After Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara, the rest of the starting rotation for your 2009 Baltimore Orioles is a mystery. I still expect the Orioles to pick up a veteran starter to stick in the 3 spot in the rotation but for now, here are the most likely candidates to fill the three available spots.
Hayden Penn – Penn is going to get a fair shot at the starting rotation this season and I feel OK about that. Why? Outside of the top two spots, I’m not sure there’s anyone better suited for the job. He's probably the most talented guy on the list and he has had success at AAA, he just needs to stay healthy and get some major league innings under his belt.
Second, Penn had very good numbers when it comes to inducing groundballs. He induced grounders at a 48% rate in Norfolk and if you don’t include his shaky April, the rest of the year it was somewhere around 53%. That’s good. Why were his overall numbers so bad then? First, he didn’t strike out a lot of guys. Second, his infield was….well, let’s just say that there weren’t many plus defenders in that Norfolk infield. If Penn is getting grounders at a 50% rate in Baltimore, having Brian Roberts and Cesar Izturis behind him will serve him well. And as long as he keeps it in the park, the young outfield should be able to run down a lot of his mistakes. Penn only walked guys at about a 3 per 9 rate. If he can stay healthy long enough, he could become a valuable player in the rotation for ’09 and ’10.
Chris Waters – Waters is getting overlooked as a starter in ’09 but his rate stats from last season were only surpassed by Daniel Cabrera and Jeremy Guthrie last season. He found ways to get by with really limited stuff. He famously debuted pitching 8 innings of one-hit ball and later in the season pitched a complete game shutout in Toronto. He took his share of beatings but pitched into the 5th inning everytime and often pitched into the 6th or 7th. He’s a good candidate for a 5th starter, an innings eater who can cherry-pick some wins at the back of the rotation.
Mark Hendrickson - I've talked about what I expect from Hendrickson here.
Radhames Liz – He may not ultimately be a starter but he’ll be forced to be one this year, at least early. He's a flyball pitcher, not a good fit for OPACY unless his strikeouts dramatically increase and his walks come down. It would be nice if he could work out these issues in the bullpen but the Orioles probably won’t have that luxury. With a little luck, other candidates for the rotation will develop enough that he’s a reliever after the All-Star break.
David Pauley – Pauley is an interesting candidate. Coming over in a trade from the Red Sox for RP Randor Bierd, he has solid AAA numbers. He’s a groundball pitcher and induces a lot of pop-ups. His strikeout numbers in AAA were respectable too. At worst, he could be an innings eater. At best, he improves to be an league average starter in the second half?
Brad Hennesey/Brian Burress – A pair of soft-tossing waiver claims from the Giants organization.
Burress has shown a tendency to issue free passes and, when he finds the plate, serve up big home runs. Only a marked unexpected improvement in those tendencies or massive injuries to the rotation keep him on this team in 2009 (He was equally bad out of the bullpen in ’08).
Hennesey could be a sleeper. His former first-round draftee status has some comparing him to Jeremy Guthrie. I don’t see it. He’s never struck out batters at a very good rate, walks batters at an average rate and doesn’t induce enough ground balls to offset his mediocrity in those two categories. I suppose a change of scenery may help him but he’s a longshot.
Troy Patton/Matt Albers – Going into Spring Training 2008, I thought Patton had the best shot of any of the youngsters at cracking the starting rotation. As injuries mounted in the rotation, I thought Albers was best suited to move from the ‘pen and grab a spot as a starter. Why do I lump them together? They both suffered rotator cuff injuries before they could seize their respective opportunities. Patton underwent surgery, Albers opted for rehab. Both are now big question marks. If either are able to start a significant number of games in 2009, it will be gravy.
Hey, let’s not kid ourselves, this ain’t pretty. Guys like Brian Matusz, David Hernandez, Chris Tillman and Brad Bergensen are not going to show up in Baltimore until the second half of ’09 at the earliest. This list is what we’ve got to work with for the first few months of the season. There’s guys to dream on or root for but realistically the Orioles will be insanely lucky if one of these guys breaks out and put a choke hold on one of the spots in the ’09 Oriole rotation.
It's going to be a rough year for the putching staff...