Monday, February 1, 2010

Help Me, Oriole Rotation. You're My Only Hope.

An Open Letter to the Oriole Starting Five:

Hi guys. It's closing in on Spring Training and Baltimore fans are full of (cautious, admittedly) optimism and hope. Young prospects are on the rise, national media are picking Baltimore to be much improved and even projection systems like PECOTA have the Birds within the margin of error for a winning season.

But I know the truth. This team only goes as far as you five gentlemen take us. The offense is good but not good enough to outslug the Yanks, Sox or maybe even the Rays. No, we need pitching and we need plenty of it to succeed. The good news is, you won't have big shoes to fill. The starting rotation on Opening Day was Alfredo Simon, Koji Uehara, Mark Hendrickson, Adam Eaton and Jeremy Guthrie. Jeremy, you are the only one who remains.

Each of you have a job to do and the Baltimore faithful beg you to do it well.

Kevin Millwood, we know your best days are probably behind you. While you are the de facto ace, nobody expects you to be anything better than league average. We need you to be Rick Sutcliffe circa 1992. You remember the Red Baron, don't you? He came to Baltimore late in his career to help anchor a staff of young hurlers (Mussina, McDonald, Rhodes) and for the first half of the season pitched like the Sutcliffe of old. OK, not like 1984 Sutcliffe but he went 12-6 over the first half of the season with a 4.13 ERA. He finished the season as a slightly below average pitcher in terms of ERA but for half of 1992 (and then some) he was a hero. He helped lead the Orioles, who had lost 97 games in 1991, to an 89 win season in 1992. More importantly, he bought time for the kid pitchers to develop and stabilized the rotation.

You can be that hero, Kevin. I know former Braves have not fared well in Charm City (Javy Lopez, Leo Mazzone, B.J. Surhoff v2.0) but this is a different era, an era of hope and resurrection. Seize the day and perhaps the Orioles will relax facial hair policies for you too.

Jeremy Guthrie, the Orioles claimed off of waivers three seasons ago and you went out of the frying pan and into the fire. 2009 was rough on you. You gave up a league high 35 homers. But that won't happen again because deep down, you are a groundball pitcher with enough of a fastball to strike batters out. Don't give in and keep the ball down in the zone. You finally have help. A veteran to eat innings, kids behind you who will pitch better as the season wears on. You are battle tested, sir. No pitcher in baseball has faced the fearsome lineups you have faced more often over the last three seasons.

We don't need you to try to be the ace anymore. We just need your innings, we just need your experience, we just need your spirit. Just keep the ball in the park and let your defense do the rest.

Brad Bergesen. You were labeled a AAAA pitcher. You were not supposed to have the stuff to pitch in the AL East. You were not supposed to be in the rotation in 2009. But you were and you were the best of the rotation last season.
You're a groundball machine. You walk no one. Nobody's getting a cheap hit off of you. According to The Bill James Handbook, you might just be the best fielding pitcher in the American League. You have the best chance of any of the starters to hit 200 innings pitched like Guthrie did last year. You're a fan favorite already and everyone is pulling for you to succeed. Like it or not, you're the underdog and everyone loves the underdog. Just keep it up. Please.

Brian Matusz, I have not had so much fun watching a guy pitch since Mike Mussina donned the orange & black. You have four pitches and you command them all extremely well. So on any count, you are likely to throw any of them. It reminds me of Mussina throwing his knuckle-curve on a 3-2 count, buckling the batter's knees and ringing up the K. You are that kind of talent. I can see you tying the hitters up in knots, mentally and physically with each successive at bat.

You are to inherit the "ace" tag for Baltimore and become the best Baltimore pitcher since the aforementioned Mussina. The rotation is relying more on your success than on any other individual pitcher. But the scouts love you and I think you may be due for a great leap forward in 2010.

Chris Tillman, it was not pretty during your 12 major league starts in 2009. A 5.40 ERA and lots of walks. But at the age of 21, you had nothing left to prove in the minors. You destroyed the International League posting a 2.70 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 96 innings for AAA Norfolk. It was your time. It is your time.

But just relax. No one is expecting you to be anything more than the 5th best starter for the Orioles in 2010. But I saw you in AAA. Your fastball moved and you mixed you pitches well. In Baltimore, you overthrew and that fastball flattened out. No need to throw through a brick wall. The baseball is an egg. Hold it like and egg. And by the end of the season, you may just start to show flashes of the ace potential you brought with you from the Seattle organization.

So don't believe the hype. If the Orioles are to surprise the league this season, it won't be because they signed Miguel Tejada and Garrett Atkins, it will be because the five of you.

Now let's go O's!

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