On Friday morning, the Orioles named Kyle Gibson as their Opening Day starting pitcher. It’s looked likely for a little while based on what order the team has had pitchers making their spring training starts and now it’s been confirmed: The 10-year MLB veteran is the guy who’s getting the ball right out of the gate to start the season.
This is not an exciting announcement. It is indistinguishable from what might have been done two years ago when the Orioles were expected to, and did, lose 100+ games. Indeed, Gibson previously made one Opening Day start in 2021 when he was on the Rangers. That team went on to lose 102 games. In fairness to Gibson, he was pretty good for Texas that year, rolling to a 2.79 ERA in 19 starts before getting traded before the July deadline.
The 35-year-old Gibson was signed to a one-year, $10 million contract over the offseason. He was extremely not good with his previous team, the Phillies, in 2022, posting a 5.05 ERA even with the de-juiced baseballs and whatever else was going on last year.
Adjusted for park and league, this result from Gibson was worse than anybody who started at least ten games for the Orioles last year except for Bruce Zimmermann. If he’s not the worst Opening Day starting pitcher in MLB this year, he’s surely close.
Perhaps with the benefit of Walltimore in his home games, and maybe even some Orioles pitching analytics magic, Gibson can do better than he did last year. One of his problems last year was his home run rate, both at home and against right-handed batters. Oriole Park at Camden Yards won’t help him any with lefties, but it sure ought to against righties. Gibson’s Fielding Independent Pitching number was a much better (but still below average) 4.28.
The benefit for the Orioles in putting Gibson first is probably that they’re expecting him to be an innings-eating kind of pitcher. He wasn’t last year, not really, throwing 167.2 innings over the course of the season, but he’s thrown at least 145 innings in every 162-game season since 2015, so that’s going to have to be good enough. If he makes 30 starts, pitches about 170 innings, and has an ERA in the 4.25 range, that should be OK.
The real key for the 2023 Orioles is going to be for the other starting pitchers to make it so Gibson is the fourth- or fifth-best starter in the rotation, despite his receiving the Opening Day nod. If they can do that, things should work out this year. How big of an “if” these scenarios may be depends on your current level of optimism.
Purely on the basis of “Who pitched the best last year?” there was one obvious choice: Dean Kremer. The 27-year-old righty who was once acquired by the Orioles as part of the Manny Machado trade pitched to a 3.23 ERA in 22 games last season. He hasn’t been pitching a ton in spring training since he spent some time with Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic, but when he has pitched, he’s looked good.
Instead, based on what order guys have been pitching in the Grapefruit League, it seems that Kremer is incredibly lined up as the #4 starter. I don’t get it. With this announcement, the rotation appears to be ordered as such: Gibson, Kyle Bradish, Cole Irvin, Kremer, Grayson Rodriguez.
It could be a perfectly cromulent Orioles starting rotation, or it could leave us with season-long heartburn about why Mike Elias didn’t sign or trade for a quality starting pitcher this offseason. In six days, we’ll start to find out.