Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Fifth Starter Quandary

Todd Wellemeyer continues to struggle this time lasting only 4 innings and getting his third loss of the year. He had control problems walking 4 and constantly falling behind in the count and having to throw challenge fastballs.

Here is what Bruce Bochey said, “Todd, you know, he's been around. He'll regroup here. He's had a hiccup here these two starts. We need him to get back where he was.” I have to say that I disagree. The way that he is pitching is not that much of a deviation from what his career numbers say he should be doing.

He is giving more walks than normal but he is not known as a control kind of guy with a career walk rate of 4.4 per 9 and not a lot of strike outs to make up for it. The one year that he looked like a serviceable and valuable starting pitcher looks like the hiccup in his career not what is happening now.

Now the real question is who could be used to replace him? Let’s take a look.


The In House Replacements:
Kevin Pucetas:

In 5 minor league seasons Pucetas is done fairly well with a 43-14 record a 3.22 ERA and a strike out to walk ratio of just below 3. He came into camp as the third choice after struggling in the transition to AAA for the number 5 starter spot and competed well. In the end the Giants decided that they would go with the guy with the veteran savvy.

Why he could be better:

First of all he is much younger and has better potential upside. Not a whole lot as he probably projects to a backend rotation or bullpen arm. He has shown much better control then Wellemeyer over his career even when struggling last season keep his walks per 9 below 3. Bringing up Pucetas at best could be a marginal improvement of a half a win to maybe a win and a half if he can pitch at slightly above replacement level.

Why it could be more of the same:

Pucetas is an unknown at the Major League level and struggled last season with the jump from high A to AAA with all of the stats moving in the wrong direction. If his numbers do the same thing after a call up you are looking at a near mirror image of what Wellemeyer is giving us.

Joe Martinez:

Martinez made the team coming out of spring training last season and suffered a gruesome injury with a line drive off the skull. He was able to make it back with the club but then didn’t have great numbers in the 30 innings that he pitched.

Why he could be better:

Martinez has done well at every level that he played for any significant amount of time. He sports a strong strike out to walk ratio in the minors of just under 4 with 7.4 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9. The Giants felt strong enough about his talent to let him join the team last season as the long man and could probably give the team some decent replacement level or slightly above innings.

Why it could be more of the same:

The story for Martinez is that he probably wouldn’t give the Giants that big of a boost over Wellemeyer. In his short stint if the big club last season he was hit around pretty good but it is hard to extrapolate from those numbers as it was only 30 innings but if that is the reflection of his true talent it is not much better than what we are currently getting.

Madison Bumgarner:

Bumgarner is the top pitching prospect in the farm system and projects to be a front of the rotation kind of arm. The fifth starter spot was his to lose this spring and he had a poor showing in spring which has carried over into his first few starts in Fresno. The job is most likely his if he is able to get on track and is ready for a call up later in the summer.

Why he could be better:

Bumgarner has much better natural talent and at 20 has tremendous upside compared to the others on the list. He is regarded as one of the best prospects in the game and up until the recent bump in the road was on the fast track to the majors while mowing down the competition every step of the way. He made a spot start for the big club and was quite effective even with diminished velocity.

Why it could be more of the same:

At the end of last season Bumgarner lost 5-10 mph off his plus fast ball. This has been a cause for concern because with the loss in velocity came a drop off in his K/9. The loss of velocity has continued into the spring and while there appears to not be an injury it isn’t normal for 20 year olds to lose that much on their best pitch. With out the plus fastball he has been very hittable and that could be the case if he hasn’t figured out what how to get guys out without being able to blow it by them.

Outside Replacements:

The Giants could always look outside of the farm system for an arm with guys like John Smoltz or Jarrod Washburn. These would be mercenary arms and could be an effective stop gap measure for if/when Bumgarner is ready to take over the role. I think that this maybe the best way to go about replacing Wellemeyer if he continues to struggle over the next few starts.

There is not a whole lot of upside and we would certainly have to pay the market price or maybe more for these guys but if the Giants are serious about winning this year getting an extra 2-3 wins could make a big difference in what appears to be a very tough and evenly matched division race.

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