Orioles' starting pitching improved in 2020 - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Orioles’ starting pitching improved in 2020

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

The Orioles’ starting pitching was not only better in 2020 than it was in 2019, its depth also improved.

In 2019, the Orioles ended the season with Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb and John Means as starters, and with Asher Wojciechowski expected to return to the rotation.

The Orioles used 18 different starters in 2019 and had an ERA of 5.57.

In the 60-game 2020 season, the Orioles’ 10 starters had a 5.09 ERA.

In 2019, the Orioles used an opener eight times. This past season, they didn’t use it at all.

Bundy, who was entering his second year of arbitration eligibility, was dealt to the Los Angeles Angels for four minor league right-handers in December. Aaron Brooks, who started 12 games, signed in South Korea, and Gabriel Ynoa, who started 13, signed in Japan.

The Orioles sought depth by drafting two pitchers in the Rule 5 draft, Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker, who were returned to Houston and the Chicago Cubs, and signing Kohl Stewart, who later opted out for health reasons because of Covid-19.

They also brought back David Hess and three 2019 starters on minor league contracts –Ty Blach, Thomas Eshelman and Chandler Shepherd.

The Orioles also signed veteran left-handers Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone to minor league contracts, They ended up making the team, but both were gone by the end of August.


LeBlanc suffered an elbow injury on August 23rd, and Milone was traded to Atlanta for two minor league players to be named later on August 30th.

There are reasons to be optimistic about the Orioles’ starting pitching going forward.

Means finished strong

In five September starts, Means had a 2.48 ERA, the best in any month since June 2019, when he had a 1.71 ERA.

Means also had five starts in September 2019. His ERA then was 3.82.

This past September, Means had the best WHIP, 0.828, of any month in his two-year big league career and struck out more than a batter per inning for the first time.

He had a slow start because of arm fatigue and then he had to deal with the death of his father.

Manager Brandon Hyde helped Means get back on track after he appeared to be overthrowing. He regained command of his fastball and looked stronger than ever.

Cobb’s healthy

It’s possible the Orioles will trade Cobb, who has one year remaining on his four-year, $57 million deal. It’s also possible that 2020 baseball economics dissuade another team from assuming the final year of the contract or that the Orioles pay  part of it to make a trade.

In 2019, Cobb ended up on the 60-day injured list after hip and knee surgeries. He made just three starts.

Cobb wasn’t spectacular in 2020, but had a 4.30 ERA in 10 starts and looked at times like the pitcher the Orioles thought they were getting when they signed him.

If he’s back with the Orioles, he can a possible trade chip later in the season.

Young arms show promise

The Orioles brought up left-hander Keegan Akin, right-hander Dean Kremer and left-hander Bruce Zimmermann, giving them 11 starts in the final four weeks of the season.

Akin struck out 12.3 batters per nine innings, better stats than he produced at Triple-A Norfolk in 2019. Kremer didn’t allow a home run in 18 2/3 innings.

The Orioles had Akin, Kremer and Zimmermann in spring training, but none was a contender to make the team. All three could be back next year.

Behind them are two more promising pitchers, right-hander Michael Baumann, whose 2020 season ended early at the alternate site at Bowie because of an elbow injury, and left-hander Zac Lowther.

Neither is expected to begin 2021 with the Orioles but both could end the season with them as could DL Hall, the left-hander who was supposed to start 2020 with Double-A Bowie.

More depth

Because the young pitchers didn’t threw many major league innings in 2020, they can’t be counted on for full seasons in 2021.

The Orioles probably will have a number of candidates to back them up.

One is Jorge López, who had a 6.34 ERA in nine games, six of them starts.

If Stewart is back on the 40-man roster, he could be another. So could Eshelman, who had a 3.80 ERA in 12 games, four of them starts.

The Orioles are likely to sign another starter or two to minor league contracts as they did with LeBlanc and Milone since there might be a number of candidates in a larger-than-normal free-agent list.

They also could try to grab a starting candidate in the Rule 5 draft. They’ll draft fifth.

Question time: Next week, I’ll be answering your Orioles questions. Please leave your questions in the comment box or send them to me: [email protected]

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB



  1. Raymo

    October 28, 2020 at 8:23 am

    I’m having a hard time trusting the lower team ERA because they only played 60 games. Still, I like the direction they’re going in by bringing up some of the youngsters. And I’m hoping for an expanded role for my favorite oldster, Cesar Valdez. May his Cinderella story continue.

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 28, 2020 at 8:40 am

      I understand your skepticism, Ray, and don’t disagree, but in the first 60 games of the 2019 season, they allowed 10 runs or more 10 times against five times in 2020.

    • Raymo

      October 28, 2020 at 10:05 am

      That certainly puts things in perspective and supports your analysis. Thanks for the response.

    • CalsPals

      October 28, 2020 at 11:35 am

      What was the team era in the first 60 games last yr? Go O’s…

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 28, 2020 at 11:51 am

      Ray, I can’t find it, but I know it was much higher since they allowed 370 runs through 60 games, which included earned runs. That’s just over six runs per game. This year, they allowed 260 including unearned runs, about 4.3 per game.

    • CalsPals

      October 28, 2020 at 5:46 pm

      Thx & go O’s…

  2. Orial

    October 28, 2020 at 8:38 am

    Yes an encouraging 60 game season by both the starters and relievers especially after a few were shipped out. BUT I’ll guard my enthusiasm a bit as baseball as a whole was way down in hitting and runs scored. The ironic thing though is that the one who should be getting the biggest “atta boy” (pitching coach Brocail)got fired.

    • Phil770

      October 28, 2020 at 8:57 am

      Biggest “atta boy” for pitching goes to Chris Holt. I’d were going to lose Holt if he was not assigned to be Pitching coach for the team.

  3. danno158

    October 28, 2020 at 11:20 am

    I thought pitching was quite good in 2020 under Doug Brocail. Why was he fired?

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 28, 2020 at 11:21 am

      For financial reasons.

      • WorldlyView

        October 28, 2020 at 7:22 pm

        Is there a precedent in MLB history for a coach being canned for financial reasons?


        October 29, 2020 at 8:29 am

        How much of a voluntary pay cut has Elias taken?

      • NormOs

        October 29, 2020 at 12:02 pm

        The O’s fired him because he asked for a raise or did they fire him because they can find somebody that will work for less money, not be as good a coach but is cheaper? “The Oriole Way” is certainly dead and burried but they’ll probably save 12/13 dollars a year. Go O’s

        • WorldlyView

          October 29, 2020 at 3:03 pm

          I think Norm is being too pessimistic. The team may save as much as $890.00 a year by firing Brocail. If he was in fact let go for “financial” reasons, I again suggest that O’s management start a Go-Fund-Me page so that we fans can support the cause, keep the Angelos family solvent, and stop making snide hints that Elias should consider taking a temporary pay cut. If that isn’t feasible, they could save money by laundering uniforms only after every third game.

    • CalsPals

      October 29, 2020 at 12:07 pm

      They need to be careful as some of the experienced coaches are also older, if they hire for cheap & it happens to be younger they may have a discrimination case…just saying…go O’s…

  4. Boog Robinson Robinson

    October 28, 2020 at 1:31 pm

    Guys … who really needs to see the numbers to know that the pitching this year was way better than 2019?

    For crying out loud, I can’t remember going to bed by the 4th inning due to the O’s being down double digits by then at all this year (not saying it didn’t happen), but I can remember doing just that in 2019 on more occasions than I can count.

    And I expect way more progress to be made next year. After all, Mike Elias is “developing” them.

  5. WorldlyView

    October 28, 2020 at 4:47 pm

    Am I the only cynic/pessimist here? Improvement is relatively easy when you’re starting from a low bar/high ERA. The possibility of marginal improvement in subpar pitching ignores the larger question: how likely is it that our pitching staff will be terrible next year relative to other teams in the AL East and maybe the whole AL? Am I alone in thinking the answer is “pretty likely”? If the O’s show most of the arbitration-eligible veterans the door, good luck in scoring enough runs to offset another relatively high ERA year. I hope I am wrong.

  6. dlgruber1

    October 28, 2020 at 7:30 pm

    This has nothing to do with this article but maybe it does since it’s about pitching. Youngsters out there pay attention to this old man:

    One final thought on WS. In 1967 Bib Gibson pitched THREE COMPLETE GAMES in the World Series and allowed a total of 3 runs. Imagine if in game 7 Red Schoendienst would’ve gone out to the mound to take him out in the 6th inning after giving up his 2nd hit of the game. Um, I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have worked out so well for Red.

    • Bancells Moustache

      October 28, 2020 at 8:11 pm

      Boring, corporate risk management baseball took one on the chin last night, that’s for sure. Live by the spreadsheet, die by the spreadsheet.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        October 29, 2020 at 8:49 am

        Do analytics exist in soccer and quidditch?

      • SAJ

        October 29, 2020 at 10:04 am

        He saw each inning the velocity and spin rate. He saw the hitters’ whiffs, hard contact and loft. Some of that was measured, some with his version 1.0 eyeball. He had a loaded bullpen. So what if it was 1 hit, maybe but for luck it shoulda been 5.
        Only challenge is that he went with his coldest hand.

    • CalsPals

      October 29, 2020 at 10:30 am

      It ain’t all about the #’s, gotta trust your gut, baseball guys do, not analytics guys…go O’s…

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