Baltimore Orioles’ First Half Report Card Part 2
As I continue with my report card for the Baltimore Orioles (45-40) over the first half of their season, we move to two of the aspects that have really hurt them this year: starting pitching and defense. Yes, the offense has struggled and I focused on that in part one.
However, their starting pitching has really suffered over the last month or so and that has been the main cause for their recent downfall. The defense has been at the top of the list error-wise over the course of the entire year, and that’s something the Birds usually do very well, regardless if they win or lose.
Coming into this season, the Birds’ starting rotation was one of the major questions at hand, and it has proved to be their weakest area of play.
The Orioles starting pitching ranks 26 th overall in the majors, compared to 2 nd in relief pitching. Collectively, they sport a 28-34 record with a 4.77 ERA as they’ve allowed 264 earned runs over 497.2 innings of work. (Their overall team ERA is 4.05)
There have been many problems with the starting rotation, which seems to be one of the major themes over the last 14 years in Baltimore. At the beginning of the year, and towards the middle of the first half when the Birds were playing great baseball, the rotation was pitching as well as any other team in the MLB .
The Birds sported an ERA in the mid-threes for much of the season, until recently.
Currently, only Jason Hammel (8-5, 3.47 ERA) and Wei-Yin Chen (7-5, 3.93) are still set as the number one and two pitchers in the rotation. And, something interesting is that both of these hurlers were acquired in the offseason and neither were expected to perform in the manners they have to this point.
Anyways, Hammel has been the Orioles most surprising starting pitcher this season, and Chen has come out of nowhere (well, really Taiwan) to make a name for himself in the majors.
However, the rest of the decrepit Orioles rotation is in shambles; Jake Arrieta , who was supposed to be their ace entering the year, southpaw sensation Brian Matusz and former Texas star Tommy Hunter all have been demoted to the minors within the last week or two.
Each of these hurlers spent most of the 2011 season on the Orioles roster. Oh how a year changes things.
Arrieta is 3-9 on the year with an inflated 6.13 ERA and he has allowed 112 base hits over just 101.1 innings of work. Before his demotion, he had allowed at least four earned runs in five of his last seven outings.
Matusz, who has been the talk of the Orioles organization over the last two or three years, is really struggling with consistency at the major league level.
This season, the southpaw sports a 5-10 record with a 5.43 ERA. He had only recorded one quality outing over his last seven starts and gave up nine combined earned runs over his last two outings.
Hunter was supposed to be one of the best young arms to come out of college in a long time. So far at the major league level, he has not been able to find the type of success he’s accustomed to.
Through 13 starts, and 15 overall appearances, Hunter owns a 3-4 record with a 6.11 ERA. The Birds demoted him after he tossed just 1.2 innings and allowed five earned runs in relief against the Indians.
Not to mention, Chris Tillman , who has been up and down for the Birds over the last couple of seasons, like Matusz, tossed a very impressive game the other night. Maybe he knew Showalter was looking for what he’s been working on at Triple-A this season.
And, he has got to like what he saw. Tillman tossed a career-high 8.1 innings of shutout baseball against the Mariners. Not to mention, he allowed just two base hits good for his first win of the year.
Plus, we seemed to have forgotten Zach Britton in the mix. In his rookie season with the Orioles last year, he went 11-11 with a respectable 4.61 ERA. However, he got off to a strong start going 4-1 with a 2.84 ERA in his first month in the majors. By the end of June he was 6-6 with a 3.38 ERA; he fell off a bit towards the end of the year as he finished with an ERA above four.
He was definitely one of the Birds’ strongest starting pitchers last season, and after dealing with left shoulder impingement towards the end of last summer, Britton has been rehabbing in the minors and working hard to get back to where he was at this time last year.
There is no timetable for his return, but he should be back after the break. Who knows what type of pitcher he will be in his return to the big leagues.
So, there are three spots open in the rotation, and there are five in-house candidates for the positions. Personally, I think the Birds HAVE to go out and find a strong, proven starting pitcher. They need someone who has experience in the playoffs and knows how to lead a team.
They need a Curt Schilling . Maybe not just like Curt. But, they need a pitcher who can dominate and teach these young hurlers how to pitch effectively at the major league level.
The Birds already have a couple of strong starting pitchers, and willing candidates. However, if they want to make a run for the playoffs and bring a winning team back to the Inner Harbor, they desperately need a starting pitcher from outside the organization.
Their overall starting pitching receives an F for me. Yes, Hammel has been a great surprise and Chen has come out of nowhere to capture the attention of the Orioles faithful. However, Matusz, Arrieta and Hunter have all been very disappointing and it’s obvious they need a change.
Maybe each of them will learn something while spending their time in the minors. Matusz tossed a complete game, four-hitter in his first outing back at Triple-A Norfolk. However, it’s all about the long-term success and that’s the most important part of the comeback process.
With the much-needed All-Star break for the struggling Baltimore starters, hopefully they will bounce back and demonstrate why the front office should continue to spend money and maintain them at the major league level; they need to prove why they belong to pitch in the majors.
Obviously there was something that stood out for each of these starting pitchers over their career. However, it seems they have lost their way, either control or mechanic-wise, and they need to raise their bar back to those once high levels.
Surprisingly, the Orioles have committed the most errors in all of MLB with 75 (.977 fielding percentage) through the first 85 games; they have made four more miscues than their rivals in the East, the Tampa Bay Rays . In the NL, the Giants top the list with 69 errors to this point through their 86 contests.
Last year, the Birds ranked 22 nd in the majors with 110 miscues and a .982 fielding percentage. The year before, they committed just 105 errors, which placed them 18 th in the majors with a .982 fielding percentage.
Although he plays almost every position in the field with the exception of pitcher, Wilson Betemit leads the team with 13 errors in just 73 games on the year. Utility man Robert Andino , who filled in for Roberts mainly, has committed 12 miscues in his 75 contests.
A very surprising name on the top errors list is Wieters. This season, he has racked up eight errors behind the dish. Over the last two seasons, he has committed just five errors each year in over 250 games.
A winning team needs a strong defense in order to compete down the stretch. Defense is one of the most, if not the most, underrated aspects of the game. If the Birds continue their current pace, they will end the year with 142 errors.
I’m not a fortune teller, but any team would have trouble advancing in the playoffs with a horrendous defense like the Orioles have featured thus far into the year. As for a grade, the defense definitely receives an F for a number of reasons.
Entering the season, the defense was supposed to be one of the strongest aspects of their play. Roberts is back at second base, so maybe that will cut down on the errors by Andino. When Markakis makes his return, he will solidify their outfield.
Starting pitching and defense are the two main concentrations of play that the Birds have to focus on if they want to make it to October. Yes, the Orioles have put together a strong year to date, however, they have work to do over the course of the remainder of the season.
By: Alex Van Rees
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