Stability of Starting Rotation Key to O’s Recent Success

On Thursday morning, Mike Petrielo of MLB.com posted a tremendous analysis of what is different in Birdland this season.

(See: How the Orioles turned their franchise around.)

Petrielo concluded that there are four main reasons for the turnaround this season, including an improved starting rotation…an outstanding bullpen…better infield defense…and the emergence of Adley Rutschman as a true star player.

I agree with all of Petrielo’s points – and it’s obviously a piece that’s worth reading – but one in particular made me want to dig just a little deeper:

The starting rotation.

In Petrielo’s analysis, he accurately points out that the starting rotation has gone from a 5.99 ERA in 2021 to a 4.61 ERA so far in 2022.

Bruce Zimmerman delivers a pitch during the O’s 2022 home opener vs. Milwaukee on April 11, 2022.

And he makes the point that the biggest difference in the underlying numbers is that they are allowing fewer home runs, which is thanks in no small part to the new dimensions at Oriole Park.

Drawing comparisons between the Orioles of 2021 and the much-improved 2022 version of the team is only natural. But as we all know, the early-season 2022 Orioles were much different than the more recent 2022 Orioles.

(Many will argue – and I will not try and contradict them – that the promotion of Adley Rutschman to the major leagues was a major catalyst in the turnaround within this season.)

But back to the starting rotation. Yes, this year’s rotation is significantly better than last year’s. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that the rotation over the last 20 games is significantly more stable than the rotation was in the season’s first 20 games.

The Orioles’ rotation over the first 20 games of the 2022 season had an ERA of 4.21…a whip of 1.41 and 62-33 strikeouts-to-walks over 83 1/3 innings pitched.

Those numbers aren’t bad. In fact, they’re significantly better than the 2021 season…and even slightly ahead of the 2022 season overall.

But recently – in late July through mid-August – the starting pitching has been even better.

Over the most recent 20 games – ending with the 8/19 loss to the Cubs – the starting rotation has posted a 3.71 ERA…a WHIP of 1.23 and 96-28 strikeouts-to-walks over 106 2/3 innings.

Free agent acquisition Jordan Lyles has been the team’s most consistent starting pitcher in 2022.

2022 Orioles Rotation Statistics

First 20 games (4/8 – 4/29): 4.21 ERA…1.41 WHIP…62 K’s…33 BB’s…83 1/3 innings pitched

Last 20 games (7/28 – 8/18): 3.71 ERA…1.23 WHIP…96 K’S…28 BB’S…106 2/3 innings pitched.

As Mike Petrielo and others have pointed out, the team’s lights-out bullpen has also played a significant role in the improved record so far in 2022.

But I suspect that one reason the bullpen has been able to perform better in 2022 – and particularly lately – is that there’s more stability in the rotation. And that means less chaos in the bullpen on a nightly basis.

In the first 20 games of this season – thanks to injury and ineffectiveness – there were many times when it felt as though manager Brandon Hyde wasn’t sure who his starters would be for any three-game series.

Here’s a look at the seven starters who started those first 20 games:

Jordan Lyles – 4 starts

Bruce Zimmerman – 4 starts

Tyler Wells – 4 starts

Spenser Watkins – 3 starts

John Means – 2 starts

Chris Ellis – 2 starts

Klye Bradish – 1 start

Four of those seven pitchers didn’t make any starts in the most recent 20 games (Means, Ellis, Wells and Zimmerman.) And it looks as though Tyler Wells may not make any more for quite a while.

But over the most recent 20 games, five pitchers have made 19 of the starts:

Austin Voth – 4 starts

Dean Kremer – 4 starts

Kyle Bradish – 4 starts

Jordan Lyles – 4 starts

Spenser Watkins – 3 starts

D.L. Hall – 1 start

The recent promotion of Hall for a spot start shows that the Orioles are still willing to juggle the rotation from time to time.

But it’s remarkable just how consistent the 5-man rotation has been over the last four turns. We haven’t seen much use of the “opener” this season or many bullpen games in general.

In my mind, that consistency goes hand-in-hand with the improved performance of the bullpen. And that, in turn, helps keep the team in more ballgames and leads to the potential for some of the late-inning comebacks we’ve enjoyed this season.

It’s a relatively minor point, but I find it interesting that the O’s have stumbled into some stability with their rotation over the last month.

Obviously the addition of Grayson Rodriguez and D.L. Hall next season – along with the eventual return of John Means and a possible offseason acquisition or two – will mean that next year’s rotation looks decidedly different.

But while we’re enjoying the ride here in 2022 it’s worth noting that the starting pitching has not only been very good lately…it’s also been a surprisingly stable rotation.

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