The Orioles do not score many runs. In fact, their 3.33 runs per game in 2010 puts them not only at the bottom of the American League, but also at 28th in the majors. Therein lies the crux of their league-worst 16-42 record. While their young pitchers have struggled at times, the offense has lacked the power to bail them out. Even with the veteran pitchers on the mound, the O’s have struggled to stay in games.
That wasn’t the plan when Andy MacPhail acquired Kevin Millwood at the Winter Meetings last December. The Orioles had scored 4.57 runs per game last season, a bit below league average but serviceable given the circumstances. Their lineup featured a number of young players coming into their primes. Improvement and maturation from Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters, and, to a certain extent, Nick Markakis (who had already established himself) figured to help catapult the offense a bit and provide support for the young pitchers.
Adding Millwood gave the Orioles another veteran presence in the rotation. He, along with Jeremy Guthrie, afforded MacPhail and Co. the flexibility to keep some of its less developed arms in the minors. Also, since he was likely to outperform the young arms, he gave the team a better chance to win some ballgames. The scheme was well laid, but it doesn’t take a Robert Burns to understand what can go wrong between plan and execution.
Wieters and Jones have struggled to produce anything so far. Reimold performed so poorly that he’s now at AAA — though could return as a first baseman, which is just another of the Orioles’ problems. Miguel Tejada, brought in to provide an upgrade over the departed Melvin Mora, has hit just as poorly as the latter. Those troubles extend to nearly everyone in the lineup. Of the nine Orioles with 100 or more PA, only three have an OBP above .320. That has made life tough for their pitchers.
To start the season Millwood did exactly what he was supposed to. Through 10 starts he had allowed just 28 earned runs, a 3.71 ERA against a 4.09 FIP. It wasn’t ace-like, but it should have been good enough for a team that scored between 4.5 and 5 runs per game. Yet, as we know, the Orioles fell far short of that. They had managed wins in just four of those 10 games, and in none of them did they have, or hold, a lead when he left the game.
While the Orioles have a poor offense to begin with, they’ve been even worse with Millwood on the mound. They have scored just 3.1 runs per game in his starts, compared to 3.3 per game overall. Over the course of 32 starts that amounts to about 6.5 runs, which doesn’t seem awfully significant, but can certainly make a difference if it’s concentrated in a few starts. What stands out more, however, is the support the Orioles have provided while Millwood is in the game.
To preface, Millwood is currently averaging 6.6 innings per game, which is more than he has averaged in any year since 1999. He’s helping the Orioles by pitching deeper into games and taking the burden off their woefully inadequate bullpen. The Orioles have rewarded his efforts with just 2.2 runs during the innings he pitches. Obviously they’ll score more than that in some games and fewer in others, but on average it means the Orioles are wasting even his quality starts. It means that efforts like his seven-inning, three-run outing against the Twins on May 8 go to waste. It means they don’t have much of a shot when he pitches all eight innings, allowing just four runs, in a game on the road, as he did on April 21 in Seattle.
Things have gotten much worse for Millwood in his last three starts. On May 28 he allowed five runs, four earned, in six innings against the Blue Jays. Then he ran into the Yankees twice, allowing six runs in 5.2 innings both times. In the four starts following his eight-inning, three-run performance against the Royals his ERA has jumped a full run. That should get better once he starts facing offenses not in the league’s top four, but the offensive problems will still persist.
The Orioles offense is just not scoring, and it’s affecting no one quite as greatly as Millwood. He has done exactly what the Orioles expected. He has afforded them flexibility with their young pitchers, and he has, until recently, kept opposing teams at bay. Andy MacPhail had a solid plan, but, as Burns so duly noted, those plans often gang aft agley.
I’d say Millwood is the least-supported pitcher in the league, but that would ignore Zack Greinke. As Joe Poz tweets, the Royals have failed with Greinke in the game during his last four starts. They have scored 2.4 runs while he’s in the game, which is a tick more than Millwood, but have scored only 3.1 for the entire game in which he pitches. The Royals offense as a whole has scored 4.34 runs per game, so the Royals seem to be failing Greinke more than the Orioles are failing Millwood. Also, like Millwood, Greinke has stumbled lately. Not that there’s a causal connection between poor run support and declining performance. But it is an interesting connection, at least.