It’s no surprise to anyone who even distantly follows baseball that the Baltimore Orioles have been very bad this year. After starting out 4-1, there was some hope that the team may exceed the little expectations that they had. However, they have won just six of their last seventeen and sit 10-16, good for the fourth worst record in the MLB.
Pioneering this struggle is their putrid pitching staff, who through 26 games have made the wrong kind of history. Collectively, they have surrendered 59 home runs, 13 more than any other team. They have also given up the most barrels, most hard-hit balls, and highest average exit velocity. Simply put, almost everything an Orioles pitcher has thrown has been absolutely crushed.
While the bullpen has their own issues, this write up will just focus on fixing the Orioles starting pitching staff. The goal here is to stack up as many low-floor and high-ceiling guys as possible, helping Baltimore get through the rest of the season without taxing their bullpen too severely, and pile up some young arms who can help down the line. Let’s get into it.
Dylan Bundy, the former fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft, still has nowhere lived up to the expectations set on him a mere eight years ago. Bundy has been disappointing this year in his five starts, sporting a 6.56 ERA. However, the general theme of disappointment towards Bundy focuses on his entire career, where he has a 4.73 ERA. He does have some promising feats, such as a decent career K% that has only gone up over the past three years. This is driven by an elite spin rate on his fastball and slider. While this is promising, his inability to stay in the zone, as well as a declining fastball velocity, has left much to be desired. In 2016, Bundy’s average fastball velocity was 95 MPH, while now it is 91 MPH. Bundy does have some intriguing traits such as his spin rate and ability to make bats miss, but he is unable to locate his secondary pitches and is losing velocity as a 26-year-old who should be in his prime. He is worth keeping because the high ceiling still exists, but it is looking less attainable by the days.
Verdict: Keep Bundy.
Andrew Cashner, the Orioles opening day starter and supposed “ace”, maybe the least enticing arm in this rotation. He throws semi-hard, but gets no spin or movement on any of his pitches, making them perfect for batting practice, and that’s exactly what hitters have treated his pitching as. Cashner can’t strike anyone out, nor consistently throw strikes. Unlike Bundy, there is no upside to Cashner. Cashner is making 10M this season but will be off the books next season assuming he doesn’t throw 187 innings. The recommendation here is to let Cashner go, ensure he won’t hit the innings threshold, and replace him with a new arm.
Verdict: Cut Cashner.
The other washed veteran in the Orioles rotation, Dan Straily, is up. Straily was respectable in 2017 with the Marlins, but has been an embarrassment in his 15 innings this season. The 8.59 ERA aside, he has walked as many as he struck out, and has given up more home runs than both. Straily is unable to throw any pitch consistently above 90 MPH, and while throwing soft has been a career norm for him, he has been able to get by working the edge and inducing soft contact. He has not done any of that so far this year, throwing middle-middle pitches and sitting in the third percentile for hard-hit rate. Straily, at 30, has no upside and can join Cashner in the free agent pool.
Verdict: Cut Straily.
The other, other, washed veteran in the Orioles rotation is due up, Alex Cobb. Cobb was very good in 2017 with Tampa Bay, but the Orioles may have overreacted a little bit by shelling out 57M for his services. Now, they are stuck with him through 2021 and are basically forced to keep him around. Cobb probably has the best chance to be serviceable out of the three aforementioned veterans. However, his 11.88 ERA this year says otherwise. While that will surely go down, his very low walk rate is promising and his strikeout rate is about where it has been his whole career. The problem is he has molded a career on missing barrels, but has only found them this year. Cobb has nowhere to go but up, and the Orioles will gladly take even a pinch of what they had to play against in 2017.
Verdict: Keep Cobb.
For any Orioles fans still reading, there is some good news! John Means is now up, who has been the lone bright spot this year. The 25-year-old southpaw has been elite in his 16 innings, rocking a 1.74 ERA. His 4.16 xFIP predicts some regression, but even so, Means should be a staple in the Orioles rotation for years to come. The Orioles have been hesitant to throw the 11th round pick in a full-time starting role, but they seem to be warming up to the idea. Means has done an excellent job of missing bats, commanding the zone, and not giving up hard contact. Statcast junkies aren’t enamored by his average spin rate on his secondary pitches, but he throws hard enough and gets enough movement to be effective. This is Baltimore’s real ace, and Orioles fans should be excited to see how he develops.
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Verdict: Keep and Start Means.
The last legitimate option Baltimore has for their rotation is David Hess, 25-year-old from Tennessee Tech. Hess made headlines for getting pulled from a no-hitter in the 7th inning at only 82 pitches, but outside of that one outing, he has been pretty brutal. His 5.88 ERA is ugly, and his FIP and xFIP aren’t giving him the benefit of the doubt. He has done a good job of throwing strikes, but his pitches don’t get much spin and are relatively flat, leading to Andrew Cashner-ish batting practice type pitches. Hess is still pretty young so some upside is there, but for now, it is best to either demote him to AAA or in a multi-inning reliever role.
Verdict: Move Hess to Bullpen.
***Disclaimer: 24 hours after this was written, Gio Gonzalez signed a one-year, $2M deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. Shame on Baltimore, as they could have tripled that contract, and still direly need his services. The next paragraph is now irrelevant but explains what Baltimore should’ve done. Again, shame on them.***
Now, after all this the only members of the Orioles rotation left are Bundy, Cobb, and Means. Now what? The most reasonable thing here is to go out and sign Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez recently opted out his minor league deal with the Yankees, meaning he is a free agent. It seems unlikely that he has many major league offers on the table, as it’s assumed he would’ve jumped on it by now and never signed that minors deal with New York. Gio was very serviceable last season and would instantly become the most reliable guy in this rotation. For each of the past nine years, Gio has put up an fWAR above 2.0 and kept an ERA under 4.6. This is a testament to his consistency and a welcome addition for Baltimore. Gonzalez would help them get through the season, and could always be flipped at the deadline for a couple of low-level prospects. This is exactly what Baltimore needs.
Verdict: Sign Gio.
There is still one spot left in this rotation, and again, the Orioles are going to have to look out of the house to fill it. The only options within their organization are Mike Wright Jr. who was just traded to Seattle, and Nate Karns who has been excelling in a bullpen role and should probably be kept there so they can flip him for a piece at the deadline. Other names who have pitched at the AAA level or higher include Josh Rogers, Luis Ortiz, Yefry Ramirez, Dillon Tate, Gabriel Ynoa, and Keegan Akin. None of these youngsters are ready yet and throwing them in the fire would only be detrimental to their development.
As for looking out of the house, the Orioles could dangle talented closer Michael Givens, who still has two years of control left, in an attempt to find a young and controllable starter on a contender. Givens does not fit Baltimore’s timeline regardless and could bring them a piece who is much more likely to contribute further down the line.
An option is Ross Stripling of the Los Angeles Dodgers. With Rich Hill coming back from injury, Stripling will get the boot from the rotation and move to the bullpen. Behind Julio Urias, Stripling then becomes the 7th starter in a rotation of five. The Dodgers could look to move Stripling in an attempt to get more proven bullpen help. It may take more than Givens, however, as Stripling has a 3.48 ERA in 325 career innings, was an all-star just last year, and is yet to hit arbitration.
Another name to watch is Joe Ross. Ross was very good in 2015 and 2016, but tore his UCL and has just three starts since. He is currently serving in a low-leverage bullpen role for the Nationals, who could look to move on from the 25-year-old. Despite the injury, Ross still throws hard and the upside exists. Ross is controllable through 2021.
One last guy to note is Alec Mills of the Chicago Cubs. Mills is 27, yet has only thrown 21 career MLB innings. He is considered to have a low ceiling, but also a high floor. He is unlikely to contribute much to Chicago this season, but his plus command and good spin rate make him an intriguing get. With Brandon Morrow being shut down indefinitely, Givens should be a target for Chicago.
Verdict: Trade For One Last Arm.
The idea of this write up was to mold a rotation of guys who will help Baltimore get through the season, at the very least. Bundy, Cobb, Means, Gonzalez (not anymore), and whatever piece they trade for would make for a diverse rotation with a couple of veterans and a few young guys Baltimore can take a look at. Time will tell if Baltimore employs any of these ideas. One thing is for sure, though, the Orioles are in for a very long season.