There has been lots of discussion about why the Orioles have a historically deficient starting rotation – bad draft choices, unwise trades, poor player development, ill-advised free agent signings – but whatever the reasons, something’s got to change.
Maybe they should be like George Costanza and do the opposite of what their instincts tell them.
Through Wednesday’s games, the starting staff owns the AL’s worst runs allowed per game rate at 5.38. Oriole starters are tied for second for the most starts throwing between 100 and 119 pitches, yet they are dead last in innings pitched per games started. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Looking ahead to next season, only Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman can be inked in as starters, presuming their health cooperates. That leaves three open spots.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have much faith in Dan Duquette and company to choose the best players to fill out the rotation. It’s easy to picture a trade for a Wade Miley-type pitcher to fill a #3 spot with a #5 skill set. Or a young pitcher like Chris Lee doing a Mike Wright imitation, moving through the ranks to join the back end of the rotation only to disappoint.
But the Orioles already have a successful pitcher under team control who commands three pitches – fastball, slider and change-up – the minimum preferred for starters given that they need to mix up their pitches when facing the same hitters multiple times.
The pitcher is current closer and lifetime reliever, Brad Brach.
Most relievers rely on two pitches, so Brach’s repertoire qualifies him to start. It’s odd that a pitcher with his stuff would not have any experience as a starter at the professional level, but Brach fits that bill. After being drafted by San Diego in 2008, he was immediately put in the pen and groomed as a closer.
And he succeeded by saving 112 games out of 120 chances before pitching in his first major league game.
Before being traded from the Padres to the Birds for pitcher Devin Jones in November 2013 season, Brach pitched in 109 games for San Diego with a 3.70 ERA and 1.471 WHIP.
Brach’s improvement in an Oriole uniform is partially due to the steady increase in his fastball velocity since arriving in Baltimore. Now consistently hitting 95 MPH. his heater also makes his change-up and slider more effective.
In a Baltimore Sun article by Jon Meoli in May of last year, Brach explains that his fastball wasn’t anything special in his early years.
“When I got out of college, I didn’t really have the stuff I have now," Brach said. "I was touching 90 [MPH] – 91 every once in a while. My slider was all right. My changeup was good. But for some reason, when I got to professional ball, I just couldn’t with the seams the way it was, I couldn’t really throw it. But I could command my fastball really well.”
Of course, there are good reasons to keep Brach in the bullpen. He has had great success there for the Birds both as a set-up man and closer, filling in for the injured Zach Britton. Now in his fourth year with the Orioles, Brach has pitched to a 2.61 ERA and 1.098 WHIP through Wednesday’s games.
The notion of moving him to the rotation has been discussed before and discarded, partially due to the time it would take to build up his inning count.
Even if the Orioles did choose to stretch out Brach in the off-season with the thought of adding him to the rotation, they couldn’t expect him to pitch much more than about 120 innings. And he will be 32 next year – not a kid anymore. On a team with other viable options, that might be enough to forget about it.
But the Orioles’ organization is unique when it comes to ineptitude from its starters. There’s little doubt that this 2017 team would gladly take an effective 120 innings from a starting pitcher.
Lots can change between now and the start of the 2018 season. The Orioles could decide to trade Zach Britton and hand the full-time closer role to Brach. Or Brach himself could be traded.
Whatever direction they take as they build a 2018 rotation, they need to consider new ways to solve this long-standing problem. And one consideration should be adding Brad Brach to the mix.