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Orioles Pitching Has Thus Far Exceeded Expectations

Throughout my time as a baseball fan, which spans almost two decades, I’ve noticed that rebuilding teams usually struggle the most in the pitching department.

It’s a lot easier to develop hitters than it is to develop pitchers — hitters generally stay healthier and as hard as it is to hit a baseball, it’s a little harder to pitch effectively.

So before the season started, I expected the Baltimore Orioles to hit and score at a decent clip, but struggle in the run prevention department.

As usual, I was wrong.

Through Friday night, the Orioles are 8-11. Baltimore ranks 13th in team ERA at 4.10, which is a highly respectable number in the juiced ball era that we’re living in. That number gets better when you exclude the Orioles’ starters, as the Birds rank sixth in bullpen ERA in the major leagues.

While the offense has spent most of the season floundering — Baltimore ranks 25th in runs scored — the pitching staff has kept them in ballgames. It’s encouraging, to say the least.

I can’t shower the Orioles’ starting rotation in compliments, but they’ve generally kept their club within striking distance. Bruce Zimmermann is looking more and more like a back-end starter at the major league level, holding a 4.57 ERA through four starts. He’s allowed three or less earned runs in each of his four starts and has finished the fifth inning in three of those starts. Zimmermann’s stuff isn’t exciting, but he’s started taking advantage of his curveball more this season and he’s seeing results.

Matt Harvey is doing exactly what the Orioles needed him to do. He’s reviving his career in Baltimore, even if not to the level he reached as a young pitcher with the Mets several years ago. Harvey isn’t getting deep into games — he’s finished the fifth inning just twice so far — but he’s allowed three earned runs or less in three of his four starts. He’s making his opponents earn their runs, walking just three hitters all season.

Jorge Lopez has been mostly bad, and Dean Kremer hasn’t pitched well either. But John Means is picking up the slack for them, holding a 1.52 ERA over 23.2 innings. Means has allowed four earned runs all season and has vaulted himself into early All-Star consideration.

But the meat of the Orioles’ stingy pitching staff exists in the bullpen, where manager Brandon Hyde has employed a battery of passed-over veterans and young arms to shut down opposing teams in the later innings.

Adam Plutko was an absolute steal for the Orioles. The Cleveland Indians gave away Plutko for a Baltimore crab cake not long before the season, a move they surely regret now. Plutko has logged 11 innings out of the bullpen this season, allowing just two earned runs and holding a WHIP of 1.0. Plutko has been fantastic and if Hyde feels the need, Plutko might find himself stretched out to fill a spot in the starting rotation.

After a brutal spring training, Paul Fry is back to being an effective lefty that could draw interest at the trade deadline. Fry’s ERA and WHIP through nine appearances are 1.23 and 1.227, respectively.

The Orioles’ best young reliever, Tanner Scott, has held opponents scoreless in six of his seven appearances this season. Scott’s using his slider more this season, a pitch that still ranks well above league average in movement.

Scott would be Hyde’s closer if it weren’t for magician Cesar Valdez, a 36-year-old who spent three seasons in the Mexican League before returning to MLB with the Orioles last season. Valdez’s changeup has made him one of the American League’s most effective relievers, even if it looks funny when he’s doing it. Valdez has allowed just one earned run all season long.

As May inches closer, the Orioles are finding out a good bit about themselves. The offense hasn’t found their stride yet, which I expected them to by this point. If they ever get it going at the plate, the Orioles are going to start turning some heads if they haven’t already. The pitchers have certainly got my attention.

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Sunday, 29 January 2023

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