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The Orioles starters have been pretty darn good so far

The Orioles have had a phenomenal start to the season which has been fueled by a surprisingly effective starting rotation.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Under Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette the Orioles have won quite a few games, yet they have continually struggled to put together a solid starting rotation. Day after day the Orioles talk about the need to build starting pitching depth, both in the off season and during the season. In 2012 and 2014 the starting pitching did not actively hurt the team and in 2013 and 2015 it cost them much needed wins.

So far, in 2016, it has been--at least at times--the reason for success. So I did what I normally do when I notice something odd during the games, I started to dither around on Fangraphs to see if anything interesting popped up.

With largely the same staff as last year, with some obvious additions and subtractions, I decided to simply look at where the Orioles starting pitchers were in 2015 and 2016 in relation to every other team in the league. It's important to remember that any change year over year for a single team should also be considered in light of changes in the league as a whole.

For instance, say the Orioles K% went up 10 percent year over year you could argue that the staff had greatly improved. But, if the league as a whole saw a 9.5 percent raise in their K% than the conclusions at least should be a lot different. I say this to not only remind you all, but myself. I get Orioles tunnel vision from time to time.

That being said, to follow are lots of tables with lots of acronyms and numbers in those tables. Again, if you have any questions about the numbers or the context of those please check out the Fangraphs glossary which has easy to comprehend definitions and links to articles and research on those statistics.

Next to each statistic in parenthesis will be the ranking of the Orioles starting pitchers in relation to the other 30 teams. The numbers are from 2016 to date (not including Sunday's game) and the 2015 season.

Year Strikeout % Walk % K-BB% BABIP ERA- FIP- xFIP-
2015 18.3%(19th) 7.4%(12th) 10.8%(19th) .298(15th) 110(8th) 107(12th) 105(13th)
2016 19.8%(17th) 8.3%(13th) 11.5%(15th) .302(15th) 100(18th) 89(24th) 103(13th)

A little explanation is in order. The ranking in parenthesis are ranked from high to low. So the highest in league in each category is first and the lowest is thirtieth. I know this can get confusing, but I was trying to mix and match before depending on the statistic and it got even more confounding.

To provide an example, the Orioles staff had the 12th highest rate walk rate in 2015 and have the 13th highest rate so far in 2016. So they have a slightly better (lower) walk rate relative to the league in 2016. This is also a good example of what I was talking about before. The Orioles staff is walking a higher percentage of batters than they did last season, but relative to the league they are actually slightly better than the 2015 season.

From the table above, the Orioles thus far have struck more batters out and walked fewer--again when compared relative to the league in 2016--which is a great place to start. They are still below average in both categories, but getting better.

Also, they are right dead in the middle on BABIP so they have not yet been very lucky. In fact, they may have been a little unlucky according to their Fielding Independent Pitching Numbers. ERA-, FIP-, and xFIP- are a lot like OPS+, they normalize park factors and competition and 100 is set as the average except in this case below 100 is better than league average and above is 100 is worse than league average.

With a 89 FIP- the Orioles starters have been 11 percent better than the rest of the league compared to the 107 FIP- they posted in 2015. Their ERA - is right at league average at 100 which is ten percent better than last year's team. But, as you can see their xFIP is largely similar which is a little odd on it's own. We need some more dithering to explain this. To the batted ball data.

Year LOB% HR/FB GB% LD% FB% Soft% Hard%
2015 72.3%(17th) 12.9%(9th) 43.4%(21st) 21.3%(13th) 35.3%(12th) 19%(11th) 28.6%(21st)
2016 70.8%(20th) 9.0%(27th) 45.4%(19th) 20.1%(18th) 34.5%(14th) 20%(6th) 29.0%(21st)

The main reason that their FIP is great and xFIP is poor is that the Orioles starters have thus far been great at preventing home runs. They have the 27th lowest HR/FB ratio in baseball while pitching in Camden Yards which seems extremely unlikely. My guess is that number is going to come up. But, the Orioles pitchers have some other numbers on their side.

One, they have been limiting line drives and fly balls this year relative to the league and have increased their ground balls. With a superb infield defense this is a smart move. Also, they have increased their Soft contact rate while maintaining their hard contact rate, so they are giving up fewer and fewer hard or medium hit balls that fall for hits much more often. Lastly, they have a lower LOB% which is helpful for run prevention, but is harder to get a read on as to why exactly that is happening.

Bringing this ship into port, the Orioles starting staff has been pretty good this year putting up consistently better numbers than the 2015 Orioles rotation relative to the league. The increased strike out rate and lower walk rate have certainly helped as has the decrease in line drives and increase in soft hit balls from their opponents.

Lots of help has also come in a severely reduced home run rate which may be indicative of better pitching or is more likely good fortune. Steps forward by Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman (yesterday's start notwithstanding) give me a lot more hope for a better rotation than I had coming into the season. As always, let's wait and see if the trends continue to play out.