Last night after the Orioles' comeback win against the Tigers, I was too lazy to change to the channel or move off the couch and ended up catching Buck Showalter's press conference. Once he sat down, the first question was what you'd expect, something about how encouraging it was that the team was able to score seven runs without a homer. Buck's answer, though, was interesting. Before he said anything remotely relevant to the question, he took the time to talk about how important it was that Vance Worley pitched a shutdown inning after the O's took the lead, and how well Worley has been pitching overall.
It was telling that Buck went out of his way to praise Worley last night - he has been pitching well, and he hasn't really gotten much credit for it. That's nothing new for Worley, though; despite consistently being a capable pitcher throughout his career, he's been bounced around the league and is now playing for his fourth team in five years. It's too early to call the Worley experiment a success, but you don't need to get much out of a pitcher to make him worth $2.6 million. At about 0.3-0.5 WAR this season (depending on where you look), he's already pretty much there, and as long as he doesn't implode the rest of the way he should end up being a successful pickup.
After last night's scoreless inning, Worley's ERA is down to 2.61 on the year. While he's outpitching his peripherals by a little bit (his FIP is 3.58 and his xFIP is 3.38), it's not like this has been smoke and mirrors: he's struck out nearly a batter per inning while maintaining a BB/9 well below 3. He hasn't been aided by luck either: while his LOB% is a tad high at 80.2%, his BABIP against (.317) and HR/FB (14.3%) are also higher than average. Worley has pretty much gotten the results that he's deserved.
This really shouldn't be surprising; other than a disastrous injury-plagued 2013 season in Minnesota, Worley has been a consistently solid pitcher throughout his career. Putting aside that 2013 nightmare (in which he a had a 7.21 ERA in 48 innings and battled elbow and biceps injuries the whole year), his worst full season ERA was 4.20 over 133 innings in 2012. Just two years ago, Worley posted a 2.85 ERA over seventeen starts and one relief appearance in Pittsburgh, and yet after another decent season a year later (4.02 ERA over 71 innings, mostly in relief) he was unceremoniously waived this offseason.
Vance Worley is probably not an All-Star pitcher, but he's also not a guy like Evan Meek, whose ERA ballooned to nearly six after cobbling together 15-20 good innings in 2014. There's far less reason to be skeptical of Worley. Unlike Meek - who I'm unfairly singling out here - Worley has had recent success in the majors, he's been doing it fairly consistently for five years, and he's only 28. There's a good chance that Worley isn't going anywhere this year.
For whatever reason, Worley seems to keep being a victim of roster math despite not really deserving it (although it's hard to say he didn't deserve it in Minnesota). To put in in Dan Duquette-like terms, Worley is a qualified and capable major league pitcher. While his ERA probably won't stay in the mid-2s, it's not unreasonable to predict 80-100 innings with a couple spot starts here and there, and an ERA under or around 4.00. He also brings some intensity to the mound, a change of pace for a staff that employs several guys who seem like they're in a coma when they pitch. He can be fun to watch, he can hold his own on the mound, and he's making $2.6 million - about the same as what the O's paid Everth Cabrera last year. For a player claimed off of waivers, it's hard to expect much more than that.