The Depressing Reality of the Orioles’ Rotation
So what does one do about Miguel Gonzalez?
That’s Baltimore’s problem in nutshell, though it’s not Baltimore’s only problem. Plainly stated, the biggest problem with the Baltimore Orioles is: how does one deal with a rotation that’s stopped making the Warehouse look like geniuses?
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Last year, of course, the talk was the declining month-over-month ERA of the starting rotation. The starting rotation didn’t post an ERA higher than 3.55 past June, and the bullpen was lights out over the same period. The explanation for this, in broad strokes, was great defense — after all, the Royals were working similar magic, and Dayton Moore has made defense a priority in all of his teams — even with this year’s bizarre roster lacking any legitimate starting pitching options after mid-season acquisition Johnny Cueto and uncomfortably-minted number two starter Edinson Volquez.
But pitching and defense are not what the Orioles are doing in the second half of this season — at least not the first half of that equation; especially not in the month of August. Baltimore simply doesn’t have a reliable, quality starting pitcher in the second half so far — Ubaldo Jimenez has an ERA over 7 since the All-Star Break, Chris Tillman has been struggling with injuries and only pitched 5 games, Kevin Gausman still looks like a guy with filthy stuff and absolutely no ability to locate it and Wei-Yin Chen has an alarming .916 OPS against in the second half, which isn’t representative of his true talent but couldn’t have possibly come at a worse time.
And then, of course, there’s Miguel Gonzalez.
Chen has to be better than his numbers; if the Orioles want to have any chance of being anything but a sideshow in the last month of the season, he has to pitch. Jimenez is making the most money of any pitcher on the roster and has an entire first half of great pitching for the O’s to spend the rest of the season chasing. Tillman is the guy all sorts of fans fell in love with over the past year and is going to be given the rest of the season to turn things around, and Gausman still has some prospect sheen on him that should be gone by the start of next year. That leaves people asking about Miguel Gonzalez — a scrapheap pickup a few years who has made good on an improved changeup that the Orioles taught him — and why he continues to get starts while players like Bud Norris get DFA’d and Tommy Hunter get dealt to National League bullpens.
The answer to those peoples’ questions is simply: who else would you pitch?
The two clear replacements, Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson, are hurt; Wright is on the DL with a strained calf and Wilson is out indefinitely with a strained oblique, and to be quite honest neither is a particularly inspiring major league starter. You could ask Matt Buschmann, Chris Jones, or Heaven forfend Dana Eveland to make a spot start, but there’s at least a track record of Gonzalez being good at the major league level, even if he’s been atrocious this year since June. He’s got a history of figuring it out — the other guys, well, not so much. And you don’t want to be experimenting at this point in the season — not this late in the year.
The Orioles could trade for a guy like Randy Wolf to replace Gonzalez — now that Wolf has gone to the Tigers, the actual guy (sorting through cleared waivers) is someone like…Kyle Lohse. But even if the O’s were able to get Lohse without having to make a salary commitment, why would they want him? Lohse has been terrible all year, and Gonzalez is a better, cheaper, more projectable pitcher in every area than he is. That’s the basic problem with any attempt to address the rotation from outside the organization at this point: all the good options are gone. All that’s left is the means to panic.
As much as Miguel Gonzalez’s outings are offensive to the mind of a fan who dreams his team a competitor; as much as Miguel Gonzalez can’t execute his gameplan or demonstrate upside at the moment, he’s still the guy with the best track record in the Orioles organization at the moment, and that’s as much as indictment of the organization as it is a commentary on him. Neither Mike Wright nor Tyler Wilson are, in any discernable way, better pitchers than Gonzalez even if they were healthy; the only remedy they offer is one of factual difference: they are not Gonzalez, and therefore they might be better. One might as well stretch out T.J. McFarland and give him starts instead.
There’s also an unfortunate truth that the minds in the Warehouse are probably already grappling with and that we need to acknowledge too: it’s entirely likely that Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy have already made the greatest contributions they ever will to a Baltimore Orioles season. Bundy, hurt again, will be out of options after next year thanks to his 2012 relief appearance and constant presence on the 40-man roster; Gausman continues to take steps backwards in his development now that he has some stability as a starter in the major league rotation.
There’s not much to do with the rotation but hope it gets better. There’s not much to do with Gonzalez but hope he recaptures the fastball/changeup combination that made him an above-average major league starter. And there’s not much to do with the entire rotation except realize that major work needs to be done in that part of the roster over the offseason if the Orioles want to even pretend to be contenders in 2016.
Jonathan is a contributing writer for VICE Sports. His work has previously appeared in Sports on Earth, Baseball Prospectus, The Classical, and ESPN's SweetSpot Network. Born in central Maryland, Bernhardt currently lives in the New York metropolitan area.