2014 was the year of the pitcher for the Orioles - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

2014 was the year of the pitcher for the Orioles

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

On August 1, 2014, Ryan Webb was called into manager Buck Showalter’s office. The Orioles had just traded for reliever Andrew Miller, and Webb was sent down to Triple-A Norfolk.

Webb had a rough July — his ERA had risen from 2.48 to 3.80 — and was the logical player to be cut so that Miller could be added.

The 2014 Orioles, who won the American League East, had a superb bullpen. Their relievers had an ERA of just 3.10.

Webb’s 3.80 ERA was the highest. If he had been pitching in 2019, that ERA would have been by far the best of the Orioles’ bullpen.

Several weeks ago, we looked at the fun that was the 2012 Orioles, but by 2014 the team changed dramatically.

J.J. Hardy was still at shortstop. Adam Jones was still in center. And Nick Markakis was still in right. But by September, three mainstays were missing.

Catcher Matt Wieters didn’t play after May 10 and underwent Tommy John surgery. Third baseman Manny Machado, who had left knee surgery in 2013, was lost because of right knee surgery in August. First baseman Chris Davis was handed a 25-game suspension in September for using Adderall without a therapeutic use exemption from Major League Baseball.

By the time the postseason came, Nick Hundley was the regular catcher, Alejando De Aza was playing left field, and Steve Pearce was at first base.

Pearce had the season of his life, hitting 21 home runs with a .930 OPS, but the story of the Orioles that year was the pitching.

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Chris Tillman had blossomed into a frontline starter, Wei-Yin Chen was a tough left-hander, Miguel González had another good season, but the team’s biggest surprise was Bud Norris, a quirky, fast-talking right-hander.

Norris went 15-8 with a 3.65 ERA, by far the best in his big league career. He was helped by the Orioles’ new pitching coach, Dave Wallace.

Wallace had one remarkable accomplishment. Everywhere he coached — the Dodgers, Mets, Red Sox and Astros — he managed to turn one pitcher with a undistinguished record into a star.

In 2014, it was Norris’ turn.

Although the starters were awfully good, the Orioles’ bullpen was magnificent. The year before, Dan Duquette, who ran baseball operations, decided that Jim Johnson, who saved 101 games in 2012 and 2013, was getting too expensive for the team.

In a move that rankled Showalter, Duquette peddled Johnson to the Oakland Athletics for two fringe players, infielder Jemile Weeks and catcher David Freitas, just minutes before the deadline for tendering contracts.

Technically, it was Weeks and a player-to-be-named later, who turned into Freitas.

The salary dump saved the Orioles from paying Johnson $10 million in 2014, the year before he hit free agency, but it left the Orioles without a closer.

A deal with free-agent reliever Grant Balfour fell apart because of a failed physical, and Showalter started the 2014 season with Tommy Hunter as closer. But by the middle of May, he decided that Zack Britton would be his ninth-inning guy.

Britton had struggled as a starter, but he was superb in the bullpen, saving 37 games with a 1.65 ERA. It was the start of an excellent four-year run for Britton.

Now that the Orioles had a closer who turned out to be even better than Johnson, they surrounded him with immense talent. Darren O’Day had a 1.70 ERA as a setup man. Hunter ended up with a sub-3 ERA, and Brad Brach, Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland filled key roles.

As the trade deadline neared, the Orioles were only 2 ½ games in front in the AL East, and Duquette engineered the trade that brought Miller to Baltimore.

Miller allowed just eight hits in his 20 innings and had an exceptional 0.600 WHIP.

Even though the Orioles had lost Davis, Machado and Wieters, they still had Hardy and Jones, and power hitter Nelson Cruz.

Signed before the season as a free agent, Cruz proved to be another masterstroke by Duquette. Cruz had 40 homers, 108 RBIs, and was a terrific clubhouse guy.

He mentored rookie second baseman Jonathan Schoop and was a calming influence on Machado.

In the days before translators, Cruz volunteered to serve as an interpreter for young Latin players and had an endearing habit of beginning his answers to many questions by saying: “Yeah, yeah, no doubt.”

I didn’t enjoy 2014 as much as I did 2012 because my mother-in-law, who had long lived with us, was in ill health during the season and died the day before the Orioles began their Division Series with Detroit.

They polished off the Tigers in three straight, then lost four in a row to the hot Kansas City Royals.

After the season, Markakis, who had played in the postseason for the first time after nine seasons with the Orioles, Cruz and Miller left as free agents.

Cruz’s departure hurt because the Orioles refused to give him the fourth year on his contract that the Seattle Mariners did, and at 40, he hit 41 home runs for the Minnesota Twins in 2019.

The Orioles were afraid that Markakis’ neck was too brittle to hold up. Five seasons later at 35, he was still hitting and well for the Atlanta Braves.

After Markakis’ departure, the Orioles went through a series of rightfielders, none nearly as good.

While the Orioles would qualify for the postseason again in 2016 as a wild-card team, 2014 was their year of the pitcher.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. Boog Robinson Robinson

    June 4, 2020 at 7:20 am

    Terrific look back at an almost magical season Rich. I’m sorry to hear the reasoning for your not ‘enjoying’ t as much as you may have.

    “Enjoy”. This word strikes a chord with me as it seems to be coming from a personal perspective of a sports writer.

    I used to chide your BB.com predecessor, Dan Connolly, on occasion, for sounding like a “fan” of the club. He would immediately deny it, claiming to have dropped any personal allegiance the moment he became a professional scribe. I often did not believe him as it seemed to ooze through sometimes in his articles. Or at least, I perceived it too. And frankly, I don’t see why it’s considered so ‘unprofessional’ to be a bit of a homer?

    So I’m interested on your take on this? Do you in any way, consider yourself a ‘fan’ of the club? Or are you in Dan’s camp, in that you have no personal rooting interest in the team? And I’m not talking about wishing the best for the club strictly in the sense that it would obviously make your job easier if not more enjoyable to write about some ‘magical season’.

    • Rich Dubroff

      June 4, 2020 at 7:40 am

      Sorry to disappoint you, Ken, but I look upon it as, if the Orioles do better, it’s better for me.

      More people read what I write, players are in a better mood, the games are more fun to watch.

      I don’t sit at games rooting for the Orioles to win. Watching 125 games in a normal year makes certain you don’t.

      I like good performances, and it’s much more fun to watch crisp games than the ones we’ve seen over the past few years.

      I don’t consider myself a fan of any team in any sport. When I watch NFL, NBA or other MLB games, I don’t take a personal interest in the outcome. I’m able to watch and enjoy without caring who wins.

      As for the Orioles, I care intensely about the games because I want to find interesting things to write about.

      I want as many people as possible to read this blog, and it’s an Orioles-oriented one.

      The fans of the club are you, the readers.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        June 4, 2020 at 12:03 pm

        Thank you for your honesty. One more thing .. .I”m not disappointed at all. I don’t understand this way of thinking, as I for one, could really care less how ‘crisp’ or well played a game is as long as the good guys win!

        That being said Dan …. I do understand that you’re a pro, and I’m not.

        Go Os!!
        (sorry CP … stole your signoff)

    • CalsPals

      June 4, 2020 at 1:07 pm

      Great look back, seems like yesterday…no apologies needed Boog, everyone should sign off w/it…go O’s…

  2. WorldlyView

    June 4, 2020 at 3:58 pm

    Re the title of this article: I disagree. 1971 was THE year of the pitcher for the Orioles. FOUR starters won at least 20 games that season. This was the first time since 1920 that an MLB team had four 20-game winners. I don’t think it has happened since and think that it probably will never happen again.

    • Rich Dubroff

      June 4, 2020 at 5:39 pm

      Professor Cohen, 2014 was the year of the pitcher during the time that I’ve covered the team!

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      June 5, 2020 at 8:04 am

      Professor Cohen .. you have what some may call a “Grasp for the Obvious”.

  3. OriolesNumber1Fan

    June 4, 2020 at 4:08 pm

    Now looking ahead… Article from Steve Melewski
    Baseball America released its latest mock draft yesterday, it had a real surprise with the Orioles and the No. 2 pick. It was not Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin or Asa Lacy of Texas A&M.

    This mock had the Orioles taking high school outfielder Zac Veen from Orange, Fla. This would be part of a one-two approach in which the O’s could sign Veen, get a top player and save some slot space to go well over slot with their No. 30 pick and get two top-rated talents.

    It’s a strategy that has worked before but surely has some risk. It worked before for current O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias when he led Houston’s 2012 draft.

    That year Houston had the first overall pick and took shortstop Carlos Correa. They saved money on Correa and used it on other players. Correa’s slot amount was $7.2 million and he signed for $4.8 million. Lance McCullers Jr., taken No. 41 by Houston, had a slot amount of $1.259 million and signed over slot at $2.5 million. Current Oriole Rio Ruiz was drafted in the fourth round at No. 129 with a slot value of $360,200 for that pick. But he was signed to a bonus of $1.85 million, well over slot.

    Houston saved $2.4 million on Correa and went about $1.2 million over for McCullers and about $1.5 million over on Ruiz.

    Yesterday, in a video interview with JJ Cooper of Baseball America, we discussed this latest speculation. At the end of this entry you can watch the entire interview.

    “We have heard multiple people, who would seem to have some indication of this, theorize that the Orioles are at least examining the idea of taking someone at two who is a top talent but who is a guy that is not expected to go two,” Cooper said. “Veen is an easy top 10 pick, but two would be very rich for Veen. When Mike Elias was with the Astros we saw this with the Carlos Correa draft.

    “In the mock we have the Orioles then getting Jared Kelley, who is a mid-round-one-type talent, with their second pick (at No. 30). We are not saying this will absolutely happen. But we’re saying it’s one of the options, and this is a legit rumor we’ve heard.”

    The Orioles’ slot amount for the No. 2 pick is $7,789,900. If they drafted Veen, who is ranked as the No. 7 prospect by Baseball America, they could save money with an underslot bonus. Even if they gave Veen No. 4 pick money, that would be $6,664,000, and for the No. 5 pick that would be $6,180,700. So they get a savings of about $1.1 million in the first scenario and $1.6 million in the second one.

    Baseball America ranks Kelley, a high school right-hander from Texas, as the No. 12 prospect for this draft. A fastball that tops out from 97 to 99 mph leads observers to call him the most major league-ready prep pitcher in the draft.

    The way this would work would be that a player like Kelley would let teams know of his bonus demands. He would then fall in the draft to the Orioles at No. 30.

    The slot amount for the No. 15 pick, for instance, is $3,885,800. For the Orioles’ No. 30 pick it is $2,365,500. The difference would come in the Veen savings. And by using what they are allotted for their top two picks, the O’s could add players rated No. 7 and No. 12. And Kelley gets his mid-first-round bonus money.

    It’s an interesting strategy, but you better have backup plans and options in case the second player you want – we speculate on Kelley in this specific example – doesn’t fall to you.

    “In 2012, the Astros took Carlos Correa, who was not considered the likely 1/1 but he was considered in the mix for the top five,” Cooper said. “Saved some money there and they later drafted and spent more on Lance McCullers Jr. and Rio Ruiz. In the McCullers case, it’s really paid off for them. That is something the Orioles could do.”

    He adds that taking Veen at No. 2 would not be a huge reach.

    “This is not taking a guy who we expect to be on the board at 10 and taking him at two,” Cooper said. “That’s taking a guy we wouldn’t be shocked to see at pick four, pick five, pick six. Seven maybe being his floor.”.

    Cooper also feels the above strategy could work with a variety of players. If the O’s used such a strategy it would not rise or fall on the hopes of one player falling to them.

    “In this class, there absolutely are going to be high school players, very talented high school players, with significant asking prices, who are going to be on the board,” he said. “So, you may miss out on your first pick for what you want to do with this. But I will tell you right now I feel very comfortable in saying in a five-round draft where some teams probably aren’t going to spend their full allotment, there will be plenty of talent available for a team that wants to do something like this at the top of the draft. To take guys who are more talented than a second- or third-round talent with a later pick. This year I fully expect there will be high school players who are second- or third-round talent who simply will not get drafted. Because they are looking for X number of dollars, no team is comfortable with going to that point, so they just go on to school.”

    Meanwhile in the latest mockfrom MLBPipeline.com, that outlet still has the O’s selecting Martin with the No. 2 overall selection.

    I’d be all in for this move but really risky with both HS players with college commitments! And I don’t believe Jared Kelley falls to number 30.

    • ClayDal

      June 4, 2020 at 5:00 pm

      I realize that this is all speculation, but if you have the 2nd pick in the draft, you should take the 2nd best player. Trying to get cute so you can give the equivalent of Rio Ruiz more money is frankly looney. What if the player you want at 30 is taken before you pick? This isn’t the NFL draft where you can move up or down. If they think Veen is the 2nd best player on the board ( assuming Detroit takes Torkleson) fine. But to pass up the 2nd best player to save money on the next Rio Ruiz ( who actually looked good in Spring Training) makes no sense.

      • Rich Dubroff

        June 4, 2020 at 5:44 pm

        John, we’ll be discussing the draft in more detail tomorrow and it will likely dominate the news next week.

    • Bancells Moustache

      June 4, 2020 at 5:03 pm

      I’m not a fan of getting cute with the slot money. If they were picking at 7 or 10 I’d be more receptive, but at 2, when you have your pick of the best players in the nation, I think you take a page from the boys across the street and go best player available. If that’s Martin, so be it. I just feel like the slot money crap is too much of a risk just to prove how smart you are. And it makes no sense to me anyway. If I were picked #2, I’d demand #2 money. Because Keith Law says I’m number 6, but the organization is saying I’m the second best player in the country, I should settle for number 6 money? Seems silly to me.

      • Rich Dubroff

        June 4, 2020 at 5:46 pm

        Steve, we’ll get into the draft in more detail tomorrow.

    • ClayDal

      June 4, 2020 at 5:12 pm

      Last time the Orioles tried to save money on their first round pick was 2009, when they drafted Matt Hobgood instead of say, Mike Trout. That ended well

      • Rich Dubroff

        June 4, 2020 at 5:49 pm

        John, 22 other teams besides the Orioles passed on Mike Trout, too. He wasn’t even the Angels top pick. They drafted Randal Grichuk in the pick before him. Trout was the 25th overall pick in 2009.

    • ClayDal

      June 4, 2020 at 6:26 pm

      Trout’s pick was compensation for the Angels losing Teixiera to the Yankees. He only played 2 months for the Angels and he helped get them Mike Trout. You’re right that a lot of teams passed on Trout besides the Orioles. But as I recall, Hobgood was drafted as high as he was because he wasn’t going to be as difficult to sign as Wieters and Matuz. If I remember Wie

    • ClayDal

      June 4, 2020 at 6:27 pm

      Continuing ( my finger slipped looking up how to spell Wieters), Matt signed with 30 seconds to spare. They were able to avoid that with Hobgood

  4. OriolesNumber1Fan

    June 4, 2020 at 4:32 pm

    Btw, the last paragraph was me not Steve Melewski. Also btw, Austin Martin (not the James Bond’s car) is a Scott Boros client who will be tough to sign. He also has a below value arm which is why he moved from SS to 3rd base to center field. The Orioles don’t need another out of position or poor defensive DH type player!

    • CalsPals

      June 4, 2020 at 4:55 pm

      No more DH/1B, already have a log jam there, FYI, Bond drove an Aston Martin…lol…go O’s…

      • Rich Dubroff

        June 4, 2020 at 5:43 pm

        Ray, the MLB draft is not the NFL draft. The Orioles have needs at many positions, and a player selected may not play for them for two, three or four years, so what appears to be a strength now could be a weakness in two or three years.

    • Rich Dubroff

      June 4, 2020 at 5:42 pm

      It’s not very tough to sign college players because they’re slotted. Martin won’t sign for below slot. There’s a huge difference between Scott Boras representing a draft pick, who has little leverage, and a free agent, who has much leverage.

      • OriolesNumber1Fan

        June 5, 2020 at 8:42 am

        It would be tough to sign High Schoolers Veen and/or Kelley because they both could feel they deserve to be number one selections. And if they go on to college they could be and in my opinion they would be number ones next year!

        And my point on Martin is Boros could want number 1 $$ for him and certainly wouldn’t take less than 2nd slot so saving $$ on him wouldn’t work for over signing someone later.

    • ClayDal

      June 5, 2020 at 11:56 am

      If they go to college they aren’t eligible for the draft until 3 years later. Unless they go to junior college. If they are picked 2nd in the draft, they are going pro. Not worth the risk of injury to forsake 7 million for a few extra bucks next year

      • OriolesNumber1Fan

        June 5, 2020 at 12:25 pm

        They would opt for Junior college and go right back in. And a few extra bucks??? 15 slot for Kelley is slotted for $3,885,800 and number 1 slot this year is for $8,415,300. Next year this number will also increase but just doing the math here. The few extra bucks as you call it is $4,529,500. That’s more than double the amount for the 15 slot. Nothing to sneeze at here!

    • ClayDal

      June 5, 2020 at 12:31 pm

      Thought you were referring to the second overall pick. But even at number 15, not going to pass up first round money to risk injury and also the fact that there will be another pool of talent in next years draft. No guarantee that someone picked 15th in this years draft would be picked higher in next years draft.

      • OriolesNumber1Fan

        June 5, 2020 at 12:44 pm

        Not for Veen and Kelley if you done your homework. Read my prior post at 8:42 am this morning. Both these guys are studs and would be number 1 candidates for next year. They both are probably not even done growing! And as far as the $$$ goes, I’ve proved my point!

    • ClayDal

      June 5, 2020 at 1:05 pm

      Looking at last years draft, the top 34 picks all signed pro contracts. With all the uncertainty about next years draft, don’t see someone in that position taking a chance of going lower. As for Veen and Kelly, if they are that good they will be taken higher than 15th. Besides, if teams don’t think they will sign, they won’t take them. With only 5 rounds, nobody wants to waste a pick

      • OriolesNumber1Fan

        June 5, 2020 at 9:59 pm

        It’s like I’m talking to a wall. Some people just don’t get it and never will. Lol

    • CalsPals

      June 6, 2020 at 8:16 am

      Gotta agree w/u on that #1…go O’s…

  5. BirdsCaps

    June 4, 2020 at 7:14 pm

    God I miss The 2012-14 orioles. Being a baseball fan was cool and in vogue for the first time in my lifetime. The orioles were on a roll until they weren’t …. bleeping Royals. 2015 was a pleasant dud and 2016 was a struggle that ended with one of Bucks biggest blunder and also included the costly offseason blunders of Wieters and most notably Davis. Oriole magic buzzed through the area from 12-14, while 15-16 the magic died down, and after that the magic and the players that created it are all a distant but very pleasant memory.

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