The pressure could be on at the front of the Orioles rotation

It starts with the starting pitchers. That we know. Starting pitching will have a lot to say about how the Orioles and just about every other team fares in 2017. The pitchers may change from year to year, but that adage does not.

Some readers have expressed concerns that the Orioles will be in trouble counting on Ubaldo Jiménez and Wade Miley to produce solid results at the back end of the five-man rotation.

Jiménez had an ERA of 5.44 last year, but his career mark of 4.13 is much more respectable and his 4.11 ERA in 2015 was league average. The Orioles would take that.

Miley produced an ERA of 5.37 last year (6.17 in 11 starts for Baltimore), but his career mark is 4.18. From 2012-15, Miley’s ERA was 3.92 and he averaged 199 innings per season. The Orioles would absolutely take that.

Gausman-Throws-White-Sidebar.jpgWhile there is concern about what that veteran duo will produce this year, the real pressure may be on the front three of Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy.

Tillman went 16-6 with a 3.77 ERA in 2016, while Gausman was 9-12 with a 3.61 ERA and Bundy went 10-6 with a 4.02 ERA. In games started by this trio in 2016, the Orioles were 44-30 (.595) and in games started by Miley and Jiménez, they went 17-19 (.472).

If those five produce very similar numbers in team win percentage this year, that would add up to 89 wins if Tillman, Gausman and Bundy started 60 percent of the team’s games and Jiménez and Miley the other 40 percent. But of course, those five will likely not account for all 162 starts, nor produce the exact team winning percentages as last year.

But the bigger point here is that while the team is counting on Jiménez and Miley for a certain level of performance, the real pressure is on the front three. They will be called on to carry the load and yes, produce another team winning percentage in the range of .595 in their collective starts, which would go a long way toward the Orioles contending for another American League East crown.

The Orioles ranked fifth in the AL East and 13th in the AL in starting pitcher ERA last year at 4.72. That was behind Toronto (the AL leader) at 3.62, followed by Boston at 4.22, Tampa Bay at 4.26 and New York at 4.44.

The Orioles rotation improved by a large margin in the second half. At the All-Star break, the starters had an ERA of 5.15. In the second half last year, that number was 4.24. Gausman’s ERA after the All-Star break was 3.10 and it was 2.45 in six August starts. Bundy’s ERA was 2.76 in his first six starts.

Over a full year, a rotation pitching to an ERA of 4.24 would have ranked fourth in the American League in 2016. The Orioles’ second-half overall team ERA was a respectable 4.08. That is good news, but the bad news is that ranked last in the division, as all five AL East teams turned it up a notch in the pitching department in the second half.

AL East clubs’ second-half team ERA:
3.50 - Boston
3.75 - Tampa Bay
3.82 - New York
3.84 - Toronto
4.08 - Baltimore

In fact, the Red Sox, Rays and Yankees ranked 1-2-3 in the American League in second-half team ERA with the Blue Jays fifth and the Orioles eighth. Yep, pretty tough division.

Per, here are the projected rotations for the rest of the AL East:

Boston - Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Drew Pomeranz, Steven Wright
New York - Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Luis Severino, Chad Green
Tampa Bay - Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi, Blake Snell, Matt Andriese
Toronto - Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada, Francisco Liriano

The Orioles have one of the best bullpens in the majors and that will factor in pretty heavily again as well. But a rotation that could put up numbers similar to the second half of 2016 would provide some major help to that bullpen.

The Orioles have reasons to feel good about their top three of Tillman, Gausman and Bundy. They hope Jiménez and Miley can pitch more to their career records in 2017. But it seems in this equation, the pressure is much more on the first three over the last two pitchers.

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