Orioles: Nothing To Lose; Opportunity To Experiment
I’m not here to pile on the Orioles, we all understand what this season is. The O’s have started a rebuilding process, and charitably they have a limited roster. If they finish this year with any less than 95 losses, it would be highly surprising, and in the scheme of things it’s fine.
When you can’t compete, that creates an opportunity to experiment.
The Orioles enter tonight’s game with a 6.15 era. They’ve allowed 59 homers in 221 innings of play.
The Orioles aren’t signing Dallas Keuchel off the street, or promoting prospects who aren’t ready (or whose service clock they don’t want to start); so can we discuss the potential of utilizing existing options differently?
I know the perils of equating sports with war, but picture any historical battle of note where one side was forced with facing off against a much stronger adversary and found a way to ‘compete.’ They didn’t do so by lining up directly and trying to match the superior force. They adapted and tried to use what ever resources they had.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
The O’s are currently carrying 13 pitchers.
SP: Cobb, Cashner, Straily, Bundy, Hess, Means
RP: Givens, Scott, Fry, Phillips, Yacabonis, Ynoa, Castro
Cobb should have made a rehab start before rejoining the O’s off the IL. He got knocked around his last time out, and that has left him with some ugly numbers. Still, the expectation should be that he’ll be a competent ML starter, with some upside. You can hand him the ball, and regularly he’ll give the O’s a chance to win. If he performs as expected, the O’s will have suitors for him.
Cashner’s history says he’s a back of the rotation starter. He’s made some adjustments this year (reduced usage of his fastball) and 5 of his 6 starts have been effective. He is what he is. If he’s able to maintain his current pace, you might be able to move him (probably not anything of value, but maybe a flyer).
Straily wasn’t ready to pitch in his initial two outings and it showed. In his last two starts, he’s been what you’d expect. Somewhat limited in overall stuff, but the pitchability of a veteran. The 7 homers allowed in 14.2 innings is disturbing. When he misses over the plate with his below average stuff, he’ll get tagged. Right now you can hand him the ball every 5th day, and see if he can approximate what he’s been the last 3 years (a usable, stabilizing presence in a rotation).
Means – who is starting tonight – is currently in a 6th starter / swing man capacity.
What I’d suggest is that you continue to start Cobb, Cashner, and Straily and let them go as long as the can.
The adjustments I’d make in the immediate are with Bundy and Hess.
Bundy’s been excellent his first time through an opposing lineup (.491 OPS), and a disaster after that (1.386 OPS the second time through).
Use him differently.
Bundy’s averaged 170 innings the last two years, and is coming off a 31 start season. It’s completely plausible that Bundy could regain his ’17 form as a starter. but right now I’d like to go into games with it known that his outing will end after the 3rd. Maybe he can string some zeros together, and pretty up his stat line. Some might argue that if he’s working out of the pen, that might reduce any trade value he has. My take is that nobody is going to trade for him (at-least anything worthwhile) with him like this. If he shows to be a strong 3 inning pitcher, that’s better for the O’s (in-terms of received production, and value) than a below average starter. His change and curve have been strong this year. If he knows he’s only going 3 innings, maybe you get an uptick in velocity?
I’d do the same thing with Hess. The very best starting outcome for Hess long-term is probably a career like Cashner. A league average ish back of the rotation starter. Yes, that has value. However, if you use him differently, he could be more successful overall. His fastball doesn’t move much, but he’s got better velocity than you might think. His slider is quality. I’d like to see him have scheduled 3 inning outings. Do some work that first time through, and turn the ball over.
If Bundy and Hess were to be limited to 3 inning starts, they’d be plenty capable of 1 inning relief outings on what would be their scheduled ‘bullpen’ days.
The logical question is if Bundy and Hess were to be limited to 3 inning starts, how do you work through the rest of the games they were ‘starting’?
To me, the answer is you operate like it was Spring Training. These are the pitchers available, and we’re going to use them accordingly.
To make that work, you’ve got to build a staff that can handle that work.
To do that, you’d want to get away from specialists. Means and Yacabonis are good fits for this. Means change looks great, and I’ve been very impressed by him this year; but the back of his baseball card (his MiL stats) say more ‘useful staff arm’, vs. ‘sure fire starting’ prospect. Yacabonis has a big arm, but he shouldn’t be looked at as a future starter. They can both contribute to the O’s next winning team though.
What I’m suggesting is that on Bundy’s scheduled start, you’d go into that game knowing you are going to use Means for 4th to 6th, and Yacabonis for the 7th to 9th.
Since being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2016 MLB Draft, Keegan Akin has steadily progressed through the O’s Minor Leagues. Last year he was the Eastern League’s Pitcher of the Year. This year, he has made the jump to AAA. He’s only made 3 starts there. If you want him to get extended experience at the International League level, and you want him ending this year with 160-170 innings – I’m fine with that. Certainly wouldn’t argue that isn’t a sound plan. Be it later this year, or entering 2020; he does figure to be a candidate for the O’s rotation in the relatively near-term. His overall ceiling looks like a 3rd to 5th starter though, and as a former College pitcher, he’s not overly young. (He just turned 24, I’m obviously not saying he’s old.) Because his ceiling is not ‘that’ high, and he’s not ‘that young’, I’d consider promoting to the Majors now. He’s not even on the 40 man at this point, but it wouldn’t be that hard to find room.
If you did promote Akin today, presumably he’d replace Ynoa or Castro. For our purposes here, let’s say Ynoa.
When Hess starts, you could pair him with Akin. Something like Hess 1-3, and Akin 4-6.
A note on Castro. My general take is that he’s just 24, and I think he has a talented arm. I’m hoping this new staff can tap into his tools and get him producing. So far this year, he’s been a train wreck. If the team decides at some point he’s a lost cause, that’s fine. He either pitches better, of you have to replace him.
Maybe Karns replaces Castro when he comes off the IL. He could also be used in this capacity.
Maybe Yefry Ramirez also comes up. He also could be used in this capacity.
It’s not possible until / if Luis Ortiz, and Dillon Tate are pitching better, but they could also be options for the O’s pen at some point. If so, they would be other guys that could be paired with Hess and Akin and scheduled to work on those dates (and others). The more exciting option would be Hunter Harvey, of course there are multiple things to consider there. Harvey has 19 k’s in his 12.2 innings, which gives good indication of his stuff, but he’s also getting knocked around a bit. Like Ortiz and Tate, he’d have to be performing at his level first. I assume that will happen. At that point the consideration would be, 1) Do we want to start Harvey’s clock? 2) After several injury riddled seasons, and limited MiL work overall; is it best for his development to stay in the Minors?
So, in conclusion you’d have:
– Cobb, Casher, and Straily starting as is.
– Bundy and Hess making scheduled 3 inning starts.
– Bundy and Hess being available for 1 inning relief outings on their scheduled ‘bullpen’ days.
– Means and Yacabonis making scheduled 3 inning outings behind Bundy.
– Means and Yacabonis being available for one 1 inning relief outing during the week.
– Akin making scheduled 3 inning outings behind Hess. Akin replacing Ynoa (or Castro).
– Akin being available for one 1 inning relief outing during the week.
– Givens, Scott, Fry, Phillips being used in relief as is.
– Castro being used in relief as is, and either improving, or being let go.
– Karns being an option to replace Castro when he’s off the IL, and also potentially being used in this capacity.
– Ortiz and Tate being other options to replace Castro when / if they are pitching better.
– Ortiz and Tate being options to be used like Means / Yacabonis / Akin (and Karns).
– Harvey being another option, albeit with additional concerns / questions.
I’m not suggesting this would be a panacea. I’m suggesting that it would be an interesting experiment with some upside imo, and that in a year like this; you might as well do some things different.
Ultimately we’re all looking forward to 2021 and hoping the O’s have a rotation which includes Hall, Rodriguez, Knight, etc. emerging and eating innings.
That’s years away from being possible. What the O’s are doing now doesn’t work, and can’t work. So try something different. Maybe it wouldn’t help at all. There would be little-to-no risk in trying though.
Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, CBS 1300, Q1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. He has also been interviewed by The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Business Journal, and PressBox (TV). As Owner, his responsibilities include serving as the Managing Editor, Publicist, & Sales Director.
You can reach him via email at [email protected].