The Baltimore Orioles weren’t making headlines for the pitching staff in 2016, but that’s not to say it was a disaster. There were bright spots, as Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman put together respectable seasons, but outside of them the Orioles’ rotation left much to be desired.
Gausman pitched to a record of 9-12 with a 3.61 ERA and a 1.280 WHIP, while Tillman went 16-6 with a 3.77 ERA and 1.285 WHIP. The two put together very similar seasons, and are expected to lead the rotation once again. Beyond that is anyone’s guess, but here’s my best stab at predicting the Orioles’ rotation for the 2017 season.
- Chris Tillman: Tillman isn’t what you would call an ace, but he’s been Buck Showalter’s guy the last three seasons. He was named the Opening Day starter for the third consecutive year in 2016, and I expect him to take the mound to start the season once again in 2017. Tillman went on to win 16 games in 2016 and would’ve had a chance for more had it not been for a DL stint late in the season. I don’t expect the 28-year-old to win 16 games again, but he’ll definitely be Buck’s go-to guy, at least to start the season.
- Kevin Gausman: The 26-year-old started the season on the disabled list in 2016 and was slow to find the rhythm, but after the All-Star break Gausman pitched like an ace. From late August to early September, Gausman put together an impressive run, with a 21 ⅓ scoreless innings streak over four starts. His second half resurgence brought his ERA from 4.11 on August 18th to 3.61 on October 2nd. Gausman threw 179.2 innings in 2016, by far the most of his career, and if can stay healthy for a full season, Gausman may emerge as the ace of the Baltimore Orioles. Until then, he’ll pitch behind Tillman at number two in the rotation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the roles are reversed at some point in the season.
- Dylan Bundy: This is where the rotation begins to get questionable. Out of everyone with at least ten starts under their belt in 2016, only one guy had an ERA below 5.25. That one guy was Dylan Bundy. While only 14 of his 36 appearances were starts, Bundy showed that he still has the tools that the Orioles saw when they took him fourth overall in the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft. Bundy was inserted into the rotation after the All-Star break, where he would show flashes of brilliancy. On July 27th, he took a perfect game into the sixth inning and followed it up by throwing seven innings of one-hit ball in his very next start. Bundy has been said to be a failed prospect by some, but 2017 could be the year he entrenches his name into the starting rotation.
- Jason Hammel: I’m reaching here for sure, as Hammel hasn’t even signed with a team yet, but I think the Orioles will swoop up top pitcher left on the market. Hammel, a one-time Oriole, put together a solid season for the World Champion Cubs in 2016. He pitched to a 15-10 record with a 3.83 ERA and a 1.206 WHIP. Solid numbers for sure, but his season flew under the radar, for the most part, pitching in the shadow of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Jake Arrieta, leaving Hammel still homeless. The Orioles just signed the pricey Mark Trumbo, but adding Hammel to their rotation would certainly be a boost. He would provide close to 170 quality innings, and act as a veteran presence in the dugout, something the Orioles could benefit greatly from. It makes too much sense for the Orioles not to pull the trigger on Hammel, and I see them signing him before the offseason is over.
- Ubaldo Jimenez: The greatness that was Ubaldo Jimenez in Colorado is long gone, and he’s lucky to still have a job at this point. His 2016 season was disastrous by anyone’s standards, and sticking around for 25 starts was a feat in itself. His season, along with his team’s, ended after he gave up three straight hits in the 11th inning of the Wild Card game, the last of which was the memorable walk-off homer by Edwin Encarnacion. I could go on and on about just how bad Jimenez’s 2016 was, but that’s not why I’m here. There were signs of hope for Ubaldo towards the end of the season, after going 3-2 with a 2.45 ERA in seven starts since rejoining the rotation in late August. Hopefully, he can forget his last appearance of the season and ride the momentum of his last seven starts into next season when he slots in the last spot in the rotation.
The rotation clearly isn’t the Baltimore Orioles’ strong point, but if their guys can get the ball to their bullpen, namely Zach Britton, they should be able to compete in the American League East once again. The Orioles have a pitching staff full of guys that could start in a pinch such as Wade Miley, Mike Wright, and Tyler Wilson, but when Opening Day rolls around, I believe these are the five guys that make up Showalter’s starting rotation.