It is no secret to the long-suffering Oriole fan that a major factor in all the losing of late has been due to the team trotting out the most wretched pitching staff in the league for most of the past 14 seasons. Indeed, the team's collected hurlers have been unable to post a team ERA that ranked above 13th in the 14 team American League over the past four seasons. Could that be changing in 2012?
In 2011, the team's starters threw a total of 881 innings (dead last among AL teams) with an ERA of 5.39 (also dead last in the AL). SInce most decent starting staffs rack up something in the neighborhood of 1000 innings, I used ZiPS projections to assemble roughly that number of innings amongst the best of the projected starters for Baltimore in 2012. Here they are:
IP ERA Wada 139 4.01 Guthrie 178 4.30 Britton 156 4.85 Chen 125 4.50 Hunter 136 4.96 Arrieta 132 5.13 Matusz 136 5.35 Total 1002 4.71
* Wei-Yin Chen does not have an official ZiPS projection. Given that he is considered a better prospect than Tsuyoshi Wada, the low innings count and the 4.50 ERA seems fair. Of course, this guy was supposed to be a better MLB porspect than Koji Uehara when they cam stateside in 2009.
All in all, the projections put the starter's ERA at just over 2/3 a run better than 2011 and projects more innings eaten by the starters than last year too. While I doubt the starters will throw 1000 innings, something around 950 will be a great improvement and will take some pressure off the bullpen. Any bullpen who has to fill the kind of gaps that the Orioles pen has over the past few years is bound to be exposed, no matter how good it is.
There is some chance for improvement here. Brian Matusz could come back from his injury plagued 2011 a much better pitcher. Ditto for Jake Arrieta. Sophomore Zach Britton could take a step forward and 23-year old Chris Tillman could regain his prospect status and contribute in the second half. But as the projections stand, a 4.71 starter ERA would have been no better than 13th in the AL in 2011. Even with significant improvement, this is still a bottom of the league rotation.
But a rotation with Jeremy Guthrie, Britton, Wada and Chen at it's core with Matusz, Arrieta and Tommy Hunter filling in the gaps is still one if the more interesting rotations the Orioles have assembled in recent years, even if it won't be an overly effective one.