It is not a coincidence, nor should it be a surprise to anyone that the two teams in the World Series, the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants, had the two lowest bullpen ERA’s in the playoffs. The game of baseball is evolving. And in this evolutionary process only those teams with great relief pitching will survive.
For example, in the ALCS against the Baltimore Orioles, the Kansas City Royals had great pithing; however, Yordano Ventura had the longest outing of any Royals starting pitcher going a mere 5.2 innings. Moreover, in the ALCS not a single starter for either team reached 6 innings pitched in a game. Good pitching no longer means going eight strong innings, or throwing a complete game. The 2014 definition of good starting pitching means achieving quality starts, which is defined by a pitcher throwing at least six innings and giving up three runs or fewer.
Much has been made here in Baltimore about the importance of having an ‘ace’ and the Orioles lack of great starting pitching. However sometimes it’s important to step back and analyze how essential great starting pitching is to winning a World Series. In the regular season the three teams with the top ERA for starting pitching were as follows: 1. Nationals 2. Dodgers 3. Cincinnati. The two teams in the World Series ranked 11th (Royals) and 16th (Giants) in starting pitching.
This year’s playoffs offered a perfect example of how great starting pitching can only get you so far as the Nationals, who starters only gave up 2 earned runs in four games, lost in the ALDS. And the Tigers who showed us that it doesn’t matter how many former Cy Young award winners you have on the team, if you don’t have a pitcher that can get outs in the 8th inning.
The Orioles have a couple bullpen arms that can get outs late in the game, and they were used often in the playoffs. The Orioles played 7 playoff games; Zach Britton appeared in 6 of those games; Andrew Miller appeared in 5. This is another important factor as great bullpen pitchers can pitch in almost every game of the playoffs. No starter for the Orioles pitched in more than 2 games. All this to say, that excellent bullpen pitching is not just important in the playoffs; it’s absolutely essential. As Oriole fans witnessed firsthand, often games come down to which bullpen is better.
As the game evolves and relief pitching becomes more and more important, a team needs at least three dominate bullpen arms. And these dominant relief pitchers are not that easy to find, just ask the Detroit Tigers. The Orioles this offseason will face many difficult decisions. With many of their everyday players getting raises the payroll will have to increase. And then there are the decisions regarding resigning Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. Also, there will certainly be some free agents the Orioles will target to sign. However, all of these moves should be secondary to signing Andrew Miller.
Resigning Andrew Miller should be the Baltimore Orioles number one priority this offseason. The Orioles should be putting all possible resources into this resigning as they are more than familiar with: A. the need for a strong bullpen when your starting pitchers consistently only go 5 innings and B. the difficulty of finding a consistently dominant bullpen arm.
I know I don’t need to make a case that Andrew Miller is dominant as it’s self-evident, but let me remind you of a few numbers. This year for the Orioles, in 20 innings pitched, Andrew Miller gave up 3 runs to go along with a WHIP of .60 and struck out 34 batters while walking just 4. That, boys and girls, is the definition of dominant. And he continued his dominance into dominance into the playoffs where over five he threw 7.1 innings and gave up no runs.
I know Miller won’t be cheap. However, Miller is not a luxury, he is an essential part of this team. And if the Orioles want to be a team that makes another run in the playoffs and even possibly wins a World Series, then they need to move past debating if they should resign Andrew Miller and start discussing how much they should they pay him.