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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Young Guns: The Orioles' Keys to Success

The Baltimore Orioles haven't been the most successful team in recent years. They've finished close to or in last place in the AL East for the majority of those years. Fortunately, there seems to be a bright spot in the O's future. Baltimore boasts a pitching rotation of young potential aces. The ace of the moment, Jeremy Guthrie is in his fifth year with the Orioles. He has been the top pitcher since his first season in Baltimore. After starting in the bullpen, Guthrie moved to the starting rotation and became one of the most consistent pitchers in the AL. The rest of the rotation features four young pitchers: Chris Tillman (RHP), Zach Britton (LHP), Jake Arrieta (RHP), and Brad Bergesen (RHP) (Brian Matusz, who is on the disabled list, will be put into the rotation when he is activated). Each of these pitchers have been top pitching prospects for Baltimore, and this rotation will improve with them all in the majors at the same time.

We'll start with Tillman. During his minor league career from 2007-2010, Tillman struck out 486 batters in 489.1 innings. In 2009, Tillman made 12 starts in the majors but still made 18 in AAA. Tillman began last year in the minors, making 18 starts there and 11 in the majors. This year, Tillman began the season in the rotation and has struggled out of the gate. He has the potential to be a front of the rotation guy at the best and at the worst, a solid middle of the rotation pitcher. He features a fastball with some heavy action that tops out around 94 MPH and his out pitch is a power curve that is often used as a hit-or-miss pitch in big situations. He has had control problems later in games during the minors and his time in the majors, but so far this season he has been keeping the majority of his pitches around the zone.

Chris Tillman
2009 (AAA): 8-6, 2.70 ERA, 99 SO, 1.148 WHIP, 9.2 SO/9, 3.81 SO/BB,
2009 (MLB): 2-5, 5.40 ERA, 39 SO, 1.554 WHIP, 5.4 SO/9, 1.63 SO/BB, -0.1 WAR
2010 (AAA): 11-7, 3.34 ERA, 94 SO, 1.236 WHIP, 7.0 SO/9, 3.13 SO/BB
2010 (MLB): 2-5, 5.87 ERA, 31 SO, 1.528 WHIP, 5.2 SO/9, 1.00 SO/BB, -0.2 WAR
2011 so far (MLB): 0-1, 7.30 ERA, 11 SO, 1.703 WHIP, 8.0 SO/9, 1.83 SO/BB, 0.1 WAR

Next we'll move on to Britton. He has spent his entire career with the Orioles organization, beginning his minor league career in 2005 and making his major league debut earlier this month. He has been the top pitching prospect for the Orioles. He spent 2010 in both AA-AAA, performing as a top prospect should. In his first two major league starts, Britton was dominant, but struggled in his third. In his first major league appearance, Britton went 6.0 inning against Tampa Bay, giving up 1 ER, 3 hits, and a walk while striking out 6. Britton pitches to contact, with great control and often starts out with first pitch strikes. He is able to keep low pitch counts and stay in games longer. Britton features a plus sinker that tops out around 92 MPH. He generally keeps it low and it's movement causes hitters to have trouble squaring up on it. He relies on his sinker so much that he throws it 60-70% of the time, which will leave him with low home run rates. Britton also throws a fastball that tops out at 96 MPH, but is usually not necessary with the dominance of his sinker, a biting slider used as his out pitch, and a change up that is still developing but will most likely end up as an average pitch. He will need to work on his control of the pitches in order to become successful. Britton has the makeup and composure of a future ace, and possible Cy Young candidate in a few years.

Zach Britton
2010 (AA): 7-3, 2.48 ERA, 68 SO, 1.195 WHIP, 7.0 SO/9, 2.43 SO/BB
2010 (AAA): 3-4, 2.98 ERA, 56 SO, 1.296 WHIP, 7.6 SO/9, 2.43 SO/BB
2011 so far (MLB): 2-1, 2.75 ERA, 14 SO, 1.119 WHIP, 6.4 SO/9, 2.0 SO/BB, 0.4 WAR

Now comes Arrieta. The Orioles were criticized early on for signing Arrieta to a contract similar to a first rounder while many thought that Arrieta was just not good. He had worked on his mechanics since then and the improvements have shown. Arrieta split time between AA and AAA in 2009 and was brought up to the big leagues during 2010 after beginning the season dominating in Norfolk. Arrieta's mechanics were tweaked slightly and they caused his control to become increasingly better. All of his pitches come from similar arm angles, so it hard for hitters to square up. His repertoire includes a high velocity fastball with late movement, a slider that often leaves hitters baffled (when he commands it), an incosistent 12-6 curve, and a much improved change up that can fall anywhere from 5 to 10 MPH slower than his other pitches. Arrieta projects to be a #2 or #3 starter in the future, but certainly has the potential to be a #1. So far this season, Arrieta has had trouble keeping guys off the basepaths, which has led to him giving up 12 ER in his 3 starts.

Jake Arrieta
2009 (AA): 6-3, 2.59 ERA, 70 SO, 1.153 WHIP, 10.7 SO/9, 3.04 SO/BB
2009 (AAA): 5-8, 3.93 ERA, 78 SO, 1.418 WHIP, 7.7 SO/9, 2.36 SO/BB
2010 (AAA): 6-2, 1.85 ERA, 64 SO, 1.123 WHIP, 7.9 SO/9, 1.88 SO/BB
2010 (MLB): 6-6, 4.66 ERA, 52 SO, 1.535 WHIP, 4.7 SO/9, 1.08 SO/BB, 0.8 WAR
2011 so far (MLB): 1-1, 7.04 ERA, 10 SO, 1.435 WHIP, 5.9 SO/9, 2.00 SO/BB, 0.1 WAR

Finally, we're on to Bergesen. Bergesen has been in the majors for the longest out of the four youngsters. He has began both of the past two season in AAA but has been quickly brought up both times. He had started out great in 2009, even garnering some Rookie of the Year consideration, until a shin injury in late July sidelined him for the rest of the season. He then began the next year in the minors but was quickly brought up for good. This year, Bergesen AGAIN started out in AAA but was brought up without an appearance when J.J. Hardy went on the disabled list. Bergesen is a ground ball pitcher who, instead of trying to strike many batters out, trys not to walk many people. Like Britton, Bergesen's sinker is his out pitch and he uses it most often. He also has a fastball that average 89 MPH, a change up, and a slider as his strike out pitch. Bergesen will most likely be a workhorse end of the rotation guy.

Brad Bergesen
2009 (MLB): 7-5, 3.43 ERA, 65 SO, 1.281 WHIP, 4.7 SO/9, 2.03 SO/BB, 2.4 WAR
2010 (MLB): 8-12, 4.98 ERA, 81 SO, 1.435 WHIP, 4.3 SO/9, 1.59 SO/BB, 0.6 WAR
2011 so far (MLB): 0-1, 3.18 ERA, 4 SO, 1.235 WHIP, 6.4 SO/9, 2.00 SO/BB, 0.0 WAR

Bergesen's spot in the rotation will be the one most likely taken by Brian Matusz when he returns from an injury, but until then this is what the Orioles will put on the mound every night. With the offensive strengths of the Yankees, Red Sox and even the Blue Jays, it will be hard for the Orioles to compete in the difficult AL East this season. But with a little more seasoning, the mind of Buck Showalter, and some offensive production, who knows how quick this team could turn into a contender?

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