BY DANNY MAJEROWICZ, @DMajic101
With news of Chris Tillman's injury setback, O's fans across Bridland have gotten themselves in a panic over the team's starting pitching depth. Couple that with the healthy starters looking porous over the last week and we have full-fledged pandemonium before even one meaningful pitch has been thrown. Sure, losing Tillman for any length of time will hurt. He threw the second-most innings last year and led the team in that department in 2013 and 2014. And yes, the depth behind Gausman and Bundy isn't going to make any big-league hitter cower in fear. However, the season is far from a crisis. In fact, the Orioles are not that much worse off today then they would be with a healthy Tillman. Why? Because the Orioles do not need good starting pitching to make the playoffs.
Last year the O's found a way to play past the regular season despite really bad starting pitching. Out of the 15 American League clubs, the Orioles ranked in the bottom-five in ERA, FIP, strikeouts per nine innings, innings pitched, and opponent's batting average, on top of having the most batters walked per nine innings. Yet despite this they came up one poorly-managed game away from playing in the ALDS last year. The strengths of this team are the offense, bullpen, and infield defense. The formula hasn't changed much in the last five years and it's only equated to the most wins during that time frame.
Over the last five years, the Orioles' starters have only finished in the top-five in the AL in ERA once (2014, when they won the division). But even that year they were 14th in FIP and bottom five in almost every other major statistic. From 2012-through-2016 the O's ranked 13th in ERA and innings pitched, 14th in FIP, 11th in K/9 and WHIP, and last in BB/9 and HR/9. They made the playoffs in more than half of those seasons. Will losing Chris Tillman really make that much of a difference?
We all want Tillman to be this ace-type pitcher when in reality he is a decent number-two or a good number-three in a good rotation. He will have his month or two of looking like an ace but then will have a few weeks of struggling to get 15 outs. His career ERA is over 4.00 while he strikes out less than seven per nine innings. To put that in perspective, Wade Miley's career ERA is 0.05 higher than Tillman's while Miley has a higher strikeout rate while walks less batters.
In bringing back mostly the same staff from last year the Orioles can realistically hope for two things: Gausman and Bundy take a step forward to anchor the rotation and a little more consistency from Jimenez and Miley. At this, point those last two guys are what they are. They will have a couple games of brilliance and a few games where they couldn't get Double-A guys out mixed in with mostly average starts. That's perfectly fine when you have a powerful lineup and a great infield defense that is strong up the middle. If the O's can manage to turn even one or two of those bad starts into average ones they will be in better shape than last year. Having a full year of Bundy should be a massive improvement over recently departed Yovani Gallardo. Even with Tillman out for the foreseeable future, the O's rotation is no worse off than it was this time last spring.
So everyone settle down. This is the exact same story as last year and the year before and the year before that. No, the starting pitching is not good. It hasn't been. And that's just fine. This team will compete and be in the playoff picture as long as the offense, bullpen, and infield defense hold up their end of the bargain.