Nobody was expecting the Baltimore Orioles to instantly become playoff contenders in 2012, but today’s news out of Birdland is still depressing. According to Jim Duquette, Zach Britton’s shoulder injury from late last season is “still lingering” and will limit his workload during spring training. Britton was rated as the Orioles’ top pitching prospect coming into the 2011 season, and he was arguably the O’s best pitcher for the first half of the season before slumping badly down the stretch.
Britton is hardly the first Orioles’ pitcher to have injury troubles. Heck, at this point, Orioles fans probably expect the team’s best pitching prospects to either get injured or flop at the major-league level. Brian Matusz looked like he was off to a spectacular young career, before getting injured and failing to regain his velocity or control. Jake Arrietta and Chris Tillman used to be considered the future of the franchise, but neither has been able to successfully transition to the majors. Also, while not a highly rated prospect, Brad Bergesen flashed some promise in 2009, but has since had injury issues and trouble striking out major-league hitters.
So while this news about Britton shouldn’t be too surprising, it makes me wonder: how much of the Orioles’ struggles to develop good, young pitchers is a result of organization philosophy and management, and how much is just plain bad luck?
Pitching prospects flame out at a terrifyingly high rate, so it could be that the Orioles have done everything they could possibly do in these instances, yet have been stuck on Lady Luck’s bad side. That may not be the most satisfying answer, but when evaluating the success of pitching prospects, it’s important not to be drawn into the narrative.
That said, it appears that the Orioles have made revamping their organization’s approach to pitching a priority. New GM Dan Duquette has brought in a number of new arms this off-season, including Dana Eveland, Jason Hammel, and two international signings in Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada (both of whom could make their way into the 2012 rotation). But if you believe that the Orioles’ pitching problem has been the result of an organizational philosophy, then Duquette’s most important move of the off-season was in hiring Rick Peterson and Chris Correnti.
Peterson has worked as the pitching coach for a number of major-league teams, and he’s a big proponent of using psychology and biomechanics to help pitchers stay healthy. He’s been given the role of overseeing the Orioles’ minor-league pitchers and helping them develop properly. Meanwhile, Chris Correnti will serve as a “performance consultant”, and he’s expected to work with injured pitchers to help them get better, and to create a year-long conditioning program for the O’s pitching staff. Correnti worked in a similar role with the Red Sox from 1994-2005.
Will Peterson and Correnti be able to help the O’s? Will their pitching staff stop getting hit by the injury bug? That all remains to be seen, but in the wake of Britton’s injury, it seems like a good time to note that the Orioles are heading off in a new direction. I just hope it’s not too late for Matusz and Britton.