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Between now and Opening Day, we'll be previewing each team with a focus on answering the question: "How will this team be remembered?" For the full archive of each 2017 team preview, click here.

PECOTA Orioles Projections
Record: 74-88
Runs Scored: 733
Runs Allowed: 809
AVG/OBP/SLG (TAv): .256/.318/.434 (.262)
Total WARP: 23.2 (9.0 pitching, 14.2 non-pitching)

No, Orioles fans, this is not the article that concedes that the the 2017 iteration of the Charm City squad will have finally, once and for all, murdered PECOTA (in the warehouse, with a baseball bat). No, PECOTA would have died a gruesome death years ago if that were going to happen, likely at the hands of a riotous Royals crowd (in the fountains, with poison-laced BBQ sauce).

For as much recent success as the Orioles have garnered, they’re generally remembered more for things that haven’t happened than for things that have. Case(s) in point:

  1. Zach Britton appearing in a recent playoff game
  2. Major League Contracts:
    1. Yovani Gallardo
    2. Nick Markakis
    3. Grant Balfour
    4. Jair Jurrjens
    5. Tyler Colvin
    6. Jeromy Burnitz
    7. Aaron Sele
  3. The development of pitching prospects

That last one is what really stands out, recency bias aside. Despite top-end draft picks spent on high-octane arms, the Orioles have reaped relatively few rewards. If you take all the arms they’ve drafted in the first five rounds over the last 10 years, here is how they shake out:

Draft

Pitcher

Outcome

2007

Tim Bascom (4)

Jake Arrieta (5)

💀
😢 😢 😢 😢 😢

2008

Brian Matusz (1)

😢 😢 😢 😢

2009

Matt Hobgood (1)

Mychal Givens (2)

Randy Henry (4)
Ashur Tolliver (5)

💀

😀😀

💀

💀

2010

Dan Klein (2)

💀

2011

Dylan Bundy (1)

Mike Wright (3)

Kyle Simon (4)

Matt Taylor (5)

🤔😀😀🤔

😐

💀

💀

2012

Kevin Gausman (1)

Branden Kline (2)

Colin Poche (5)

🤔😀😀😀🤔

🤕🤕

❌🖋️❌

2013

Hunter Harvey (1)

Stephen Tarpley (3)

Travis Seabrooke (5)

🤔🤕🤕🤕🤔

🤝👋✈️️

☹️

2014

Brian Gonzalez (3)

Pat Connaughton (4)

David Hess (5)

😟

🏀

😑

2015

Jonathan Hughes (2)

Garrett Cleavinger (3)

❌🖋️❌

🙂

2016

Cody Sedlock (1)

Keegan Akin (2)

Matthias Dietz (2)

Brenan Hanifee (4)

😶

😶

😶

😶

Only Givens, Bundy, Wright, Gausman, Tarpley, Hess, and the extremely recent draft picks avoided a non-negative fate above, and Tarpley was traded to the Pirates. That’s a brutal track record any way you slice it. And finding meaningful seasons from an Orioles-developed starter is a case study in the phrase “few and far between.” Kevin Gausman registered a 3.4 WARP season for the O’s in 2016, and the previous starting pitcher they developed to do so for them was … wait for it … Erik Bedard and his 7.5-win monster 2007 season.

Player

Season

WARP

Note

Erik Bedard

2007

7.5

Good!

John Maine

2007

3.3

With Mets.

Zach Britton

2014-16

2.2, 2.4, 2.6

As a reliever. Still good!

Jake Arrieta

2015

7.9

With Cubs.

Zach Davies

2016

2.7

With Brewers.

Kevin Gausman

2016

3.4

Pretty good!

But beyond the lack of development in terms of their own prospects, the Orioles have struggled to find dynamic pitching performances from any of their starting pitchers, whether they’ve developed them or not. The free agent market has featured more “miss” than the O’s starters can generate with their pitches, with Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo providing meager returns and Wade Miley struggling after being acquired via trade. Wei-Yin Chen stands out for his adequacy (if this is even possible), but one mid-rotation starter won’t cover these multitude of sins, and even their overseas success is mitigated by the presence of Tsuyoshi Wada. The list below name-checks every Orioles starter, developed in-house or not, to produce a three-win-or-better season since 2007:

Starting Pitcher

Year

WARP

Erik Bedard

2007

7.5

Jeremy Guthrie

2007

4.8

Jeremy Guthrie

2008

4.0

Kevin Gausman

2016

3.4

That’s Cub Oriole. But it doesn’t have to be. This Orioles season is sure to have a great many things: another dominant one for the bullpen, probably 12 “I don’t believe this” moments from Manny Machado, perhaps another few signature plays for Adam Jones, and more than a few good quips from Buck Showalter. But those things are par for the course with this squad, and not particularly distinguishable from the past few seasons. So no, the 2017 team will not be remembered for such feats. Rather, they will be remembered for breaking the streak between ace-level performances that has rendered the Orioles' rotation the butt of jokes, and they’ll do it with *gasp* a home-grown starter.

With Kevin Gausman and a healthy Dylan Bundy on the roster, the O’s have two high-octane arms that could anchor the front of a rotation. Gausman is most of the way there, and likely the better bet of the two guys to do it. The former fourth overall pick has long searched for a competent breaking ball to pair with his potent fastball and devastating split-change, and he just might have found it in the curveball that he threw 13 percent of the time last year. In July of 2016 he told Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun that he was becoming more comfortable with his breaking ball, in part by not defining it as a slider or curve:

In the last year, I've taken a step forward to just being like, "Some nights, it's a little bit harder and more like a slider, and some night it's got a bigger break and a little slower." I'm kind of learning how to throw which one I want to throw, so that's big.

Despite the strong 2016 season, Gausman grades out rather poorly in terms of his called strike probability and CSAA. If he can take a step forward in his command and control—not unreasonable for someone with his athleticism—and crack the 200-inning plateau, it’s not hard to see Gausman producing a five-win season, something only 12 pitchers accomplished in 2016.

The other former fourth overall pick is more of a flier to accomplish this feat, but let’s not discount his pedigree. Much was made about Bundy’s velocity tapering off after a strong conversion to the rotation, but he still managed over 94 miles per hour on his fastball in August and September, as he was pushed past 100 innings despite tallying a mere 22 innings in 2015. It’s possible the exhaustion of an extended season played a significant part in Bundy’s home run woes, given that he surrendered half of the 18 homers he allowed on the season over the course of his final eight starts.

It’s easy to see the Orioles taking it easy on Bundy following how hard they rode him last year, but they might not have that luxury in the highly competitive AL East. If he throws 150-plus innings of high-end baseball, he could well be in shouting distance of a five-win season. Clayton Kershaw managed 5.5 wins in 149 innings, after all, and pretty much anyone can replicate a Kershaw season. If he can tamp down on his home runs allowed, it would be a big first step toward attaining that ceiling. As much of a lark as it might be to think Bundy could reach such heights, we shouldn’t put it past a pitcher of his raw talent to pitch at a front-end clip, for as long as the O’s will let him go.

While there are no sure things in this world, the Orioles haven’t been better poised to receive a front of the rotation-type performance from one (or two) of their starters in recent memory. If it comes to fruition, we won’t forget it.