Scott Feldman isn't a savior, but he could do a lot to help save the Orioles' playoff hopes. Baltimore's rotation is not the reason they're currently in possession of one of the American League wild card spots. It's not why they are just 2.5 games out in the competitive AL East. It's something of a weak point that's seen a lot of turnover and dealt with injuries, and they're going to need to solve it to survive the last three months of the season. Feldman is no ace, but he might be able to deliver some much-needed consistency to a rotation lacking just that.
Whether he'll be as productive as he was during his short time with the Cubs remains to be seen, though. Feldman has had some solid campaigns in his career, splitting time between starting and relieving with the Rangers, and 2013 has been, to this point, another one of those. He's also had plenty of seasons where he's faltered, though, and that's why his career ERA+ sits at a below-average 96 in spite of his successes. There are a few reasons to think he'll slide back a bit now that he's out of Chicago and the NL, but they shouldn't be anything alarming that ruins the idea of him as a useful starter for the O's.
First, and most obvious, is the switch from the National League to the American League. The NL Central is no picnic, not with the Reds, Pirates, and Cardinals all playing excellent baseball, but there is still no designated hitter, and, unlike in the AL East, there is at least occasionally a reprieve from quality opponents. We can see the quality of opponents Feldman has faced to this point, thanks to Baseball Prospectus: minimum 75 innings pitched, Feldman has had the 42nd-lowest opponent OPS in the majors, out of 108 qualifying pitchers. He hasn't had an easy ride, but it also hasn't leaned on the difficult side.
Photo credit: Brian Kersey
Seven of the top-10 highest opponent OPS belong to AL pitchers on the list, and nine of the top-20 are AL East pitchers. Granted, Feldman isn't going to have to face Chris Davis, but the Red Sox can mash, the Yankees won't be injured forever, the Rays actually rank higher than the O's in team OPS+, and the Blue Jays, despite early struggles, are starting to come around. This will hurt Feldman's line a bit, or, at the least, bring him back to around what his FIP suggests his ERA should be, closer to 4.00.
The AL East might just speed up the regression process that was bound to come, anyway. Feldman's batting average on balls in play is .260, while his career rate is .294. He could go the whole season and get away with that, but it's not something you want to bet on, either. The fact he won't get to face opposing pitchers very often anymore will also hurt. Feldman limited #9 hitters to a 339 OPS, whereas your average NL starter held them to a 476 mark, according to Baseball Reference. Feldman has faced a few AL teams this year, but only one of those came in a game with a DH, so his numbers are heavily skewed by the kinds of lineups he'll rarely see for the rest of 2013.
So, Feldman's ERA will likely rise, but that doesn't mean he'll be bad. He's got some cushion right now, and even if he falls to his career levels, that should help the Orioles out. The O's won't have top prospect Dylan Bundy this year or next thanks to Tommy John surgery, and they're already using their next-best pitching prospect, Kevin Gausman, in the majors. Reliever T.J. McFarland was listed in Baltimore's depth chart as a starter before the Feldman trade went down, 36-year-old veteran Freddy Garcia manned a rotation spot for 10 games because there were no other options, and Jason Hammel, who is supposed to be productive, has an 82 ERA+.
Feldman, even in an average capacity, should help Chris Tillman (113 ERA+) and a healthy Wei-Yin Chen keep the rotation level enough for the offense to do their thing. If Miguel Gonzalez can keep succeeding in spite of home run troubles, than that's one less thing the O's need to worry about. Feldman won't save the Orioles on his own, but he gives them a better chance of sticking around, and that's worth recognizing.