Andy MacPhail and the Orioles are trying their darnedest this offseason. Their infield already had a new look, with Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy, and Derrek Lee joining the venerable Brian Roberts, and the bullpen received some fresh splotches of paint with the additions of Kevin Gregg and Jeremy Accardo. The O’s also took a step to shore up their rotation last night by inking oft-injured starter Justin Duchscherer to a one-year deal.
A rotation stacked with youth, like that of the Orioles, often finds itself employing an outcast veteran for doing team friendly activities, such as mentoring the youngsters and eating innings. Duchscherer may fill the Kevin Millwood slot in the rotation and organizational philosophy, but the two differ in reliability. Millwood is a virtual lock to make 25 starts a season (at least since 2002), while the Duke made 22 starts in 2008, started three minor-league games during the 2009 season, and made five starts in April 2010—and none since—thanks to maladies including hip surgery, lower back inflammation, and clinical depression.
Signing Duchscherer is an upside play for the O’s, as the variety of performance incentives in his contract should indicate. A base salary of $700K is nothing much, but he will earn $1.1 million by making the team out of spring training and that salary will quadruple should he make 30 starts. The downside here is between $700K and $1.1 million. The upside, though, could be worth much more.
A 28-inning sample for pitchers is unreliable at best, and the same goes for Duke’s 2010. Because of which his 2010 numbers are rather meaningless in attempting to identify his true and current talent level. Still, his 4.77 SIERA would have ranked as the third-best mark amongst Orioles’ starters, behind Brian Matusz, Jeremy Guthrie, and Millwood. Even at his finest in 2008 Duchscherer managed a 4.15 SIERA with a 2.54 ERA, of which his propensity for lower than league average batting average on balls in play and timely double plays certainly played a role in submerging; pitching in one of nature’s finest BABIP deterrents, the Coliseum, also played a role.
Duchscherer’s career 3.01 ERA as a starter is going to get airtime, but a move away from the friendly cavernous confines of Oakland into a hitter’s park and perhaps the toughest division in baseball is going to test him in previously unimaginable ways. Can a right-handed starting pitcher who relies on a mid-80s fastball, a low-80s cutter, a sub-70s curve, and whatever else cannot fit down the garbage disposal work against the Red Sox and Yankees? The Orioles sure hope to find out, and if he is better than league average then consider it Icing on the proverbial cupcake.
As an aside, I am proud to announce Baseball Prospectus as my new home base and hope that we will see a lot of each other during the season.