Baltimore Orioles 2012 pitching preview

Baltimore Orioles pitcher Brian Matusz didn't deliver up to the hype surrounding him in 2011. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

The Orioles were the worst pitching team in the major leagues last year with a team ERA of 4.89. The supposed “year of the pitcher” was just a rumor in Baltimore. The team’s stable of young starters struggled across the board, which opened opportunities for veterans and journeyman to fill out the rotation. Below is a summary of the team’s starting rotation options for next season.

Jeremy Guthrie – The de facto staff ace would likely be the number three or four starter on a contending team. Guthrie led the American League with 17 losses for the second time in three seasons. Despite the dismal won-loss record, Guthrie is a solid pitcher who can be counted on for 200 innings. At this time, Guthrie is the only lock for the team’s 2012 rotation. He could be traded during the offseason, but it’s more likely Baltimore writes in his 200 innings and moves on to stabilizing the other four rotation spots.

Zach Britton – The 23-year-old lefty had a roller coaster rookie season for the O’s. On the bright side, he won 11 games and made 28 starts. Unfortunately, he averaged just over five innings per start and posted a 1.45 WHIP.

Tommy Hunter – Hunter struggled for the Orioles after being acquired from the Texas Rangers. In 12 starts, he posted a 5.06 ERA and allowed 88 hits in 69.1 innings.

Alfredo Simon – After serving as closer for much of the 2010 season, Simon was moved to the rotation in 2011. The move came out of necessity as Jake Arrieta was lost to injury and Brian Matusz was chronically ineffective. Simon was barely adequate as he routinely pitched deep in the count and often exited before the sixth inning.

Jake Arrieta – Despite winning 10 games in 22 starts, Arrieta struggled for much of 2011. In those 22 starts, he pitched just 119.1 innings before being shut down with a bone spur in his right elbow. Arrieta should be ready for spring training with a chance to crack the rotation.

Brian Matusz – The once-promising left-hander had a historically disastrous 2011 season. He was placed on the DL prior to his first start of the year and everything went downhill from there. Matusz was just 1-9 with a 10.69 ERA in 12 starts. He allowed a whopping 81 hits and 18 home runs in 49.2 innings. It’s anyone’s guess what he’ll provide in 2012, though a trip back to triple-A seems to be in store.

The Orioles starting rotation candidates range from once-promising to lackluster. The team has no hope of contending until major advances are made in the rotation. Former GM Andy MacPhail’s mantra of “grow the arms, buy the bats” should have delivered a few reliable arms by now. Sadly, the Orioles young pitchers are massive question marks entering 2012. I didn’t even bother mentioning Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen.

The Orioles are unlikely to bid for any major free agents, but I assume new GM Dan Duquette will add at least one veteran starter to provide additional competition and help stabilize the haphazard rotation. A mid-rotation starter like Edwin Jackson would help, but his price could skyrocket in a weak year for free-agent pitchers. Duquette may have to buy low on some six-year, minor-league free agents and injury risks, and then hope to catch lightning in a bottle.

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