Orioles Playing Time Battles: Pitchers

We’ve started our annual Depth Chart Discussions, re-branded as Playing Time Battles for 2016. You can catch up on every team we’ve covered in the Playing Time Battles Summary post or following along using the Depth Chart Discussions tag.

At present, the Orioles are far from favorites to win the AL East. In fact, our own projections have Baltimore finishing dead-last in the division this year, with a 78-84 record. Personally, I think they’re considerably better than the Rays, but that’s not the point of this column.

As was the case with Jeff Sullivan’s piece on Friday, Yovani Gallardo may or may not have signed with the Orioles by the time you’re reading this. If you want an in-depth look at Gallardo himself, I highly suggest reading Jeff’s article. Either way, it’s interesting to dig into the “why” behind the club’s pursuit of Gallardo, who will turn 30 later this month.

It would certainly seem that the Orioles view themselves as contenders, as they would need to sacrifice the 14th overall pick in this year’s draft to sign Gallardo, because he declined the Rangers’ qualifying offer. Why else would a team coming off a .500 season in a highly competitive division cough up a top-15 pick and ~$15 million a year for a solid — yet unspectacular — mid-rotation arm? Especially when that organization possesses an already-depleted farm system?

If we run with the Orioles’ own apparent assumption that they are indeed a contender — which requires some squinting, of course — it does make some sense. The signing of Gallardo would send Baltimore into Opening Day with a set rotation composed entirely of established major-league-caliber starters: Ubaldo Jimenez (265 career starts), Chris Tillman (149), Miguel Gonzalez (95) and Kevin Gausman (42). Adding Gallardo’s 244 career starts would give Baltimore a highly experienced rotation from top to bottom.

None of them are more than mid-rotation arms at this point in their respective careers, but five mid-rotation starters is still more than a whole lot of clubs can claim. Furthermore, when we take a look at the uncertainty regarding the back end of the rotation without Gallardo, the club’s salivating desire for his services comes into focus a bit. That’s not to say that I think it’s a great idea, but it works within the hypothetical context of the Orioles being a title contender.

Considering the team’s stacked bullpen (Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, Mychal Givens, Brad Brach, Brian Matusz, Dylan Bundy, etc.), I assume the thinking here is that if they consistently get 5-6 innings of three-run ball from their starters, the relievers can slam the door more often than not. Sans Yovani, the fifth starter spot becomes a huge question mark, and if any of the Jimenez/Tillman/Gonzalez/Gausman quartet misses significant time, that rotation full of No. 3 starters becomes a rotation full of No. 5-7ish guys in a big hurry. The best bullpen in the league couldn’t cover that up.

Vance Worley came over during the offseason on a waiver claim from Pittsburgh, and seems the most obvious choice to fill the ‘next man up’ role (or claim the No. 5 spot for himself, if the team for some reason failed to sign Gallardo). Worley made 17 starts for the Pirates in 2014, with another eight starts and 15 relief outings last year.

On the surface, the 28-year-old was pretty good for Pittsburgh. However, he hasn’t struck anyone out since he left Philadelphia following the 2012 season, and he’s still just three years removed from his hideous meltdown of a season with the Twins. Also, his 2015 numbers look deceptively good due to those 15 relief outings:

  • 2015 as starter (43 IP): 4.81 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 5.65 K/9, 3.14 BB/9
  • 2015 as reliever (28.2 IP): 2.83 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 6.91 K/9, 1.88 BB/9

Mike Wright is another option, as he made nine starts in the majors last year. He pitched at least seven innings in each of his first two starts, and didn’t allow a single run in those outings. However, after those first 14+ IP, he allowed nearly a full run per inning pitched (30 ER in 30.1 IP). Wright posted an ugly 1.44 K/BB rate while serving up nine homers in his 44+ major-league innings. If you’re thinking like a contender, that’s certainly not someone who gets a crack at a rotation spot in Spring Training. Without Gallardo, Wright has a decent shot at landing the fifth starter’s job, which is not a winning strategy.

Odrisamer Despaigne is new in town, recently acquired via trade from San Diego. The 28-year-old Cuban hurled over 125 innings for the Padres last year, and put up some ugly numbers. His 5.80 ERA was the fourth-worst among major-leaguers who threw at least 120 innings, placing him in the unpleasant company of guys like Kyle Kendrick, Jeremy Guthrie, Kyle Lohse and Jerome Williams. An additional unsettling fact about Despaigne is that he served up 1.26 HR/9 at home in spacious Petco Park. A move to Camden Yards is not encouraging in that regard.

Outside of the guys I’ve already discussed, Baltimore has four more starting pitchers on the 40-man roster at present. Two of them (Christopher Lee and Parker Bridwell) have yet to pitch above Double-A, and are unlikely to see more than a cup of coffee in the bigs this year. Chris Jones has bounced around the minors since 2007 without pitching an inning in the majors, so we can probably safely ignore him too. Tyler Wilson pitched 36 major-league innings last year, accomplishing the rather incredible feat of posting a 3.50 ERA despite striking out just 13 batters. That’s not a typo, he seriously had a 3.25 K/9.

With the Orioles also reportedly pursuing a free-agent bat such as Dexter Fowler, they clearly do view themselves as contenders. If that’s the case, limiting the major-league exposure for everyone discussed in this piece is a must. When you think about it through that lens, it makes sense to pursue a pitcher with at least 30 starts in seven consecutive years.

The biggest benefit of Gallardo to the Orioles might be the simple fact that he prevents these other guys from taking the ball every fifth day. That’s not exactly the type of guy I would be willing to part with a top-15 pick and $40-45 million to acquire, but it’s something.

Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.

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Jim S.
Jim S.

Despaigne throws a 67 MPH change.