Projecting the starting rotation

Many things could change between now and April, but at this moment, with the current makeup of the roster, here is my projected Orioles starting rotation and order of the five:

Jeremy Guthrie
Zach Britton
Jake Arrieta
Tsuyoshi Wada
Tommy Hunter

I am certainly not counting Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Dana Eveland and/or Brad Bergesen out of the picture, but if I had to pick five right now, that is my list.

I could even see Jim Johnson still factoring into the picture, but right now the Orioles have more rotation depth than late-inning relief depth, so I see him in the pen right now.

We could also possibly see pitchers like Troy Patton, Jason Berken and Alfredo Simon getting into the battle for rotation spots, but for now I still see them in the bullpen.

By the way, it does sound like there will be a heated camp competition for spots in the starting five, perhaps with only Guthrie assured a spot heading into camp.

Here is more on my projected O’s rotation:

Guthrie: I put Guthrie atop the current rotation despite the fact his 48 losses the last three seasons lead the majors. Guthrie went 17-17 with an ERA of 3.66 his first two seasons in Baltimore but is 30-48 with an ERA of 4.39 over his past three years.

Still, he has made 33, 32 and 32 starts the last three seasons as the club’s most reliable and durable starter. Consistently poor run support has always been a factor that has hurt the right-hander.

Britton: I still see Britton as the most talented of the young pitchers. His rookie record was 11-11 with an ERA of 4.61. Without those disastrous back-to-back outings where he combined to get just three total outs in July, his ERA would have been 3.87 for his rookie season.

If anything, I think his struggles last year will only serve to push Britton to be better in 2012 and I can easily see his win total increasing and ERA decreasing starting next April.

Arrieta: This is a strong and talented pitcher that one day soon should be cranking out 200-inning seasons for the Orioles. He has some of the best pure stuff on the staff and his batting average against of .253 was among the best on the team and was the best among the starters.

He should be completely healthy after having bone spurs removed from his right elbow last August. If Arrieta can improve his command and lower his walk total, the improvement should be there for this 25-year-old right-hander.

Wada: In getting a two-year deal with an option for 2014, it seems this Japanese lefty was signed with every intention of his being in the rotation. He was impressive, going 33-13 with a 2.29 ERA the last two years.

As always, there will be questions for a player coming to the majors from Japan. How will he adapt to the U.S culture in addition to the major league schedule where starters pitch every fifth day and not on the sixth day like in Japan?

He pitched with exceptional control in Japan, but can he throw strikes at that rate in the major leagues and do it in the American League East? We are going to find out.

Hunter: He went 3-3 with a 5.06 ERA after the July 30 trade that brought him from Texas. Buck Showalter talks often in glowing terms about Hunter and praises his bulldog mentality. It seems to me he will get every chance to win a rotation spot and try to regain the form that saw him go 13-4 with an ERA of 3.73 for the 2010 Rangers.

Unlike Arrieta, Hunter pitches to very good control and walked just 10 in 69 1/3 innings with the Orioles last year. He has walked just 84 in 335 2/3 career major league innings and averaged just two walks every nine innings in his minor league career.

In 2011, Orioles’ pitching ranked last in the American League for the second time in three years with a 4.89 ERA, Baltimore starters posted a dismal 5.39 ERA and the club’s 60 quality starts were the fewest in the majors.

Another performance like that would pretty much ensure another losing season and last-place finish in baseball’s toughest division. The performance of the 2012 starting rotation will probably be the most critical factor in whether the Orioles and their fans have some fun during next year.

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