The Orioles' 2011 rotation will likely feature many familiar faces, but the results could be noticeably different if Baltimore's young starters continue adapting to the challenges of the American League East. Because of baseball's unbalanced schedule, the Orioles face four of baseball's top ten offenses on a regular basis. Not coincidentally, Orioles starters rank 26th in the majors in ERA, 25th in innings, 24th in quality starts, 29th in strikeout to walk ratio and 29th in FIP.
For some teams, those results would call for an offseason overhaul, but the Orioles have a young rotation that's capable of improving considerably. Jeremy Guthrie, the team's most established starter, has a 4.10 ERA in four seasons in the AL East, so the Orioles have pencilled him in atop next year's rotation.
Current starters Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta and Brad Bergesen will all be in the mix for starting jobs, but Kevin Millwood hits free agency and could sign in a more pitcher-friendly environment. Even if Millwood leaves, the O's will have a number of internal options, as president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail points out.
With a month to go in the 2010 campaign and an entire offseason ahead of us, it's still early to predict starters with much certainty, but Matusz will presumably start for Baltimore in 2011. He entered the 2010 season as the fifth-best prospect in the game, according to Baseball America, but has struggled at times. Like AL East lefties Jon Lester, David Price and Ricky Romero, Matusz has taken time to adjust from the minors to baseball's toughest division, but if last month is any indication, he has made some adjustments. Though Matusz's season ERA sits at 4.72, he pitched to a 2.43 mark in August with a 26/7 K/BB ratio.
Jake Arrieta has a 5.10 ERA in 15 major league starts this season with more walks than strikeouts. Those numbers aren’t anything special, but the righty placed fourth on Baseball America’s preseason list of top Orioles prospects because of his “pure stuff” and potential to eat innings. The 24-year-old posted a 1.85 ERA in Triple A before the O’s called him up, so he figures to improve in 2011 as long as he can sort out his command issues.
Brad Bergesen, also in the team's current rotation, has an ERA of 5.55 with 4.2 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. He doesn't turn 25 until later this month, so he's still young, even if he doesn't have the upside of some Orioles prospects.
Tillman and Britton are among Baltimore's most promising young arms. Tillman, 22, has a 3.34 ERA with 7.0 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 in Triple A this season, though he has scuffled at the major league level so far. Britton, a 22-year-old left-hander, has a 2.69 ERA with 7.0 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in the upper minors. Both will have the chance to break into Baltimore's rotation next spring.
The Orioles acquired Vanden Hurk for Will Ohman earlier in the summer and they consider the 25-year-old right-hander a potential starter. He has a 4.25 ERA with 7.1 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 118.2 Triple A innings this year. Vanden Hurk, Tillman, Britton and current long reliever Troy Patton are not in the rotation now, but they give the Orioles a number of options. Still, if Millwood signs elsewhere, the O's may consider other veteran starters to complement their many young rotation candidates.
"If you have the opportunity to add another veteran innings guy, you might look at that as well," MacPhail said.
Given the group's relative inexperience and the Orioles' division, it would be unfair to expect a San Diego or Oakland-esque breakout from this group right away. Pitchers like Tillman, Britton, Arrieta and Matusz will all be learning on the go, so they'll likely struggle at times. But those arms are promising, so the O's could have a young and effective rotation within a couple seasons.