Well, the Orioles have the ninth best record in baseball right now, and I'm thrilled. I mean, we O's fans feared as bad as a 100-loss season, and didn't expect to rush out of the gates so much as fall out of them on our face. When I look at the stat lines, they say, just like the "preseason paper" that we shouldn't have quite the record we do. Shouldn't be among the worst, but we shouldn't be in the top third either. So why are we doing so well? Timeliness and small things. Mostly, though, I credit the pitching staff for being much better than the numbers might indicate.
The team ERA is 4.18 (16th), The starters' ERA is 4.55 (20th) and the bullpen ERA is 3.50 (9th). Only the bullpen numbers look very good. The thing is, all three of those numbers actually make things look worse than they have been, especially lately. Despite those ERAs, the staff has compiled 11 Quality Starts (T-8th), is 80% converting save opportunities (including 7-7 from the closer), and most of the bullpen has been outstanding. The thing I noticed after looking hard was that the days when the pitchers failed were almost universally either games where we either had even more offense than we gave up or where we barely scored anything and would've lost even with a decent pitching effort (exception: the 10-5 loss to the Rays when the 'pen gave up 8). The pitchers have given up runs in bunches, but if you ask me that's OK. Losing by 5 is no worse than losing by 2, and I'd rather the pitchers give up three more runs then than in the other games, which we've been winning by 1 or 2. It's also very worth noting that almost all of the starters are exhibiting a trend of improvement nearly every trip to the mound. This clearly won't continue forever, but it is a heck of a good sign.
A closer look at the starters:
Jeremy Guthrie has an ERA over 4. This looks bad. The thing is, it has been dropping, because his first start was also his worst (and his only bad one). He has no wins, but he has put together 4 quality starts in 5 chances. This seems to be a trend for him...we didn't score for him last year either.
Adam Loewen's ERA is the ugliest of the bunch, but it too has come down every start, and his innings pitched have gone up each time out, as well. His most recent start was a quality start, his first since returning to the fold.
Daniel Cabrera is showing signs that maybe, possibly, could-it-be, perhaps he is maturing into the pither he was projected to be. Every single start his ERA has dropped...A LOT. After his first start it was 13, and 4 starts later it's under 4.5. It dropped by 33%, 34%, 13%, and 14%. He's starting to show control, and has now ripped off three straight quality starts.
Brian Burres has had one bad inning all year, and it has ballooned his ERA. Even with that stretch, it's under 4. He's only had 1 quality start, but he's also only started 3 games. He also appeared once in relief, as Matt Albers appeared once in the rotation (this proves we have two VERY capable swing men).
Steve Trachsel has been Steve Trachsel. He always allows baserunners, and you can usually count on him to stay on the mound for a reasonable number of innings and allow a limited number of those baserunners to score. He has two quality starts, one that he missed by only a third of an inning, and one bad outing. He hasn't really followed the "improvement" trend, but he's the nly one who doesn't need to because he's proven year after year to be a reasonably dependable back-of-the-rotation guy.
A closer look at the bullpen:
This unit actually has numbers that are very good, especially when compared to last year's pen. They've dropped 2.21 runs from the ERA. Consider the following as well: we were worried about overwork, but they've actually pitched only 64.1 innings, which is the 8th fewest in the league. Could be better, but I wouldn't complain much about that stat. I think the ERA of a relief pitcher is nearly meaningless, because 1 bad outing drives it wildly high compared to the kind of performance you can usually expect. I prefer to look at percentage of appearances in which an ER is allowed before anything else. Some of the Orioles staff with high ERAs look good in this light: Jamie Walker has appeared in ten games but only allowed runs twice, George Sherril has appeared 9 times and allowed runs twice (once in a non-save and once he picked up the save anyway), Chad Bradford in 8 games while allowing runs twice. Matt Albers only allowed a run once, and it was in a start. Randor Bierd and Jim Johnson haven't allowed runs at all yet. The only ones who look "bad" by this standard are Greg Aquino and to a lesser extent Dennis Sarfate (3 of 5 and 3 of 9 respectively).
What does it all mean?
Obviously, there are factors other than pitching that are winning games for the Orioles. Defense, stolen bases, timely hitting all come to mind. The above tells me several things. First, this club WILL continue to be better than expected (not playoffs; I'm an optimist but not that much). Not all of the pitchers are going to last, but some of them are bound to. Second, it tells me to do the following with the bullpen (ot immediately, but ultimately): keep Sherrill (I want to see Sherril, Ray, and Baez fight it out for the closer/setup roles for next year), release Aquino, and puff Sarfate up for a trade. Walker and Bradford can go or stay. Johnson and Albers are a bright future to bridge the gap. Third, itt ells me that this year's Orioles team is a young, exciting, scrappy team who will find a way to win games rather than an aging, deflated team that will find a way to lose them.