For Oriole starters, it's team wins, not individual ones, that matter -
Rich Dubroff

For Oriole starters, it’s team wins, not individual ones, that matter

Photo Credit: Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Forty years ago, Mike Boddicker won 20 games for the Orioles, the 24th time a pitcher had done that. Jim Palmer won 20 or more eight times. Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar did it four times, but no one since Boddicker has done it.

Since then, Mike Mussina won 19 games twice. In this century, no Oriole pitcher has won more than the 16 that Chris Tillman won in 2013 and 2016 and Wei-Yin Chen won in 2014.

The game has changed since 1984. When Boddicker won 20, he completed 16 games. This year’s Oriole starters average slightly less than six innings per start. Individual wins don’t seem to matter.

“No, not at all, absolutely not,” pitching coach Drew French said. “I think team wins matter to me, and us being able to give our team an opportunity to win the game matters more than anything.”

Catcher James McCann caught Jacob deGrom with the New York Mets, just after he won consecutive Cy Youngs with a total of 21 wins.

“I think there’s a lot more to a pitcher’s year than their wins and losses,” McCann said. “I think a lot of times for a starting pitcher, wins can be indicative of what kind of run support they get and they can’t control that … The win/loss record for a pitcher is more indicative of the team rather than the pitcher.”

John Means’ three hits in seven scoreless innings on Saturday night earned him a win, just the 22nd of his career. Means’ career numbers have been affected by his Tommy John surgery and other injuries in addition to the weak offense and defense of the Orioles in his first years.

“If you’re pitching on a good team, that means you’re going deep into the game,” Means said. “You’re giving your team a chance to win. There’s much better stats out there, a lot of stats that can tell a different story than wins and losses.”

Means prefers earned-run average as a tool. In 2021, the year he threw his no-hitter and near perfect game in Seattle, Means had a 6-9 record in 26 starts and a 3.62 ERA. Because Means pitched 146 2/3 innings, short of the 162 needed to qualify for the ERA leaders, he wasn’t recognized. But had he gotten the additional 15 1/3 innings, he would have finished eighth in the American League.

Someone has to get a win, and that stat can be fluky. Last year, Mike Baumann was 10-1 in relief. He held teams down while the Orioles took the lead.

“I took a lot of pride in it, but at the end of the day, I think it showed it was a team stat,” Baumann said. “I think it just showed the resilience and our guys going out there and taking the field. We were just always in the game, and no matter the situation, we could come back at any moment and win no matter what the score was.”

Another reason starting pitchers don’t get as many wins as they did during Boddicker’s time is because they’re not pitching as much as he did. Last year, Atlanta’s Spencer Strider was the only 20-game winner in baseball, and there were only 35 complete games in the majors. The Orioles were one of 11 teams without a complete game.

If starters are going fewer innings, then perhaps the five-inning minimum for a win should be lowered. If a starter goes 4 2/3 innings, as Kyle Bradish did in his first start of the season last Thursday, and none of the four relievers record more than four outs, shouldn’t Bradish be rewarded for a one-run, four-hit performance?

“No. I think if you’re going five-plus, you’re doing your job,” Bradish said. “Even then, six innings for a quality start is what you’re looking for. Five innings still makes your bullpen cover four innings. If your starter’s only giving you five, that’s a lot of work for the bullpen every game. I think six is the goal ultimately every time you go out there.”

There’s agreement among other Oriole starters.

“If you come out before the fifth, it’s hard to say in my opinion that you deserve the win,” Means said.

Cole Irvin worked 4 2/3 innings against Minnesota on April 16th, allowing two runs in a game the Orioles won, 7-4. Like Bradish, he was an out short of getting the win.

“Five innings is more than half a game,” Irvin said. “A starting pitcher should get through half a game. Plain and simple. Black and white. Yes, five innings should still be the win marker.”

Baumann began his career as a starter but was converted to the bullpen during spring training in 2023. He knows how difficult it is to win as a starter.

“I know our starters take pride in going as deep as possible,” he said. “Not many guys can do that, which might be one of the reasons I’m in the bullpen. It’s not easy going deep into the game, so whenever those guys go six, seven, eight innings, it’s an unbelievable start and kudos to them for being able to navigate through lineups three or four times.”

McCann has caught some of the best starters in baseball over the last decade, deGrom, Corbin Burnes, David Price, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. He believes the current rule, which became official for the 1950 season, should remain in place.

“I don’t think any starting pitcher, at least that I’ve caught, takes the mound and says, “I hope I only go five innings today.’” McCann said. “They expect to go five innings. They expect to go further than that. I think five is probably the benchmark.”

Note: Right-hander Yohan Ramírez was claimed off waivers by the New York Mets. On April 11th, the Orioles purchased Ramírez’s contract from the Mets. He had a 6.00 ERA in five games. … Outfielder Austin Hays, who’s on the 10-day injured list with a strained left calf muscle, will begin a rehab assignment with Double-A Bowie on Tuesday.

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