When asked what he is looking for from the pitching candidates in spring training camp, O's manager Dave Trembley made a simple statement: "Pitch to contact and good things will happen."
After a season of watching Orioles pitchers lead the major leagues in walks and hit batsmen the manager is looking for a staff to throw strikes, let the defense do its work, and make opponents earn their way on base. That's how you win games.
With increased depth in the organization and prospects beginning to make their presence felt, the eventual Orioles 2009 pitching staff has no choice but to follow that mantra. If not, there could be a viable replacement making a case in the minor leagues for a promotion to the big club.
Trembley has the numbers that he knows must improve to compete in the AL East. Of the five teams in the division, the Orioles were looking up at their rivals, not only in the standings, but also in the key pitching categories last season.
Let's start with team ERA. The O's were fifth in the division and 13th overall in the American League. The league ranking follows the ERA.
Toronto 3.49 (1st)
Tampa Bay 3.82 (2nd)
Boston 4.01 (4th)
New York 4.28 (8th)
Orioles 5.13 (13th)
Only the Texas Rangers, at 5.37, had a higher team ERA in the major leagues than the Orioles. It's very difficult to win consistently when you allow that many runs per game.
Another gauge is how many baserunners each team allowed per nine innings. The fewer base runners allowed, the fewer opportunities your opponent has to score runs. Again, the O's were last out of the five division teams in baserunners allowed per 9-innings.
Toronto (11.6 per nine)
Tampa Bay (11.9 per nine)
Boston (12.4 per nine)
New York (12.6 per nine)
Orioles (14.6 per nine)
That's where Trembley's mantra can have an immediate effect towards improvement. Last season, the Orioles led the major leagues in walks allowed with 687 and in hit batsmen with 80. That's 767 additional base runners getting on base without the benefit of a hit, an average of almost 5 more runners per game.
The Orioles played in 75 games last season decided by 2 runs or less going (21-29) in games decided by 1-run and (8-17) in games decided by 2-runs. That's a 29-46 record in games that can go either way. How many of those extra base runners could have made the difference in those games.
The Orioles expect their defense to be markedly improved this season. Gold Glover Cesar Izturis is now the shortstop. With Melvin Mora, Brian Roberts and Aubrey Huff surrounding Izturis, the O's infield is solid and dependable.
Felix Pie is expected to patrol left field, joining Adam Jones and Nick Markakis to give the Orioles one of the top outfield alignments in the majors, especially in cutting off balls in the gap. And Gregg Zaun is still a top defensive catcher and handler of pitchers.
Orioles pitchers should be aggressive and encourage hitters to put the ball in play. The defense will be behind them. But the defense can't defend walks and hit batters.
So the Mantra has been established, and it's another important step towards consistency and winning more games: "Pitch to contact and good things will happen."