When the 2015 MLB season ended, the Orioles found themselves on the outside looking in, finishing 81-81, needing a five-game winning streak to finish the year to reach .500. While the offense actually scored more runs than the 2014 96-win club, it was the starting pitching that let the team down in 2015.
Baltimore Orioles starters went 68-45 while pitching to a 3.61 ERA in 2014, good for fifth in the American League. In 2015, the starters took more than a step back, going 51-62 with a 4.53 ERA. Only Detroit’s starters were worse for the season.
It’s no wonder Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette stressed the need for quality starting pitching as their top priority for the offseason at the end-of-season press conference. Yet here we are, less than a week away from Spring Training, and the Orioles have done very little to upgrade their starting pitching. One could argue very legitimately that the rotation has actually downgraded after losing their most consistent starter, Wei-Yin Chen, to the Miami Marlins.
Now let’s be honest – the Orioles were never in the mix for guys like David Price, Zack Greinke, or Johnny Cueto. The cost of doing business there was just too high. The hard sell for the fans was in watching affordable guys with proven track records like Doug Fister (1 yr, $7M with HOU) and Mat Latos (1 yr, $3M with CWS) sign with other ball clubs.
Which brings us to the hot topic of the last few days, Yovani Gallardo. The Orioles have been flirting with and courting Gallardo all offseason, but have been hesitant to make their move due to the loss of a draft pick they’d incur upon signing him. The Orioles currently hold the 14th pick in the June draft.
What Gallardo brings to the table is seven straight 30-start, 180+ IP seasons, a career 3.66 ERA, and a 49% groundball rate in 2015. What he also brings to the table is a dip in velocity and increase in WHIP (1.419) in 2015, along with a strikeout rate that has gone down in each of the last six seasons. Factor in the fact that, despite his 184.1 IP in 2015, he failed to record 6 IP in 20 of his 33 starts, and it isn’t hard to understand the hesitation in surrendering that draft pick.
But what are the Orioles really losing by surrendering that 14th pick in the upcoming draft?
The Orioles have picked from the 14th position just once in the last 26 seasons, wasting a pick on pitcher Beau Hale in 2000, who never reached the Majors. But you can’t make a decision based on such a small sample size, so let’s take a look at every 14th overall pick dating back to 1990.
2015: Kolby Allard (ATL)- 12 K’s in 6 IP covering three starts for Braves Gulf Coast team
2014: Tyler Beede (SF)- 5-11, 3.71 ERA in two MiLB seasons, reaching AA
2013: Reese McGuire (PIT)- .271 hitter in 3 MiLB seasons, reaching high A
2012: Nick Travieso (CIN)-20 wins last two years, 2.90 ERA, never above high A
2010: Dylan Covey (MIL)- Didn’t sign, opting for college instead. Taken in the fourth round by the Athletics in 2013. 16-24, 4.40 ERA in three MiLB seasons, never above high A
2009: Matt Purke (TEX)- Didn’t sign, drafted next season in 3rd round by the Nationals, 4.89 ERA , never above AA
2008: Aaron Hicks (MIN)- 3 MLB seasons, .225 AVG, fourth outfielder
2007: Jason Heyward (ATL)- One-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner signed 8-year, $184m contract with Cubs this offseason
2006: Travis Snider (TOR)- Former Oriole has .244 AVG in parts of 8 seasons, never more than 359 AB in a season
2005: Trevor Crowe (CLE)- .240 AVG in parts of 4 MLB seasons, out of baseball now
2004: Billy Butler (KC)- .290 AVG in 9 MLB seasons, 2012 All-Star and Silver Slugger, AVG dropped at least 18 points in each of last three seasons
2003: Ryan Wagner (CIN)- Debuted 36 days after signing, 4.79 ERA in parts of 5 MLB seasons, out of baseball
2002: Russ Adams (TOR)- .245 AVG in parts of 5 MLB seasons, retired from professional baseball in 2011
2001: Jake Gautreau (SD)- Career minor leaguer, batted .254 in 8 MiLB seasons
2000: Beau Hale (BAL)- 4.31 ERA in 5 MiLB seasons, never above AA
1999: Ty Howington (CIN)- 4.08 ERA in 5 MiLB seasons, never above AA
1997: Brandon Larson (CIN)- Batted .179 with 8 HR in 109 MLB games spanning four seasons
1996: Dee Brown (KC)- Batted .233 in 207 games spanning 8 MLB seasons
1995: Reggie Taylor (PHI)-Batted .231 in parts of 5 MLB seasons
1994: Jason Varitek (SEA)- Three-time All-Star who hit .256 in 16 MLB seasons, 2005 Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner, won two World Series Championships with the Boston Red Sox (2004, 2007)
1993: Derrek Lee (SD)- The former Oriole was a three-time All-Star who led the NL in hits and doubles while winning the batting title and Silver Slugger in 2005. Also a three-time Gold Glove winner in 15 MLB seasons, 2003 World Series Champion with the Marlins
1992: Ron Villone (SEA)- 61-65 with a 4.71 ERA over 15 MLB seasons
1991: Cliff Floyd (MTL)- Batted .278 with 233 HR in 15 MLB seasons. 2001 All-Star, 1997 World Series Champion with the Marlins.
1990: Todd Van Poppel (OAK)- 40-52, 5.58 ERA in parts of 11 MLB seasons
If you didn’t feel like reading through the list, I’ll break it down for you. Of those 26 picks, 17 reached the Majors, eight never played above AA (though the jury is still out on the 2012-2015 picks), two went unsigned and were drafted in LATER rounds a year or more later, and one never played higher than AAA.
Of those 17 players to reach the Majors, there are a combined nine All-Star appearances and only about seven names that the average fan would even recognize (Cliff Floyd, Derrek Lee, Jason Varitek, Jeff Weaver, Billy Butler, Jason Heyward, and Jose Fernandez). Just five of the 17 have played in a World Series.
The point here is simple. Should the Orioles give up the 14th pick in this year’s draft to sign Yovani Gallardo? Absolutely. Most drafted players never make it to the Major Leagues, and the majority of those that do make it never amount to a hill of beans. If you can get proven, Major League talent, you take it. The Orioles surrendered their top two picks in 2014 to sign Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez en route to 96 wins and a division title. The formula has worked in the past. If it gets the team back to the postseason, then everybody should be on board. I sure am.