Pitching, pitching and more pitching

There will be little not discussed at the Orioles organizational meetings in Sarasota, Florida.

President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail will preside over the meetings, where the front office staff, manager Dave Trembley, Minor League personnel, and scouts will go over every player in the organization, from the 40-man Major League roster to the lowest level prospects.

And you can be certain that a majority of the discussions will be about the Orioles' pitching and the best way to improve the Major League staff for 2009. The Orioles used 26 different pitchers and 13 different starters this season.

First to be competitive and then to contend, the Orioles need to improve their play within the division.

The Orioles went a division-worst 22-50 against the AL East and were the only team to have a losing record within the division. Here are the head to head division records of the AL East teams this season:

Tampa Bay: 43-29
New York: 40-32
Boston: 38-34
Toronto: 37-35
Baltimore: 22-50

The disparity in the division records is in large part due to a disparity in team pitching overall and starting pitching specifically. The Orioles not only had the highest ERA in each category within the division, they also ranked at the bottom of the American League.

Overall Team ERA:
Toronto: 3.49 (1st)
Tampa Bay: 3.82 (2nd)
Boston: 4.01 (4th)
New York: 4.28 (8th)
Baltimore: 5.13 (13th)

The ERAs of the starting pitching within the division tell a similar story. In fact, the top three starting staff ERAs in the American League reside in the AL East:

Starting Pitching ERA
Toronto: 3.49 (1st)
Tampa Bay: 3.95 (2nd)
Boston: 4.02 (3rd)
New York: 4.58 (9th)
Baltimore: 5.51 (13th)

MacPhail is open to any avenue that improves the quality and depth of the Orioles' pitching.

"Getting a starting pitcher to pair with Jeremy Guthrie to bring order to our rotation is a priority," MacPhail said. "We have too many openings and too much is unsettled. You'd like to have four solid candidates and leave the 5th spot open for your kids to fight over," he added.

And so MacPhail will look at possible free agents, pitchers who will be available in trades and also scour the waiver wire to try to find another gem like Guthrie.

Starting pitching is the lifeblood of a Major League staff. Starters should pitch the majority of the innings and record most of the decisions. In Both wins and innings pitched by starters, the O's again trail their division rivals:

Wins by Starters
Toronto: 71
Boston: 71
Tampa Bay: 66
New York: 59
Baltimore: 47*
*(Only Seattle, with 36 wins, had fewer from a starter)

Innings Pitched by Starters
Toronto: 1021.2
Tampa Bay: 973.1
Boston: 966.2
New York: 898.1
Baltimore: 882.0*
*(Only Texas starters, with 869.1, pitched fewer innings than the O's)

MacPhail began adding to the Orioles' pitching depth last offseason. Of the 10 players the O's received in the trades for Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard, seven were pitchers. Then in June, the O's made left-handed pitcher Brian Matusz of the University of San Diego their #1 overall draft pick.

The ideal situation is to have credible prospects at each Minor League level to be brought to the big leagues, not only when needed but also when they are ready to succeed.

Of the two AL East teams that made the playoffs this season, both Tampa Bay and Boston had starting depth. All five of the Rays' starting rotation had at least 10 wins, and Boston had four starters win at least 10 games. The Orioles had just one pitcher (Guthrie) win 10 games.

MacPhail will look into every available pitcher as he looks for an upgrading of arms, as the shaping of the 2009 Orioles begins now, in a conference room in Sarasota, Florida.