Thursday, July 9, 2009

Worried About the O's Rotation? Think again.

When it comes to the current pitching rotation, it seems that there is no shortage of things to complain about. The depth that the season started with has dwindled sorely, Jeremy Guthrie looks like the funk he started the season in might not be going away, and Koji Uehara has been sidelined for the forseeable future. The current starting staff only contains one of the five that broke camp with the team in April, and only two of the current staff have earned run averages under 5.35. So, should Orioles fans be worried? The easy answer is yes, but the correct answer is an emphatic no.

Let's take a closer look at how this breaks down. Of the three with the high ERAs we have Rich Hill (7.43), Jason Berken (6.25), and Jeremy Guthrie (5.35). None of these three, save for maybe Guthrie, were expected to have that significant an impact for this team nor are they a part of the broader plan. It's true that Jeremy Guthrie was expected to be the ace and he should step up, but do O's fans expect him to be in the ace role one or two years down the line? Absolutely not, because there are phenoms such as Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz who project to be far better than Guthrie is now. Rich Hill and Jason Berken are stopgaps; even if Berken were to excel, it still is doubtful as to whether he would have a place on next year's rotation. Rich Hill was a wise gamble by Andy MacPhail, because he was a low-risk and potentially high-reward pickup. It's true that Hill has struggled, but those struggles have little effect on the broader plan.

Now let's take a look at the two pitchers who have excelled this season, particularly as of late; David Hernandez (3.94), and Brad Bergesen (3.59). Both of these pitchers are rookies, and both represent the beginning of the youth movement on the O's starting staff. It's important to not only take note of the results they have been getting but how they have gotten them. Both Bergesen and Hernandez have faced very formidable lineups, and when faced with adversity they respond well. Unlike previous prospects the Orioles have rushed, it's the mentality with which they approach the game which impresses me so much. Neither Bergesen nor Hernandez seem to become unravelled after misfortune. I'll take an example from yesterday's game: David Hernandez allows a 2-run home run in the first inning, throws 30+ pitches and has no command of his breaking ball, while the offense continually runs itself out of scoring opportunities. So what does he do? He guts it out, pitching five more shutout innings and setting a personal high for pitches in a major league start. It's that sort of poise that wins alot of ballgames. Bergesen and Hernandez have vastly different styles, but their similarities in mental makeup have been the key to their success.

Oh, and did I mention that Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz have all dominated at their minor league levels? So let's see... all of the star prospects have excelled against higher levels of competition, and there hasn't been a single setback among them. Yeah, we should all be terribly worried.

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