Bricks from the Warehouse

March 20
Roster musings 2.0: The Pitching Staff

As in recent years, the Orioles intend to carry twelve pitchers this year. Why? In our opinion, managment laziness. It's hard to manage a twelve man staff well -- but when a manager looks at a bullpen and sees an extra person, it seems so much easier. He doesn't have to worry about resting pitchers as much. He can maneuver for more lefty-lefty matchups without having to worry about running out of pitchers. But we digress. A twelve man pitching staff means that there are decisions to be made, and we wanted to talk about them.

That's nine pitchers guaranteed jobs, though Mills will begin the year on the disabled list (courtesy of a surgery last September from which he hasn't fully recovered; he hasn't even begun throwing yet), and Chuck McElroy's role hasn't been fully determined yet, though our suspicion is that he ends up as a starter. Obviously, that means three roster slots are left for pitchers to fight over.

Josh Towers, Leslie Brea, John Parrish, Jay Spurgeon? With Luis Rivera out for the year with an injury, all four of these guys were expected -- at least by extreme optimists -- to compete for the two openings in the starting rotation. Guess how many innings they got before they were demoted. 11.1, 4.1, 6.1, and 8, respectively. Now, none of them pitched well (ERAs ranging from 5.56-9.95), but with less than 12 innings, who really cares? All it demonstrates is that the Orioles had no intention of giving them starting jobs. It was predetermined; the Orioles were just looking for an excuse to justify their decision. If the team really cared, they'd have given these pitchers a longer look.

So what's left? Well, competing for those last two starting jobs are Jason Johnson, Chuck McElroy, and Willis Roberts. Johnson, of course, is the same pitcher who has been in Baltimore the last two years, who has shown flashes in AAA but has always flopped in the majors. But he's pitching well in spring training this year, so he will probably win the job. Chuck McElroy is the career reliever who had two successful starts last September. He's definitely on the team; the only question is whether he ends up in the rotation or bullpen. That will probably be determined not by how he pitches, but by how Willis Roberts pitches. If Roberts makes the team, McElroy will end up in the bullpen.

Who is Willis Roberts? A 26-year old journeyman minor league free agent who has never succeeded at the AAA level. He has a pathetic career 5.65 ERA in AAA. He has a pathetic AAA 146-127 K-BB ratio. He has a pathetic career AAA K rate of 146 in 270 innings. Most teams would consider it an excuse to release him. His last team, the Tigers, let him go. But the Orioles? They've decided he's worthy of a major league job, suddenly. No, we can't fathom why, except that Syd Thrift is so in love with himself that he doesn't even bother to evaluate any of the decisions he makes.

If Roberts makes the team, McElroy goes to the bullpen, and minor league journeyman John Bale gets sent to the minors. If Roberts doesn't make the team, McElroy starts, and Bale gets the last lefty bullpen slot. So, essentially, Bale and Roberts are fighting for one slot on the team. Bale is pitching badly (5.19 ERA in 8.2 innings, with 6 walks and only 5 strikeouts). Roberts is pitching better (4.00 ERA in 9 innings, with 11 K and 6 BB), but he has not yet pitched more than 3 innings in an outing this spring. That is going to make it awfully difficult to get him in shape to be a starter by Opening Day.

And then there are the other bullpen slots: the right-handed slot which is available, plus the temporary right handed slot, which is really a placekeeper for Alan Mills. The fight there is between Calvin Maduro, Jorge Julio, and Chad Paronto. Paronto comes from the Oriole farm system. Maduro comes from the farm system, by a circuitous route through Philadelphia, where the Orioles traded him five years ago. So who seems to be getting all the hype? Jorge Julio, who the Orioles picked up in trade for Ryan Minor. Now, as you might suspect, if the Expos were willing to give him up for Minor, he can't have much value. He's been knocked around A ball really badly -- a 5.90 ERA there last year, his third at the A level -- and he has never pitched above A ball. But he throws hard and had a good offseason in winter ball, so the Orioles are chortling over the "find." All three are having good springs, so the decision probably won't be made until the Orioles have seen them all some more. Our guess: Maduro is the oldest choice, and Julio is silliest one, so they'll probably get the call.

So, for people who really expected to see young pitching this year, sorry. T'ain't gonna happen. No fresh new young faces. Maybe one or two in the back of the bullpen, but not a single starter. (No, Jason Johnson doesn't count, even if we include him as a "new face" since he's not an established starter; he's already 27 years old.) The Orioles actually are taking a step backwards here; last year John Parrish and Jay Spurgeon got 12 starts between them, albeit out of desperation, but this year, they've both been banished to AAA, supposedly to "gain experience." Same old song.

© 2001 The Orioles Warehouse
Offer limited to the continental U.S.
Last Updated: March 20, 2001