Vance Worley isn't quite getting the headlines during the early portion of Spring Training. However, as the exhibition games kick off and the battle for positions on the 25-man roster heats up, it might be time to turn some attention to the 28-year-old veteran right-hander.
Admittedly, Worley isn't exactly the name on everyone's mind as we kick off March. With Yovani Gallardo stealing the show and buzz early, the cards have been shuffled to fit Buck Showalter's needs - both in the bullpen and the starting five.
As the acquisition of Gallardo appears to have solidified the rotation, the question regarding Worley's Opening Day role creeps onto the scene.
First off, it's important to understand that there's no guarantee the former Pirate will even be in the O's organization in a month. Worley's two-year, $2.6 million dollar deal comes without any options; he can't ride the shuttle from Baltimore to Norfolk at all. Very simply - if he doesn't perform in the coming weeks, his future in the organization is bleak.
With that being said, the pressure has become increasingly stacked against the six-year veteran. As he battles with Gallardo, Odrisamer Despaigne and other young arms, Worley might have to make a case for innings out of the bullpen, perhaps as a right-handed long arm to pair with T.J. McFarland.
However, does Showalter really want to keep a righty long relief arm with a rotation lacking southpaws? Say what you want about the importance of veteran leadership, but "the fit" is where this becomes increasingly tricky.
Add all of the factors up and you get one conclusion - Worley's fate could possibly be decided by his first few appearances in March. Fortunately for fans, it appears we'll get our first taste of the Vanimal on Friday against the Blue Jays.
Thursday is #orioles Miguel Gonzalez vs #rays Erasmo Ramirez in Port Charlotte. Fri: Vance Worley vs #jays JA Happ in Dunedin.— Roch Kubatko (@masnRoch) March 1, 2016
When combing over the numbers, you get an odd mix of inconsistencies in Worley's game. He's been like a rollercoaster - sometimes he leaves you wondering why teams wouldn't ride him for an entire season ... and then he crashes and leaves you understanding why he has a journeyman label.
Take his 2011 and 2014 seasons for example. In those years, he had a combined 19-7 record with an ERA under 3.00. In both, his WHIP was significantly under league average and he managed to be a reliable back-end arm during every start. He looked like an unwavering number four or five guy in the rotation.
These numbers would seriously mean something in the grand scheme of things - that is, until you look at what he did in the two seasons sandwiched between.
Before he could get kick-started, he saw his future in Philadelphia (one that looked bright after a near NL Rookie of the Year season in 2011) derail. In 2012, his WHIP jumped drastically to 1.51 in 23 starts, racking up 10.4 H/9 and 3.2 BB/9 rates.
After that, he was traded and performance dipped too much for both the Twins and Pirates. His impressive 2014 campaign was overshadowed by a continual lack of consistency in the years before and after, eventually "earning" him a trip to Baltimore after the Orioles claimed him on waivers.
No major-league team can head into a season with a penciled-in pitcher that has Worley's track record, which lands him in his current situation. It's a rather strange one if you really try to break it down, especially considering his two random, somewhat impressive seasons.
So what does he have to do to carve out a role on the April 4th roster?
To start, continuing to push the ground ball percentage toward the 50 percent mark will go a long way toward the prospect of him pitching at hitter-friendly Camden Yards. Per Fangraphs, Worley has been at at-least 46% for the last four seasons in the majors, hitting 49.4% in 2014 - not by chance, his most complete and successful year as a starter.
To put that into perspective, 49.4% would have been at the top of the list for regular Orioles 2015 starters (Gausman 44.7%, Tillman 43.5%, Gonzalez 40.3%, Chen 40.5%, Jimenez 49.1%). And at OPACY, with a brilliant defense behind him, Worley can increase his chances for at-least a bullpen spot by proving to Showalter and Co. that grounders can be produced regularly.
Along with his craftiness, it'll be important to watch Worley's command as he progresses through his first few spring outings. In 2014, he managed a 1.8 BB/9 rate in 100.2 innings - a number that undoubtedly helped the 2.85 ERA.
Grapefruit League play has begun, and the legend of the topsy-turvy Orioles pitching rotation continues. For now, it seems as though it'd take a miracle for Vance Worley to earn a spot on the mound every five days.
Can he get the job done as a reliable arm out of the bullpen, or will he pack up and leave O's camp without a home?
Through the next few weeks, Worley's fate should take a definitive turn one way or the other.