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The Orioles shouldn't have a starting rotation controversy

Everyone says the O's have six starters for five spots, but it's clear who the odd man out should be.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the offseason, nearly any article or blog post that discusses the Orioles’ starting rotation for 2017 has mentioned the fact that the Orioles have "six starters for five spots."

They go on to discuss how aside from Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman, who are locks, it’s unclear who will fill the last three slots. Does Dylan Bundy get bumped back to the bullpen because of his innings limit? Do the Orioles give up on Yovani Gallardo or Ubaldo Jimenez? How much stock should they put in Wade Miley’s terrible results after being traded?

Let’s assume these six are the only starters in play (they should be), and that Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson will start the season either in the bullpen or in Norfolk. Here’s a table ranking the six of them in various stats from 2017:

Tillman 7.33 (5th) 3.45 (T-3rd) 41.2 (5th) 4.23 (2nd) 4.54 (3rd) 3.77 (2nd)
Gausman 8.72 (1st) 2.35 (1st) 44.1 (3rd) 4.10 (1st) 3.77 (1st) 3.61 (1st)
Bundy 8.53 (2nd) 3.45 (T-3rd) 35.9 (6th) 4.70 (5th) 4.61 (4th) 4.02 (3rd)
Miley 7.43 (4th) 2.66 (2nd) 47.3 (2nd) 4.45 (4th) 4.04 (2nd) 5.37 (4th)
Gallardo 6.48 (6th) 4.65 (6th) 43.2 (4th) 5.04 (6th) 5.22 (6th) 5.42 (5th)
Jimenez 7.90 (3rd) 4.55 (5th) 49.0 (1st) 4.43 (3rd) 4.64 (5th) 5.44 (6th)

Looking at this table, your first impression should probably be that Kevin Gausman has gotten pretty damn good. After that, though, isn't it clear who the odd man out here is?

Gallardo ranks dead last in nearly every statistic, save for ERA (where he edged out Ubaldo by 0.02), and GB%, which is probably the least useful of these stats (and is incorporated into xFIP anyway). In some of these categories, the difference between Gallardo and the second-worst isn't even close.

As I wrote back in September, Miley really wasn't that bad this year - he was a victim of some historically bad luck during his stint with the Orioles when it came to things like BABIP and strand rate. He also began to turn it around and pitched well in his last three starts of the season after that article was written.

Bundy's FIP and xFIP don't look so hot, but that's mainly because of his crazy low GB% and the resulting number of home runs he allowed. We don't know yet whether he's really as extreme of a flyball pitcher as he was this year, but even so, his ability to strike people out and limit walks should allow him to remain effective.

Jimenez had a terrible year overall, but aside from his calamitous performance out of the bullpen in the Wild Card game he was actually one of the best pitchers in the league after the All-Star break. That's not likely to continue, but we're not likely to see the trainwreck from the first half of the season either. He was unlucky this year, and pitched like a guy with a 4.50 ERA, not a 5.50 ERA.

Meanwhile, Gallardo was just awful. His walk rate was higher than Ubaldo's, which should be impossible, and he struck out almost a full batter less per nine innings than the 2nd-worst Orioles starter in that regard. His K/BB ratio of 1.39 was the 3rd-lowest in the majors out of the 142 starters with at least 100 innings pitched. Yes, he was injured, but the signs of decline were there before the season even started.

Gallardo's strikeout rate and velocity were in steady decline even before he found himself on the DL this year, and there's no reason to think they will improve. Sure, it hurts to eat his salary and put him in the bullpen as a vastly overpaid long reliever, but Jimenez and Miley aren't exactly cheap either.

The O's knew the risks when they signed him, which was why the original 3-year contract was shortened to a 2-year deal. Gallardo's disastrous 2016 season was always a possibility, and that's why the team wanted to limit their commitment to him before he even pitched in a game.

There are reasons to believe nearly every Orioles' starter could have a good season in 2017: Ubaldo's great second half, Miley's good peripherals that his ERA just didn't reflect, Bundy's stretch of excellent starts in the summer before he began to tire. I can't come up with a similar reason for Gallardo. He just doesn't look like an effective pitcher anymore.

In all likelihood, the Orioles will say this spring that there is an open competition for the final three spots of the starting rotation. That's fine to say publicly; it will keep everyone on their toes and give guys like Mike Wright more motivation to get better. In reality, though, the competition should already be over.