In recent seasons, getting starting pitchers to go deep into games has been an issue for the Orioles. But it has been for most teams in the American League as well. Some facts bear that out.
In 2012, there were seven AL teams that saw their rotation average at least six innings per start. Last year, there were just two. In 2013, there were 19 AL pitchers throwing 200 innings or more and last year there were just nine.
Fewer innings by the starters, fewer workhorses, fewer complete games, and more innings and more of a load on the bullpens around the game.
Is this trend because teams want to rely on the bullpen arms more these days? It could be. It seems like every team now has a few flamethrowers in the ‘pen coming into a game and firing mid-90s or better heat. If a manager sees his starter tiring, why not turn to someone that can come in fresh and blow hitters away if you have that available?
Here are the AL team leaders in starter innings last season and the average innings per game by their starters:
995 innings - Toronto (average 6.14 per game)
977 innings - Chicago (average 6.03 per game)
969 innings - Boston (average 5.98 per game)
936 innings - Cleveland (average 5.78 per game)
935 innings - Seattle (average 5.77 per game)
Orioles starters combined to pitch 886 innings last year to rank 12th in the AL at 5.47 innings per game. The Orioles ranked ninth in starter innings in 2012, 11th in 2013, 10th in 2014 and 13th in 2015.
O’s starters ranked by innings per start in 2016:
5.99 - Kevin Gausman (30 starts)
5.73 - Chris Tillman (30 starts)
5.62 - Tyler Wilson (13 starts)
5.50 - Vance Worley (4 starts)
5.31 - Mike Wright (12 starts)
5.28 - Ubaldo Jimenez (25 starts)
5.13 - Yovani Gallardo (23 starts)
5.12 - Dylan Bundy (12 starts)
4.90 - Wade Miley (11 starts)
Miley averaged 5.89 innings per start when he was with Seattle. But even by today’s standards, the Orioles didn’t get enough starter innings. For instance, Cleveland averaged 5.78 innings per start and that was good enough for fourth in the AL. But the Orioles had just one pitcher that did even that.
If you want to look at how drastically the game has changed, we could go back to the days of a four-man rotation when the Orioles produced four 20-game winners in 1971. That year, Mike Cuellar averaged 7.69 innings per start, with Jim Palmer at 7.62, Pat Dobson 7.58 and Dave McNally 7.48.
In 1975, Palmer pitched 323 innings, had 25 complete games and 10 shutouts. He won the Cy Young Award going 23-11 with a 2.09 ERA and averaged 8.28 innings per start. By contrast, this year in the entire AL there were 44 complete games and the team leader in shutouts was the Angels with 12.
It seems the days of pitchers throwing innings anywhere like that are over forever. Bullpens are more important than ever. The managers turned to them early and often in the postseason that just concluded.
What can the Orioles do to get more innings from their starters in 2017?
Pitching between Single-A Delmarva and Double-A Bowie, Liranzo went 1-1 with a 1.87 ERA over 27 games and 53 innings, allowing just a .116 average against with a 0.89 WHIP. Gunkel went 8-14 with a 4.02 ERA in 28 starts between Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. Most of those starts were with Norfolk. In 24 Tides starts, he was 8-11 with a 4.08 ERA.
It was a bit of a surprise that a few others went unprotected since the Orioles had seven open 40-man roster spots, which now sits at 35. They did not add relievers Jimmy Yacabonis and Stefan Crichton that were being considered to name just two. Click here for last night’s story on Liranzo and Gunkel.