Expectations entering this season were very high for the Baltimore Orioles after they signed big name free agents like designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, shortstop J.J. Hardy, third baseman Mark Reynolds and closer Kevin Gregg.
But, for a 14th consecutive season and the first full year in the Showalter era, they failed to play .500 baseball. The Birds won three games more than last year as they finished one victory shy of the 70 win mark. Last season they ended the year with a 66-96 record.
Even though the Orioles won more games this season and are steadily improving, they need to find ways to get better faster and it starts with their rotation. Their starting pitching this season was horrid. They finished with an ERA above five (5.39) and their pitching overall ranked last in the majors with a 4.89 ERA.
I’m going to split my end of the year review into two parts, like I did at the All-Star break. First, I’ll analyze their pitching staff and point out some surprises and disappointments. Later, I’ll post part two of my review which will include an analysis of their overall offense and the biggest surprises/disappointments in their lineup.
The Orioles used 11 starting pitchers this season, but four of them made only six starts or less. Collectively they sported a 5.39 ERA as they surrendered 528 earned runs on 998 base hits in 881 innings pitched. They tallied 583 strike outs, issued 329 free passes and served up 131 home runs.
Ace Guthrie tossed the most innings on the team with 208.0, which is his third consecutive season with more than 200 innings pitched. Not to mention, he topped the rotation with the lowest ERA at 4.33. He finished with a 9-17 record, which sounds very disappointing.
But, at the end of July, Guthrie had already recorded 14 losses and looked as if he was well on to losing 20 games this season. Over the last two months of the year, however, he pitched to a 5-3 record and really shouldn’t have lost 17 games on the year (which is a career-high). He pitched in many tough luck games and should have easily won at least 13 games.
There were five games he started in which he allowed three earned runs or less, and because of run support, he failed to figure in the decision. A couple of those games, he actually lost because his offense couldn’t find ways to produce runs while he was on the bump. They scored only 12 runs over those five contests, and five of the runs occurred in one game!
The rookie left-handed sensation Britton impressed the Birds right out of the gate, winning four of his first five decisions in April. And, he wasn’t even supposed to start the season at the major-league level, let alone in the starting rotation!
He finished the season with an 11-11 record and a second-lowest starting ERA at 4.61. He also pitched the second most games, 28, and innings pitched on the team (154.1). He allowed 162 base hits, 72 earned runs, including 12 home runs, while he struck out 97 and walked 62.
Entering the season, left-handed hurler Matusz was projected to be the number two starter behind Guthrie in the rotation. But, he missed the first two months of the year due to an intercostal strain in his pitching elbow.
Many critics and fans thought that he returned too early from his injury; and it was quite evident in his season-long struggle to return to his August/September form from a year ago. He finished the season with an inflated 10.69 ERA and a horrendous 1-9 record.
After he pitched well in his first two outings in June, everything went downhill from there. He accumulated only 49.2 innings over his 12 starts (4.1 innings per outing), he surrendered 81 hits, 59 earned runs, including 18 bombs. Not to mention, he walked 24 and only struck out 38. Opponents hit a lofty .387 off of him and his WHIP finished above two (2.11)!
The Birds acquired Reyes from the rival Jays and thought he would be a great fit in their disintegrating rotation. He proved otherwise. In five starts, he sported a 6.85 ERA and recorded only 23.2 innings. He served up 30 hits, including seven home runs, and he yielded 18 earned runs. Opponents hit over .300 off of him and his WHIP neared to two mark as well (1.77).
After five outings, he was demoted to the pen, where he actually pitched better and might find himself next season.
Comparing 2010 and 2011
Last season, four of the Orioles’ starters compiled at least 166 innings or more, and this season, only Guthrie achieved that feat. The Birds’ starters were more consistent last season, and that has something to do with Jake Arrieta and Matusz’s injuries.
Not to mention, collectively, they allowed 36 less earned runs in 67.1 more innings pitched. Their ERA last season finished at 4.67, and this season, aforementioned, ended above five. They allowed fewer hits (985), walks (338), home runs (124) and struck out more (592) last season.
Although the Birds’ pen had its ups and downs this season, overall, their numbers really were better than most think. Collectively, the sported a 4.11 ERA over 565.2 innings as they allowed 258 earned runs on 570 hits. They served up 79 home runs, struck out 461 and issued only 206 bases on balls. For Orioles fanatics, we all know how much they really struggled with walks in previous seasons, so to have only about 200 is definitely an improvement.
Johnson was the rock in the pen this season. He’s the Mariano Rivera of the Orioles, only not as prolific. Without Johnson, I don’t know where they would have finished the year, but I’m sure they would have lost at least 100.
Not only did he lead the entire Orioles’ pitching staff in ERA (2.67), he led the majors in innings pitched by a reliever (91). He only appeared in 69 games and allowed 27 earned runs on 80 hits. He served up only five home runs and opponents hit just .238 off of the sinker baller.
Many thought, including myself, that he would be given a shot at the starting rotation. But, since he really was the only dependable day-in and day-out reliever in the pen, Showalter couldn’t afford to risk moving him. Maybe he’ll give him a shot in spring training…we all know he deserves it.
September call-up, and former Ranger, Strop impressed the Birds as soon as he stepped to the mound. He recorded two wins, appeared in 12 games and surrendered only one run on eight hits. He struck out 12 and walked three, while opponents hit at a very low .190 average.
The biggest disappointment out of the pen this summer has to be closer Gregg. The Birds acquired him from Toronto in the off-season and I was excited because he was a proven closer and I had seen him shut down the Birds many times from the opposing bench.
This season, however, proved to be quite the opposite. Gregg sported a 0-3 record with a 4.37 ERA, and he only recorded 22 saves the entire season! Not to mention, he blew seven opportunities. Even when he saved a game, watching the ninth inning was like sitting on the edge of your seat, no matter how big of a lead he was given.
In 63 games, he allowed 29 earned runs on 58 hits over his 59.2 innings pitched. He served up seven home runs, walked an astounding 40 batters and struck out 53. Those are not the type of numbers you expect, or want for that matter, from your closer.
Converted struggling starter, Bergesen, continued his woes pitching in the pen. In 22 games in relief, he tossed 38.2 innings, allowed 24 earned runs on 41 hits, including seven home runs. Opponents hit .266 off of him and he walked 12 and struck out just 26 batters.
Comparing 2010 and 2011
Unlike their starting pitching, their bullpen this season actually performed better than last year, which is a step in the right direction. They tossed 76 more innings, allowed only 17 more earned runs, served up only 17 more home runs, surrendered 47 more hits and yielded just 24 more walks. Their 2010 pen ERA finished at 4.43, and this year it dropped to 4.11.
So, although their starting pitchers struggled more this season, their bullpen posted better numbers and is continuing to improve.
Check out my next post for my analysis on the Birds’ offense.
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About the Author
Written by Alex Van Rees
I am 22 years old and I recently graduated from James Madison University this May with a BA degree and a major in journalism. I live in Reston, VA, about 20 minutes outside of Washington. I am looking for an entry-level position with a sports media company where I can demonstrate my writing, interviewing and technical skills to better the organization.