It's hard enough to find five good starting pitchers. But the high occurrence of injuries to pitchers in this day and age commonly forces teams to utilize at least eight or nine starting pitchers to get through a 162-game season.
As a result, certain characteristics have become extremely important when assembling a starting rotation. Without a good combination of consistency, durability and reliability, things can get ugly very quickly.
And this is why pitchers like Bronson Arroyo and A.J. Burnett, even as they enter their age-37 seasons, are so valuable to a pitching staff. You pretty much know what you're going to get—30-plus starts, ERA in the mid-3.00s, 200 innings, etc.
Most importantly, their teams know that when they take the mound every fifth day, they will have given their teams a chance to win by the time they depart after six or seven innings.
So that's why a team like the Baltimore Orioles, who could already throw out a pretty good starting five on Opening Day (Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, Kevin Gausman), are looking to add one of the two free-agent starters.
According to Eduardo A. Encina of The Baltimore Sun, the O's are more interested in the stability that Arroyo or Burnett could bring to their rotation as opposed to the top three free-agent starters—Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana—who will be paid big money for what they can potentially do, despite having careers that have had extreme highs and lows.
Which of Arroyo or Burnett would be more effective in Baltimore? Let's take a closer look.
The 10-year comparisons show two pitchers who have had similarly successful big league careers, with the most notable differences being Burnett's much higher strikeout rate and Arroyo's much higher home run totals. Burnett throws much harder, and Arroyo has pitched most of his career in a hitter-friendly ballpark, so that shouldn't come as a big surprise.
What this 10-year average doesn't show is the consistency level that each pitcher has displayed. Aside from Burnett's last two seasons with the New York Yankees, in which he posted an ERA over 5.00, and Arroyo's 2011 season, in which he posted a 5.07 ERA with a league-leading 46 homers allowed, the overall numbers aren't much different from year to year.
During the last two seasons, however, Arroyo and Burnett have been in top form.
Arroyo has improved upon an already strong BB/9 rate, while Burnett has gotten particularly stingy at allowing the long ball. Both have become even more reliable, however, when it comes to quality starts (at least six innings pitched, no more than three earned runs allowed).
Taking that a step further, Arroyo pitched at least seven innings in 14 of his 32 starts in 2013, while failing to complete six innings in only eight of his starts. He also allowed two earned runs or fewer in 17 starts, while allowing three or four earned runs in 10 starts and five earned runs or more only five times.
Burnett (pictured) made it through seven innings in 15 of his 30 starts, while failing to complete six innings in 10 of those. He allowed two earned runs or fewer in 20 starts, while allowing three or four earned runs five times and five earned runs or more in his other five starts.
There were only seven occasions in their combined 62 starts in 2013—four for Arroyo and three for Burnett—when either of them left the game without giving their team a pretty good chance of winning the game.
It's hard to get much more consistent than that. It's hard to be more reliable than that.
So which is the better fit in Baltimore?
Both have been successful in the NL Central, but what about the AL East? Burnett, despite a rough ending to his Yankees career, had three very good seasons with Toronto and one with New York. Arroyo's first two full seasons as a starting pitcher came with Boston.
Arroyo has experience and a proven track record of success pitching in one of the most homer-friendly parks in the majors. The homer-friendly confines of Camden Yards shouldn't faze him one bit.
Burnett doesn't give up many homers. He only gave up 11 homers in 191 innings pitched last season. But he's allowed 10 homers in 62.1 career innings at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, while posting a 5.03 ERA.
While that small sample size of struggles in Baltimore won't scare the O's away from Burnett, it could cause them to lean toward Arroyo.
Arroyo, however, will require a two-year commitment, maybe even three, likely in the $7-10 million range, while Burnett, if he chooses to keep pitching, would likely settle for a one-year deal in the $10-15 million range.
Which would be the smarter move for the Orioles?
It's a close call, and I don't think the O's would end up regretting the signing of either pitcher. But if I had to choose between, say, Arroyo at two years and $20 million, or Burnett at one year and $14 million, I'd go with Burnett.
There's a strong possibility that Gausman could be the ace of the 2015 staff and fellow pitching prospects Dylan Bundy, Eduardo Rodriguez and Mike Wright could all be ready for a full season in the majors. In addition, Tillman, Chen, Norris and Gonzalez would all still be under team control. Giving any free-agent pitcher more than one season seems unnecessary at this point.