A year ago, the Orioles had the worst pitching staff in baseball — and by some metrics, the worst pitching staff in MLB history.
After they allowed a record 305 home runs and a 5.59 ERA in 2019, a change to the Orioles’ rotation was much needed. But perhaps no one expected the youth movement that took over the rotation in the last few weeks.
John Means is still in the rotation, but prospects Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer came on strong late this season to give the Orioles a fun glimpse at what could be for the rotation moving forward.
But the most seasoned holdover from last year was Alex Cobb.
Cobb, who threw six innings and allowed four hits and two runs in a 2-1 loss to the Rays on Friday night, is the most expensive member of the Orioles’ rotation. But where he fits into future plans is still to be decided.
“It’s been fun to see what we have,” Cobb said. “I didn’t know much about the organizational depth we had going into the season. I saw a couple of these guys in Spring Training and was able to see that they had electric arms and really good stuff but you never know how it’s going to play. You never know how guys are going to react in the big leagues.”
In the last few weeks, Akin and Kremer have pitched well enough to create excitement for the rotation entering the 2021 season.
In six games and four starts, Akin has thrown 18 ⅔ innings, allowed 14 hits and seven earned runs with 25 strikeouts and nine walks. His ERA is 3.38. Kremer, in just three starts, has an ERA of 1.69 through 16 innings with eight hits and three earned runs allowed.
Cobb, before Friday, threw in eight games and allowed 42 hits in 39 ⅓ innings pitched. His ERA was 5.03, but dipped to 4.76 after one of his better performances of the season.
“It’s been up and down,” Cobb said of his season. “I feel like it started off pretty well and then, middle part toward this latter part...we’ve been trying to make a lot of adjustments with the delivery. I think it’s going to pay off a lot in the long-run, but it’s a challenge to kind of do that in-season and feel comfortable out there. It’s something you have to go through in-game situations, to go through stuff and see how hitters are responding to your stuff and see if you’re on the right path.”
With likely just one start left in the 2020 season, it’s not too soon to wonder what could be in store in the last year of Cobb’s four-year, $57 million deal.
Cobb has been the subject of trade rumors for years in Baltimore as the most accomplished major league talent of the group on a rebuilding team. Up until the deadline this year, he was routinely listed as players that could be moved.
“There’s been some games where I’ve had to battle and get through it, but I think we’ve made a lot of progress,” Cobb said. “Coming off of a year last year where my health got me and I had to have two surgeries, I knew this year was going to have these types of moments where they’ve been up and down and trying to find your delivery and stuff like that. It’s difficult, but I think the trajectory has been going up, moving up, and I’m pleased with that.”
He’ll have to contend with a few upcoming prospects for a spot, like Michael Baumann and Bruce Zimmermann and Zac Lowther. That doesn’t include top picks DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez, who are expected to arrive in Baltimore, at the earliest, at some point next summer.
For the Orioles, there might not be a more crucial aspect to the rebuild than what comes of the pitching prospects. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out where Cobb fits in.
“Spring Training is a good way to see what kind of stuff they have, but it’s not a good indicator of what kind of big-league pitcher they’re going to be,” Cobb said of the youngsters. “And we’ve seen some tremendous outings from these guys. It’s really kind of gotten some momentum going in this starting rotation and I think a lot of guys are feeding off of it. There’s new energy.”