from seeing him two or more times in a given night puts the young righty in the best possible position to succeed.

He has struggled with contenders. His WHIP against them is 1.51 and he walks 3.40 per nine innings. That is a mixture that could lead to disaster quickly.

Gausman has no experience with real "pressure". The young man can get very animated on the field when things don't go his way. That could get to a boiling point in the playoffs.

Ugh, his slider sometimes makes me sad. He can hang it like nobodies business and then it gets smacked all around he park.

VERDICT:
On the bubble.

So, Gonzalez or Gausman?

This will be the question that people will be asking for the next three weeks. It is not an easy decision, in my mind, but one that Buck Showalter will have to make.

To me, Gonzalez is the pick to go into the rotation. Not because he is the better pitcher. He probably isn't. But at this time, he has the right combination of great play and just enough experience that he gets the nod.

Even though the Orioles have a huge lead in the division, there has been pressure on Gonzalez. He has known his spot was on the line and hes has pitched like it. He withstood Ubadlo Jimenez's return from the DL. Now, he is trying to push back the charge of Gasuman with all his might.

For now, Gonzo is the pick, but one stellar outing by Gaus-boss and a flop for Miguel could turn this whole thing on its head.

What do you think the rotation will look like should the Orioles make it to the 2014 postseason? Let us know in the comments down below.