Fix the pitching first

FACEOFF

What Is The Orioles' Biggest Need This Offseason?

November 12, 2008|By CHILDS WALKER

OK, so you walk into your office this morning and there's a black cat perched on your keyboard. Mildly alarming, right? But there's also a neon-pink alligator sitting in your chair, and he's salivating. Which is of greater concern?

When you look at the Orioles' problems this offseason, shortstop is the black cat. Last year's options brought plenty of poor fortune, and the team probably won't be a winner unless they're removed. But it shouldn't be all that hard to push them aside and find a competent professional.

Starting pitching, on the other hand, is the Orioles' neon-pink alligator. It was so outlandishly bad last season that it's not apparent how they should confront the problem. But if it isn't addressed, it will probably eat another season.

Consider two numbers. Orioles starters struck out fewer batters than any other rotation in baseball last year. But they also allowed more walks than all but one other.

That's amazing. You hope that if a guy is wild, he's at least missing bats as often as he's missing the strike zone - like a young Nolan Ryan. But no, this group was neither powerful nor precise.

Worse still, almost every club perceives starting pitching as the rarest and most precious commodity on the market. So you can't buy four-fifths of a competent rotation. It's too expensive.

No, the Orioles almost have to wait and hope for prospects Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta to mature into useful starters. Only then can they hope to round out a solid rotation through trade or free agency. It's absolutely true to say they can't solve the problem in one offseason. But to claim starting pitching isn't the problem is to ignore the pink alligator.

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