Last week, I took my best educated guess at the Opening Day lineup for the Baltimore Orioles.
This week, I'm going to analyze what I feel to be the projected starting rotation for the team when they break camp and head to Tampa Bay for the 2013 season opener.
For the first time in a long time, the Orioles have much of their rotation seemingly set this spring, and an overwhelming amount of qualified candidates competing for the final spot in the rotation as well as trying to make a big enough impression to force their way into the team's plans. That starting pitching depth would have been unheard of from this team during the dreadful 14 consecutive losing seasons.
Guys like Zach Britton, Tommy Hunter and Jair Jurrjens have had good major league success but have struggled as of late, while pitchers Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz have high ceilings but have yet to take advantage of their abilities.
Then there's Steve Johnson, who in a small sample size last season put up some incredible numbers. And those are just some of the names competing for a rotation spot.
However, I believe manager Buck Showalter is comfortable with some of the guys he has in mind already, and while he'll certainly consider pitchers who are making a good impression in camp, will opt to go with a fairly familiar top four in the rotation.
Here's how I think the rotation will look when the O's break camp.
1. Jason Hammel: 8-6, 3.43 ERA in 118.0 innings over 20 starts
Jason Hammel stepped up in a big way when he came over from the Colorado Rockies before the 2012 season. He wasn't an ace, but he took the reins at the front of the rotation much like Jeremy Guthrie did during his time in Baltimore. Hammel also pitched very well in the playoffs against the New York Yankees, helping give the Birds a fighting chance in five games against the Bronx Bombers.
Unfortunately, injuries derailed some of Hammel's season, but the O's were able to survive the time without him because of that good rotation depth they finally have.
Showalter will slot Hammel at the front of the rotation because of his veteran status and solid campaign in 2012. Hammel will likely put up similar numbers to what he had in 2012, and don't be surprised if he's unseated as staff ace by someone like Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman or Johnson. Not because of a poor showing by Hammel, but because of a strong showing from a young pitcher.
2. Wei-Yin Chen: 12-11, 4.02 ERA in 192.2 innings over 32 starts
The rookie from Japan made the most starts of any pitcher on the roster for the O's in 2012. However, Wei-Yin Chen fizzled out a bit towards the end of the year, likely due to fatigue, as starters in professional Japanese baseball pitch only once a week.
A strong sophomore season is to be expected from Chen, now that he knows the league a little better and also can prepare better for the grind of the season. Set to be the only lefty in the rotation, he's still fairly young and has plenty of room for improvement. An ERA under 4.00 with 10-15 wins certainly isn't out of the question.
3. Chris Tillman: 9-3, 2.93 ERA in 86 innings over 15 starts
Right-hander Chris Tillman emerged as the Orioles' best pitcher down the stretch last season, putting up impressive numbers across the board for a guy who has always had a high ceiling and dominated the minors, but had trouble translating that success in big league action.
Tillman will take the third slot in the rotation because even though his numbers were arguably better than Hammel's last season, Tillman is nowhere near as experienced as Hammel—and slotting him third will help his growth by relieving some pressure from him.
That way, Tillman will pitch against many opponents' third starters, and in turn won't have to worry about being as absolutely perfect were he pitching against a team's first or second starters. The competition will be there, but the immense pressure won't be as much.
If Tillman can continue to build upon what made him successful in 2012, the rest of the league better watch out.
4. Miguel Gonzalez: 9-4, 3.25 ERA in 105.1 innings over 15 starts and 18 total games
Miguel Gonzalez came out of nowhere last season to help provide a very steady and solid force for the Orioles. He had impressive stats and helped the team win important games toward the end of the season.
The thing with Gonzalez is that the majority of the time, Showalter would pitch him anywhere from every seven to 10 days, instead of every fifth day. So if Gonzalez wishes to succeed in the starting rotation with the team, he's going to have to get used to a grind just like Chen has.
I wouldn't expect as good an ERA from Gonzalez in 2013, or as strong a win-loss ratio, but maintaining a strong 4.00 or below ERA coupled with a record a few games over the .500 mark isn't asking too much from the righty. He's going to prove to be one of the best back-of-the-rotation starters in the bigs.
5. Jair Jurrjens: 3-4, 6.89 ERA in 48.1 innings over 10 starts and 11 total games
At one time, Jair Jurrjens was one of the best pitchers on the Atlanta Braves staff and one of the better pitchers in the game of baseball. He was an up-and-coming No. 1 or No. 2 starter with great stuff and strong promise.
After a few good years, though, Jurrjens was bitten by the injury bug midway through 2011, and hasn't been able to regain his form since.
If Jurrjens can prove healthy and capable this spring, I think he'll definitely break camp in the O's rotation. His low-risk, high-reward contract and promising ability are enough to convince any manager to give him another shot, and the O's have been a team coveting Jurrjens for years. They're going to want to see what he can do and try to catch lightning in a bottle.
There you have it guys! That's how I think the rotation is going to shake out this spring heading into the regular season. Just as with the last prediction article, questions, comments and different ideas to debate would be welcomed in the comments section!