Here is what we are trying to improve upon:
Last year's opening day rotation (pitchers still on the team are in bold):
Hammel 23 starts, 5.14 ERA
Arrieta 5 starts, 7.23 ERA
Chen 23 starts, 4.07 ERA
Gonzalez 28 starts, 3.81 ERA
Tillman 33 starts, 3.71 ERA
The first wave of replacements:
Garcia 10 starts, 5.88 ERA
Gausman 5 starts, 7.66 ERA
Britton 6 starts, 5.45 ERA
Feldman 15 starts, 4.27 ERA
Norris 9 starts, 4.69 ERA
Stinston, Jurjjens, Johnson, McFarland: 4 starts, 10.91 ERA
TOTALS: 162 starts, 4.57 ERA (939 IP)
Now let's ask some questions:
1. Do we think that Tillman, Gonzalez and Chen will make as many starts (84) and be as effective as last year? My answer is, I hope so. As a group, I do not expect them to be better, or make more starts, than last year. Odds are that one of the three misses some time, and overall, I think the ERA holds steady or gets slightly worse.
2. Will 2014 Norris be an upgrade over Hammel/2013 Norris? I certainly think this one's likely to be a "yes." Hammel and Norris combined for 32 starts at a 5.02 ERA last year. No reason to think Norris can't at least match his Oriole numbers from last year, and frankly, I think he can do better.
3. What version of Jiminez will we get? Huge wild card here. No matter what, he'll be an upgrade over Arrieta/Garcia, but will he be an upgrade over Feldman (4.27 ERA)? Those three combined for 30 starts, 5.13 ERA. Jiminez should definitely beat that, but will it be by a half-run, or more than a full run? We need it to be the latter.
4. Can we get a better performance from any rotation replacements? The reason we traded for Feldman and Norris is simple: when our front line guys faltered, the replacements weren't any better. Many of the guys we'd count on if someone in the rotation faltered or got hurt are the same guys who didn't get the job done when called upon last year: Likely AAA starters Gausman, Johnson and McFarland, and maybe Britton and Stinson (who will probably be in the Oriole bullpen not be stretched out, like Matusz). Is it realistic to think they'll do better this time? Happily, I think the answer is yes. Gausman has looked strong this spring and will have more experience under his belt than last time, when he was badly rushed. And frankly, we should not need as many replacement starts as last year when our opening day rotation made only 112 starts, and the bar for doing better is not very high.
Bottom line: If Tillman, Chen and Gonzalez are able to "hold serve" and replicate last year, I think our rotation will be much better in 2014 than in 2013. As always, health will be a big key, but I like our "Plan A" better than last year's, and I like our "Plan B" options better, too.
Prediction: Starter ERA of 4.25 or lower, and an additional 40 IP from the starters (call it 980 IP).
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