In this space earlier this offseason, the fact that the Orioles don’t have to delve into a terrible free-agent starting pitching market was treated like a good thing. And this specific offseason, it is. There’s not a lot to like out there.
But with six returning starters set to come back next year — Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Wade Miley, Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo — it’s fair to wonder whether the return of that crew is going to be enough to carry the Orioles deep into the playoffs.
FanGraphs’ 2017 projections are already up and available, and they seem to share that sentiment. Those six starting pitchers are projected for 10.2 wins above replacement, the second-worst projected rotation WAR in the American League and fifth-worst in the league.
Gausman leads the way with a projected 3.1 WAR, and surprisingly enough, Miley’s 1.7 WAR projection edges out Tillman’s 1.4. Next comes Bundy at 1.2, with Gallardo and Jimenez each at 0.9.
The possibility of Gausman, who was lights out for the last two months of 2016, and Bundy, who will be adding back his cut fastball, outperforming those projections is real. So is the contract-year push for the other four pitchers, all of whom will be in the last year on their current deals with the Orioles.
Executive vice president Dan Duquette has said this offseason that the fact that all four of those pitchers are in their free-agent years could boost the results, which is somehow both cynical and optimistic at the same time.
However you slice it, the Orioles’ company near the bottom of that ranking isn’t exactly teams you’d consider their peers, and that’s a cause for concern.
Even if you reject the fundamental math behind such projections, there’s no denying the rotation is a weak spot for the club.
Just how weak remains to be seen, and this one method of looking at it isn’t promising.