When most MLB fans talk about which teams have the best starting pitcher trios, they’ll mention the likes of the Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, Cleveland Indians and the. Chicago Cubs. However, one team could surprise everybody this year is the Baltimore Orioles.
Yes, some have even said the rotation is one of the worst in baseball. In fact, FanGraphs projected the entire Orioles rotation to finish 21st in fWAR (11.1), 25th in ERA (4.53) and 26th in FIP (4.48). Those projections put them dead last in their own division, as well. With pitchers such as Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez, those projections could be somewhat accurate.
So how about the three pitchers ahead of them who stop those projections from becoming any worse?
Chris Tillman has proven to be a solid #1 starter in the rotation. Is he a Kershaw, Sale or Arrieta? No, but he is consistent. Unfortunately, the Orioles will be without that consistency for the first month of April.
Tillman recently received a cortisone shot in his throwing shoulder ruling him out for Opening Day. According to Orioles' manager Buck Showalter, Tillman’s first throwing session this past Sunday "went well." The team hoped to see Tillman back by April 15, but after a missed bullpen session on March 12, his return is projected upon late-April to early-May.
Tillman’s absence will leave Kevin Gausman to start the season off for the Orioles. Shockingly, one could argue Gausman deserved the spot after the numbers he put up last season. Compared to Tillman, Gausman actually outperformed the team's own #1 starter.
Tillman: 16-6 / 3.77 ERA / 66 BB / 140 K / 1.285 WHIP / 4.1 fWAR
Gausman: 9-12 / 3.61 ERA / 47 BB / 174 K/ 1.280 WHIP / 4.2 fWAR
As shown above, Tillman beat Gausman out in wins only. A probable reason for this is in part to the fact Gausman was 12th worst in the league in run support. That’s not a knock on Tillman. In fact, Tillman’s 2016 stat line is similar to his 2013 All Star stat line. A reason some fans wonder as to how Tillman didn’t receive an All-Star bid.
2013 Tillman : 16-7 / 3.71 ERA / 68 BB / 179 K / 1.221 WHIP / 4.4 fWAR
If Tillman is out, how is that a competitive starting trio? Well, at most, Tillman will only miss a month of baseball. So if we’re talking on season terms and not just by the opening month, the Orioles could turn some heads.
To solidify the trio is Dylan Bundy. Playing in his second season as an Orioles' starting pitcher, Bundy enters 2017 with a chip on his shoulder. After Tommy John Surgery and a bothersome shoulder injury, Bundy is set out to prove to everyone why he was once the second-overall prospect in baseball. Bundy put up pretty decent numbers for his full year in the majors, despite starting it off from the bullpen. Mainly, Bundy put up better numbers across the board as a starter. Although, his ERA causes a bit of concern.
Starting: 71.2 IP / 4.52 ERA / 30 BB / 72 K / .230/.313/.443
Relieving: 38.0 IP / 3.08 ERA / 12 BB / 32 K / .303/.367/.417
If he gets the green light to use his cutter, which General Manager Dan Duquette has been very critical of in the past, there are two stats to pay very close attention to this upcoming season with Bundy, Innings and Strikeouts. With a powerhouse lineup behind him, Bundy doesn’t need to throw a 2.00 era. In fact, none of the Orioles starters do.
That’s what can potentially make this trio very dangerous. Pitching while ahead will cause the Orioles pitchers to be more aggressive at times. This type of pitching could be a double edge sword, causing higher ERA, H/9, HR/9 etc.
Luckily, pitching while ahead plays right into the hands of pitchers like Gausman and Bundy. Why? Because they’re strikeout pitchers. Both former #4 overall picks have over a 8.0 K/9. In fact, Gausman and Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta both had the same K/9 (8.7) last season. To top that off, Bundy and Gausman also walked less batters than Tillman last season as well.
If Bundy and Gausman start off strong not only will this help out the team overall, but a jump start in arguably the toughest division in baseball is key to get into the postseason. But, that is a giant if. Gausman and Bundy could hold the fort down until Tillman returns and continue a possible dominant season. But if they don’t? Orioles' fans could become real good pals with Rays' fans at the end of the season.