Will Buck Showalter’s rotation again overachieve in 2015? (Melissa Golden for Bloomberg Businessweek)
Baltimore Orioles Manager Buck Showalter — as per his usual custom — will take the entire team on an outing on Tuesday evening before full-team workouts get going in earnest on Wednesday.
Apparently, his usual plan involved a funny and inspirational movie that will whip the team into a frenzy — or something like that.
Showalter is entering his sixth season at the helm of the O’s and his .535 winning percentage is second only to his tenure with the Yankees, when he won at a .539 clip. His time with B-More has enabled him to now move almost 100 games over .500 for his managing career (1,259-1,161) for a fine .520 mark. It’s that pesky 9-13 postseason mark that haunts Showalter.
On Friday, we talked about Showalter and the Orioles’ biggest issue — getting their healthy players back, and he provided an update on a couple of those (see video below).
So now here’s the question du jour: is a rotation headed by Chris Tillman good enough to get to the World Series this year?
In May, it felt like his stock was falling thanks to the walks. To his credit, Tillman really addressed his control issue as the season wore on, and after the break he walked just 18 in 89 innings.
After 29 wins over the past two seasons combined, Tillman avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $4.315 million salary this year — about eight times what he earned last year ($546,000). What we’re really watching this year is whether his K rate can bounce back to its 2013 levels after a significant drop off last year. It’s really hard to consider Tillman an ace unless he’s averaging at least 7.5 K/9.
The No. 2 starter is Wei-Yin Chen, the only lefty in the rotation. His FIP was actually better than Tillman’s last season, and that brings up a bigger concern, which we’ll discuss below.
Bud Norris slots third in the O’s rotation. On the surface, hee enjoyed a career year in 2014, winning 15 games based on a 3.65 ERA and 1.216 WHIP. But was Norris really any better than usual? His FIP and xFIP were both around career norms.
Miguel Gonzalez will begin the season as the No. 4 man. A back-to-back double-digit winner, he recorded a 2.19 ERA in the second half last year. Don’t be seduced by that. Gonzalez is nowhere near that good.
The favourite as the fifth starter is youngster Kevin Gausman, who has more upside than anyone in this rotation. He was our No. 13 prospect heading into the season, and now it feels like he’s nearly ready to grow into a legitimate ace.
Two other names to bear in mind are Ubaldo Jimenez, who will have to earn his way back into the rotation — but definitely has the talent to do so — and top prospect Dylan Bundy.
The Orioles may already regret the four-year, $50-million deal they gave Jimenez last spring, but he has three more seasons to try to make good on this contract, so let’s withhold judgment on how bad this signing was for the time being.
Coming off a season mostly lost to injury, Bundy will begin the year in the minors at Double-A, but could be a major factor at some point, perhaps around June or July, so make sure you keep a close eye on him. While you’re at it, don’t forget about prospect Mike Wright, either. His K rate dipped at Triple-A, but he pitched much better than his ERA would indicate and he’ll likely be ready for his first taste of the majors this year.
Clearly, there is no true ace in this mix, but it’s a collection that was good enough to help the Orioles win 96 games last year. Still, let’s not overlook how much a top 10 offense and a phenomenal bullpen helped this rotation in 2014.
As alluded to above, the Orioles’ projected rotation was a lot better on paper in 2014 than you’d expect. All five starters had ERAs under 4.00, none higher than 3.65. But let’s compare their ERAs and FIPs for a clearer picture of how well they pitched, and what we can expect going forward:
- Tillman: 3.34 ERA; 4.01 FIP;
- Chen: 3.54 ERA, 3.89 FIP;
- Norris: 3.65 ERA; 4.22 FIP;
- Gonzalez: 3.23 ERA; 4.89 FIP; and
- Gausman: 3.57 ERA; 3.41 FIP.
See our concerns? Based on the data above, Gonzalez is a prime candidate to blow up, while Gausman could be ready to make a major move in the pecking order here.
Now it’s your turn. Let us know in the comments below whether you think the Orioles’ rotation is good enough to take this team to the next level.
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