Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The BUCKchelor: The Search for a Rotation

by Ben

Pitchers and Catchers have reported (which is a daily occurrence at the "Man Hole" in Key West), intrasquad games are in full throttle, and our first series of arm and back injuries are filtering out of The Orioles Complex in Sarasota. 

The Orioles pitching rotation has more candidates than a season of The Bachelor. The rotation battle is a mix of prospects looking to live up to their potential, former prospects looking to bounce back and re-assert themselves in the club’s future, Asian pitchers hoping to finally prove that their craft can actually work over in the States, and finally “veterans” looking to earn a stable role. Of these 9-10 pitchers, only 5 will earn a spot in the rotation (for now), and Orioles Skipper Buck Showalter is the man who will decide their fate. Think of pitching coach Rick Adair as Buck’s Chris Harrison, stirring the pot while providing guidance, and asking the same 3 questions over and over.  So let’s meet the men vying for Buck’s affection and the 5 Orange Roses.


Am I really comparing the Orioles pitching rotation battle to The Bachelor? I answer that question with another question…does Ben Flajnik desperately need a new haircut?

Many of us watch The Bachelor whether our wives or girlfriends make us watch it or we just simply watch it on our own accord. It’s ok to admit it fellas.  We are fully in the Trust Tree and unlike that hack psychiatrist from Old School, your secrets are safe here.  

Before we get into the O’s rotation I’ve just got one idea for the next season of The Bachelor. I think it is time for ABC to break away from having the nice guy as their Bachelor, it’s too predictable and only drama ensues only when the chicks get catty.  I’m tired of this emotionally sensitive guy who “just wants to connect.” I think it’s time to put a guy on there with a Tiger Woods-esque “sex addiction”.  Can you imagine the carnage and wreckage that he would leave in his wake after putting it to all those women? It would make Katrina look like a light rain storm.  None of these “engagements” ever last, so we can all stop pretending that’s what this show is about.  Who’s with me?

But enough about that.  In the words of Chris Harrison, let’s meet our candidates! 

Dana Eveland was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers at the winter meetings. He’s a bad-bodied lefty journeyman and the Dodgers felt he had a better chance at making the Orioles starting rotation than making their Triple-A rotation. Enough said.  If Dana Eveland makes the Orioles rotation I will write a post about why Jeffrey Maier is an American Hero and does not deserve to be kicked in the nuts by EVERY Orioles fan.

Tsuyoshi Wada is being lauded as The Duke’s biggest off-season acquisition.  Writing that sentence sucked, but not as much as reading it over again.  Now don’t get me wrong, I actually think Wada is going to be a really nice piece for the Orioles, but the fact that a 31 year old soft tossing lefty from Japan that was not sought after by many big league clubs is being tabbed as the team’s biggest off-season move is a bit unsettling. But that is neither here nor there.

Wada has great control and plus breaking stuff.  Like many of his Japanese brethren his fastball is not going to light up many radar guns, but it has nasty movement.  He hides the ball well and is a relative unknown to Big League hitters, which makes him better suited to come out of the bullpen.  Wada received an injection into his left elbow a few days ago and has been shut down by the team.  This apparently is normal for him, and he is expected back in a week or so.  Either way, my gut says the bullpen is going to be where Wada finds his role.

Wei-Yin Chen, remember this name Orioles fans. Easy for me to say, it took me six tries to spell his name right.  There are more combinations you can make with his name than a Chinese food menu. Chen was the other notable international signing made by The Duke.  I really think Chen is going to be a rotational mainstay for the O’s for the next few years. The 26 year old left hander from Taiwan has a fastball that sits in the low 90’s, but can reach 94-95.  When he hits the mids 90’s we will call that the “Chennar Cheese”, OK? Good, glad that is settled.

He also boasts a slurvy (slider/curveball hybrid) breaker a forkball that would make Hideo Nomo blush.  His forkball appears like a cross between a splitter and a changeup.  Like Wada, Chen has exceptional control. Chen has more control than a Mormon at a strip club.  Wei-Yin is a frontrunner to receive an orange rose from Buck and will settle in nicely at the backend of the Orioles rotation.

Alfredo Simon re-joined the Orioles last year midway through the season after some personal issues, and provided a bit of a boost like a hired gun at the trade deadline.  Alfredo Simon is very inconsistent as a pitcher; sometimes he uses the strike zone for target practice, and sometimes he comes in firing blanks.  As a starter he tends to run out of gunpowder by the 5th or 6th inning, where as a reliever he can come in for a quick strike and fire 3 quick bullets and get you out of a jam.  At the end of the day relying on Simon to be a viable starting pitcher is like playing Russian Roulette, and it doesn't help that he's semi-automatic as a closer.  But who knows, maybe he’s still got one in the chamber for us Orioles fans.

Bergesen = Bullpen. Moving On.

Tommy Hunter is the odds on favorite to be the Opening Day Starter for the Orioles, which is like being the skinniest contestant at the start of The Biggest Loser [Cut to a recently freed Jeremy Guthrie nodding grimly].  Normally I would take this opportunity to extend my sincerest of middle fingers to the GM who allowed my favorite team to be placed in the position of trotting Tommy Hunter out as the opening day starter. However, this is the team The Duke inherited, and the fact that Hunter maybe our best option this year is not The Duke’s fault.  With all that said, I really like Tommy Hunter, and think he has a good future ahead in the black and orange.  But the fact remains, he is not an ace, he does not have opening day caliber stuff.  In reality Hunter is a very solid no. 3 or no. 4 pitcher, but the Orioles are not in such a fortunate position, and Hunter will be relied upon to be the staff leader.  Hunter is steady and has good control (1.59 BB per 9 innings) and he eats innings like he eats chicken wings at the postgame spread (He weighed 280 lbs. last season…).  He is stable and reliable, and he has World Series experience from his days with Texas.  Therefore his resume for opening day is stronger than anyone else on this staff, so kudos to you Tommy Hunter.

Zach Britton and Jake Arrieta will make the rotation coming out of spring training. Britton is arguably the best pitching prospect in the whole bunch and had a very strong start to last season going 6-3 with a 2.14 record before the league caught up to him.  He still has a lot of polishing to do, but it will have to be done at the major league level.   Arrieta as well was racking up wins last season, but he consistently fell behind hitters, which led to a lot of walks and long balls.  Jake the Snake is coming off elbow surgery that ended his 2011, which could have been the main cause for his decreased velocity and his inflated ERA.  Arrieta could use a little more seasoning in the minors, but the Orioles will need him in the rotation.  I would like to see both Britton and Arrieta settle in to the back end of the rotation and beat up on inferior starters around the league just so they can get their confidence up.  Young pitchers need to be placed in positions to succeed and not fail and Britton and Arrieta are no different.

Chris Tillman tears up triple-A – with a no hitter on his resume – but has routinely struggled with big league hitters.  Tillman struggled with control last year both in the big leagues and the down on the farm.  He is still just 23 years old, so his book is not written and he still has a future with the Orioles.  I think ultimately he will be the no. 3 starter, but he will start the season in the Minor Leagues for just a little bit more marinating.

Ahhh Brian Matusz.  His 2011 season was the biggest head scratcher I have ever seen in the game of baseball.  He lost 5-6 miles an hour on his fastball(or so it seemed), which is fine if you’re 44 years old, not 24.  Matusz came into camp last year unprepared mentally and physically and it showed.  His walk rate was up and he was giving it up to hitters more than a passed out girl at a frat party.  2011 was a nightmare for Matusz and for those of us who own his T-Shirt jersey.  He has worked out like mad all off-season with Oriole Legend Brady Anderson, which can only be a good thing.  Just like Tillman, the future is bright for Matusz, but he is better suited to start the season in triple-A.  He can fine tune his mechanics and get some wins under his belt.  Once he gets his confidence back, Orioles nation will hopefully see the true Brian Matusz.

Jason Hammel was acquired from the Rockies in the Jeremy Guthrie trade, and has spent parts of his career as a starter and as a reliever.  He is serviceable, but ideally he will be a bullpen arm.  This all hinges on the young arms, and whether they can earn spots in the rotation.  However, nothing ideal ever happens for the Orioles so expect Hammel to receive his orange rose and join the rotation.  If I were Buck – which would be a dream come true – I would place Hammel at number 2 in the rotation and match him up against the opponent’s better pitchers.  That way the younger pitchers can be matched up against other teams no. 4 or 5 starters, get some wins under their belts, and get their confidence up. Either way Hammel is hopefully just keeping the seat warm for Matusz or Tillman.

Once the over night dates in the fantasy suite are over and the spring training games are in the books, Buck will have to hand out 5 orange roses.  My projected rotation is
1) Tommy Hunter
2) Jason Hammel
3) Zach Britton
4) Wei-Yin Chen
5) Jake Arrieta

Let's hope we see the young arms take another step forward and solidify themselves as big league pitchers.  Heck, I'll settle with 2 of the 4 young guys emerging.  Chen's mystery will be something to watch this spring as well.  All in all this rotation will be a work in progress and we are likely to see many of these guys get their opportunities to start.  Hope springs eternal right???

1 comment:

  1. "His walk rate was up and he was giving it up to hitters more than a passed out girl at a frat party." - too far, but still hilarious.

    It's amazing how you guys always find the light at the end of the tunnel with the O's.

    Does Buck get an extended leash because no one else wants the O's job? say 5 years? or 6?