Last season, the Orioles’ opening day starting rotation made 112 of the team’s 162 starts. That means 30 percent of the Orioles starts came from pitchers not originally in the O’s rotation. In fact, 14 pitchers made starts for the Orioles in 2013. Five pitchers made 10 starts or less, four made just one start. Scott Feldman, who was acquired at the trade deadline, made 10 more starts with the Orioles than Jake Arrieta, the team’s No. 4 starter at the beginning of the season.
All these numbers are just my way of showing you that the starting five we’ve seen the first 14 games of the season won’t be the same five we see in September. It just doesn’t happen. There will unfortunately be injuries or bad performances that will lead to some changes. Every team undergoes those difficulties over the long season.
When changes are made, the Orioles’ top candidate very well be Zach Britton, who threw three more stellar innings on Wednesday afternoon against the Rays. To date, Britton has appeared in six games, throwing 11 1/3 innings, scattering four hits and surrendering no runs. Opponents are batting just .111 off him on the young season. No Orioles reliever has thrown more innings than Britton this season and the lefty is one of three bullpen arms that have not surrendered an earned run this season (Evan Meek and Darren O’Day are the others). Needless to say, he’s been incredibly valuable to Buck Showalter in his current role.
In 2013, Britton was one of those 14 pitchers making starts in the Orioles rotation. He made seven of them. Over 36 1/3 innings pitched, Britton posted a 5.45 ERA, 1.761 WHIP and .318 batting average against as a starter.
He appears to be a different guy now though, inducing grounders 86.2 percent of the time a ball is put in play. That’s a 28.2 percent increase from last season. So is Britton a different guy this year? Is his stuff ready for the starting five? It’s certainly worked over his first six appearances this year.
According to BrooksBaseball.net’s PITCHf/x data, Britton has thrown only two different types of pitches this season, a sinker and a slider. He’s throwing that sinker more than 90 percent of the time, relying on the slider the other 10 percent. As a starter last season, we saw Britton work in a four-seam fastball, changeup and curveball into his repertoire of pitches. He threw to sinker the most, but only 37.67 percent of the time. Britton would likely have to work in those other pitches if he were to be moved to the rotation.
Additionally, we’ve also seen a spike in his velocity on the sinker out of the ‘pen. This season, his average velocity on the pitch is 95.38 mph, while last season it was clocked at an average speed of 92.47 mph. This revelation is nothing new. Orioles fans may remember a similar change when Tommy Hunter was moved from the rotation to the bullpen. It’s a pretty common occurrence around baseball, as relievers don’t have to hold back and pace themselves as much as starters.
Like most pitchers, Britton has seen his numbers dip his second and third times through an opponent’s starting lineup. His ratio of strikeouts to walks goes from 2.10 to 1.67 and 0.85 each time through the order. Though it’s possible that could change with his new and improved sinker.
It’s tough to say when the Orioles will need to go to a sixth starter for the first time this season, and I’m sure that when they have they have to make that decision, Britton’s name will be mentioned. Right now, he’s such an important and dominant arm out of the Orioles bullpen that I personally feel he’s a better fit in relief.
Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zamwi. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.