Last year the Orioles had one veteran pitcher in their rotation for most of the year, a guy to try and give them some quality innings while also helping the numerous young pitchers around him on the staff. That was Jordan Lyles, who was very well respected in the Baltimore clubhouse.
This year they feel they have two pitchers like that in lefty Cole Irvin, acquired in a trade from Oakland and right-hander Kyle Gibson, signed to a one-year deal in free agency.
Irvin went 9-13 with a career-best 3.98 ERA last year over 181 innings. Had he remained with Oakland he may have been the A’s Opening Day starter. He recorded strong numbers in WHIP (1.160) and walk rate (1.8) while making 15 quality starts. He produced 1.4 fWAR to rank second among A’s pitchers.
He does that with a lower velocity fastball, one that averages 90.7 mph on his four-seamer. But he is pitch efficient and his 14.4 pitches per inning were the second fewest in the American League, while his 1.79 BB/9 ratio ranked sixth-best among qualified AL hurlers.
When I interviewed O’s assistant pitching coach Darren Holmes Thursday on WBAL Radio, the Hot Stove show, he said his early impressions of Irvin were very good.
“Super, super, good guy. Great team guy,” he said. “Me and Holty (Chris Holt, pitching coach/direction of pitching) have spent a lot of time with him since he’s been here. The best thing about him – he’s not going to wow you with velo. What he does well is he’s a location guy and he can put the ball anywhere he wants to and mixes speeds very well. Everything is coming out of the same arm slot and he’s very deceptive and that is what makes him as good as he is.”
And even though he is coming off his best ERA year, the O’s coaches in Irvin have found a pitcher that is very receptive to any tweaks, suggestions or input they may have.
“He is. We have a really good system here that the analytics department has given us. Some great opportunities to dig in and to get some information that maybe other teams don’t have, that we have access to. We use that a lot. We’ll put that system in and look at Irvin and all the guys. See if there is something in what the analytics say that can help them get better.
“He’s doing really well, and we really haven’t made any big changes with him. His delivery is solid. He does what he does. You know, he is not the big power pitcher, but he is a guy that knows how to get outs. We are trusting that right now. Once he pitches in a few games we may have more time to assess it, getting our eyes on him in game situations.”
Gibson went 10-8 with a 5.05 ERA last year with the Phillies and he pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings in the playoffs for Philadelphia.
An All-Star in 2021, Gibson had a poor end to his 2022 season. But in a 55-start stretch from the beginning of the 2021 season through August of last year, he pitched to a 3.87 ERA with 33 quality starts and a 1.21 WHIP.
When they signed Gibson, O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said they saw some things with Gibson that projected well into the future. One of those may have been his strikeout rate which took a big leap up for the better late in his season in 2022, even as his results were not great.
Maybe the Orioles saw something there to work with and build on?
“Yeah, I think so, I know so,” Holmes said on WBAL. “When you see a guy that ticks up (with velocity) like he is going into his 10th year (it's helpful). Looking at him throwing some sides, he looks solid. He is pounding the zone. His slider is really good, curveball is good. His changeup is absolutely filthy. He’s got some great weapons.
“And he’s a really good teammate. He’s taken in a lot of our younger guys, he spends a lot of time with them, even the minor league guys. He’s been a really big part of what we are trying to do. I was super happy we got him. We spent a lot of time on the phone with him after we added him and basically initially built the relationship via Zoom until we all got down here. It’s been really good.”