Wednesday, November 4, 2009

They'll be back, Part 1

Brian Matusz enters the 2010 season as the Orioles pitcher with the most potential.

While waiting for the Yankees to win the World Series (it's inevitable, right?) so we can get on with the offseason, I wanted to take a look at the players who will be 100% here on Opening Day.


Jeremy Guthrie had a down year in 2009 after logging solid '07 and '08 campaigns. The one thing Guthrie did do this season was go 200 IP for the first time in his career and avoiding the late-season shutdown that he'd seen in '07 and '08. It's possible that his participation in the WBC before the 2009 season messed up his clock, but that excuse shouldn't be valid after May, and Guthrie struggled for most of the season. He did, however, have some patches of well-pitched games, but overall, Guthrie took a beating in 2009, and finished with a 5.04 ERA and allowed a whopping 35 HR. Looking forward to 2010, Guthrie should come back to his former self and bit, and be a more reliable pitcher, but I don't think Guts will get back to his sub-4 ERA self. You can pencil Guthrie in for a mid-4 ERA from here on out, and that's exactly what the Orioles need at this point.

Brad Bergesen was hands down the Orioles best pitcher in 2009 (3.43 ERA) before he was injured at the end of July and missed the rest of the season. His bruised shin continues to bother him while running and may impact his delivery going forward. It's a shame that taking a ball of the shin has caused him this much pain and difficulty, because had it not been for that, I'd pick Bergesen as the Orioles best SP heading into 2010, with early estimates of Bergy being able to post an ERA around 4.00. While it's still unlikely the injury impacts Bergy in 2010, you have to begin to wonder. It's been 3 full months since he was injured and he's still not at full capacity.

Brian Matusz is without a doubt the Orioles most heralded pitching prospect. He cruised through the minors this season, and logged just a shade under 50 IP this season, earning the 22 year old a respectable 4.63 ERA. He enters the 2010 as the Orioles pitcher with the highest ceiling, but there could still be some speed bumps along the way. When it's all said and done, I do believe Matusz will be the Orioles ace with an ERA under 4.00 and around 200 strikeouts.

Chris Tillman was another big arm the Orioles promoted in 2009, but his results weren't as impressive as Bergesen and Matusz's. Instead, Tillman pitched more like the rookie he was/is instead of hitting the ground running like Bergy and Matusz did. Tillman will have his share of growing pains in 2010 but all said and done he should settle into a mid-rotation role really well with an ERA in the mid-4 range.

I guess you can say Chris Ray is still coming back from Tommy John surgery he had during the 2007 season. He missed the entire 2008 season and by the time he was back in 2009, he looked like he forgot how to pitch. His pitches lacked the movement they once had and his control was hit or miss. When he found the plate, he found the middle of it, resulting in a 7.27 ERA. Ray is down to his last try as an Oriole, but will probably be slated as a back of the bullpen pitcher in '10.

Kam Mickolio really impressed fans in his 13.2 IP, logging 14 strikeouts and a 2.63 ERA. The bad news is that he walked 7 batters in that time. Overall, Mickolio is still somewhat of an unknown, but has a high ceiling entering 2010 as one of the O's more explosive arms out of the bullpen.

Jim Johnson didn't work out well in the closer role after George Sherrill was traded, which means that the Orioles will be using a new closer in 2010. Johnson should slide back into his 8th inning role with relative ease, but even then he was not the dominant pitcher he was in 2008 in either role. Johnson, however, is still the least of the bullpen's worries, and I expect him to head in the direction of his 2008 ERA (2.23). I'd say a 3.00 ERA isn't too much to ask from JJ in '10.

Koji Uehara is far from being guaranteed a spot on the opening day team with a back that has plagued him since his days in Japan. So moving Uehara to the closer's role is probably the Orioles best bet. Uehara clearly can't handle the physical stress of being a reliever, and I believe he won't be able to handle being a closer either, but the Orioles are paying him through 2010 so they might as well try Uehara in that role. The good thing about Uehara is that he throws strikes and has that Asian unphasability going for him, which should work to his advantage in the closer's role. I just don't know if he'll be able to pitch on back-to-back days very often...but then again, how often do the Orioles need a closer on back to back days? I do see Uehara having success in the closer's role depending on his health, though.

Next up, the hitters! Stay tuned!

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