Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Oriole Way

As much as I want to keep things interesting and say the Royals or Pirates are the worst pitching staff in baseball, Alex is sure right that the Nationals have the worst. The key for the former two is that they are both very likely to be noticeably better than last year, while the Nationals are very likely to be just as bad. This is not to say that the Royals’ future is bright enough where shades may be required, but they certainly have added a bunch of league average starters who qualify as giant upgrades to their collection of 2006 stiffs. And if Greinke has truly found what he was looking for, then their collective ERA will be safely towards the middle. The Pirates for one are young and moderately talented, and two are in a weak hitting division in a weak hitting league, so their raw numbers at least will not be too ugly. As for the Mariners, King Felix is going to be so ridiculously good so soon that everyone will forget about his “massively” disappointing first full year (at age 20) where he only threw 191 innings allowing a .262 BAA, striking out 176 and tossing in 2 CG and a SHO.

So far in this discussion though the darkhorse for worst staff is missing. You guessed right, it’s that team nestled safely out of last place just above the Devil Rays, and just below respectability, your 2007 4th place Baltimore Orioles. Now before you start filling my inbox with dreams of Erik Bedard’s MVP season, Leo Mazzoni, and magic pixie dust, I will concede that the Orioles’ starting staff does have some talent. One problem is that the AL East is murder on pitching staffs. Another problem is that most of the talent is still very rare. Conlusion: they very well could rival some of the bottom-dwelling Nationals’ pitching stats. I was kidding by the way, my inbox isn’t filling up anytime soon nomatter how bad I trash the O’s. For this discussion, I’m going to break up the probable Orioles starters into the “talent”, the garbage, and the rest.

The “Talent”
Erik Bedard: Far, far, far and away the ace of the staff, Bedard continued his sluggishly steady rise towards #2 starter status in 2006. His BAA, ERA, and WHIP were all solid and he got through 33 starts. He averaged under 6 IP a start both due to the Oriole’s careful usage of him and the couple of times where he got blown out early. His strong second half leads me to believe he’ll have further success in 2007. His Orioles jersey leads me to believe he’ll break his arm or regress in some other way very soon.

Adam Loewen: More talented because he throws left handed than because of the inherent nastiness of his stuff, Loewen had a semi-rough introduction to MLB hitting in 2006. He made 19 starts and a couple of relief appearances to finish with a 5.37 ERA in 112 IP. The hits per inning and strikeouts per inning are encouraging, but of course your hits per inning are always going to look nice when you manage to walk almost 5 per 9 innings. Maybe an Andy Pettite clone in 5 years, but not in 2007. He might have a lower ERA over a full season if he manages to quickly hone his control, but not by much.

The Garbage
Daniel Cabrera: That’s right Danny, you’re garbage! If everyone else is afraid to say it, I will. Always listed under the “talented, but wild” column, I’m just going to say this guy is not about to put it together anytime soon. I defy anyone to take a successful pitcher and find any MLB game in their career where they walked 6 in an inning, as Cabrera did on April 7th last year. All of his extensive work with Leo resulted in 104 walks in 148 innings and a 4.74 ERA, a notch below his 4.75 career mark. Those walks would have put him 2nd in baseball, if he had pitched enough innings to qualify. There just have not been that many pitchers who have suddenly found control after being so wild for so long. If he stays in the majors this year, he’s not going to have an ERA under 4.5.

Jaret Wright: Why does this guy get paid to pitch in the majors? It’s not quality (1.55 WHIP, .283 BAA, 4.49 ERA which was actually much lower than his career 5.07 ERA), and it’s certainly not quantity (barely over 5 IP per start). He won’t be any better in 2007, and in all likelihood he is due for another career ending injury very soon.

The Rest
Hayden Penn: Well, he could be talent, in that he is a good, young prospect and did very well in AAA recently. And he could also be garbage, since he’s made two brief trips to the show so far and given up more walks than strikeouts on both occasions. In his brief 2006 try, he gave up double the number of hits as innings and had a 15.10 ERA. No doubt he’s much better than this, but his stuff really is more suited to be a reliever. Now he’s most likely forced into starting given Kris Benson’s injury. I don’t think the results will be pretty.

For 2007 this is how I see standings for worst starting rotation ERA finishing up:
30th Nationals
29th Orioles
28th Royals (Barring heroic Greinke return)
27th Pirates

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