In the third of a five-part series, WFNY will take a look at your last place Cleveland Indians. After examining the infield, and the outfield we will delve into the starting rotation. The single biggest question mark coming into the season, the Tribe’s starters have been a mix of hot and cold.
When Spring Training opened, the only things we knew for sure were that Jake Westbrook would be the opening day starter, Fausto Carmona would follow him, and slotted somewhere after that would be Justin Masterson. The last two spots were up for grabs with several players battling for the jobs.
David Huff, Jeremy Sowers, and Aaron Laffey from the left side; Carlos Carrasco, Mitch Talbot, and Hector Rondon from the right side. By mid-March, Sowers’ injury took him out of the running. Rondon never became a serious candidate. Talbot pitched lights out and took command of the fourth spot. This left Laffey, Huff, and Carrasco for the last spot.
The decision was made to put Laffey in the bullpen out of necessity and Huff won the fifth starter job. It wasn’t that he pitched all that well, but he seemed like the lesser of two evils. So it was set – the 2010 Indians rotation would look like this: Westbrook, Carmona, Masterson, Talbot, and Huff.
At the all star break, Laffey has replaced Huff, but the others have remained.
Jake Westbrook (5-5, 4.75 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 108.0 IP, 62 K’s, 36 BB’s)
After almost two years off, Jake returned to take his rightful place as the rock of the rotation. Tommy John surgery will take a lot out of a guy, and we all knew it. It usually take a guy a couple of years to full recover. You can see that with Jake. He has been up and down most of the season. One start he looks like the Jake of old. The next, he struggles with his command and can’t make it passed the sixth inning.
That said, Jake has continued to battle and be the staff leader. Sure, his numbers aren’t impressive, but he is still an example to the rest of the youngsters on this team in regards to working hard every day and being accountable.
As a free agent at the end of the season, Westbrook is an attractive trade chip for a contender looking for a middle of the rotation starter. If i’m a team like the Mets, Phillies, or Braves, I would have to take a long look towards Cleveland. Westbrook is a perfect fit in the NL. He still gets the ground ball outs when he needs them and he is playoff tested. Let us not forget that while CC Sabathia was wetting himself in the 2007 ALCS, Westbrook was nails.
Last thing about Jake – the guy is loyal. Even though the Indians are going nowhere, don’t be shocked it he is back in Wahoo Red, White, and Blue next year at a discounted rate.
Fausto Carmona (8-7, 3.64 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 116.1 IP, 61 K’s, 43 BB’s)
Perhaps the most underrated storyline of the 2010 Tribe season has been the return of Fausto to prominence. The Indians lone All Star representative went from rags to riches in a 365 day span. At this time last year, Fausto was back all the way in Arizona rookie ball trying to find himself. A year later, he is the Indians best starter again.
I’m not going to sit here and say he is the 2007 Carmona; we may never see that again. But he is definitely closer to ’07 than ’08-’09. Credit goes not only to Carmona himself, but new voices in pitching coach Tim Belcher and his former personal catcher Mike Redmond, who was designated for assignment last week.
We’ve seen the power sinker return as well as more life on his fastball. Fausto’s biggest problem over the previous two seasons was his control. The walks were killing him. 2010 has been different. Sure, he could still walk less hitters, but the six walk games which seemed common in ’08 and ’09 have all but disappeared.
With a club friendly contract and a renewed confidence, Fausto should be a fixture at the top of the Indians rotation from years to come.
Justin Masterson (3-8, 5.31 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 105.0 IP, 82 K’s, 48 BB’s)
Masterson has been a bit of an enigma. Over the first two months of the season, I was convinced this guy was not a major league starter but could be a very effective bullpen guy. He stumbled out of the gate and carried a 13 game losing streak for almost 10 months before notching his first win of the season on June 4th.
No doubt Masterson has a live arm. His quirky delivery can keep opposing hitter off balance, but he has arm slot issues from time to time. The former Red Sox essentially seemed to be on his last legs as a starter until a key sit down with Belcher before his May 30th start in New York. Since that point, the light has seemed to go on for J Mast.
Since that start where he went seven innings, allowing three earned runs, Masterson has dramatically improved. On June 9th, he pitched a complete game, two-hit shut out against his former team. On July 1st, he pitched eight innings of one run ball, walking nobody and striking out five.
Could he be better Sure. The kid has strikeout machine written all over him, and that is a big reason I would love to see him as a set-up man. But the Indians still view him as a member of the rotation long term. We will see who is right in the end.
But what do I know?
Mitch Talbot (8-8, 3.99 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 108.1 IP, 54 K’s, 44 BB’s)
You want to talk about the single biggest surprise of the 2010 season? Its easy. Who knew Mitch Talbot would be this effective. And really, who knows how he does it. He doesn’t strike out a lot of guys, and of late, he is walking more guys than we’d like to see, but the kid has moxie.
“The Fury” jumped out of the gate 5-2 and was the rock of the rotation. In his 17 starts, he gone gone five innings plus in all but one, including 10 “quality” starts (six innings, three runs or less). He pounds the zone and wants the opposing hitters to put the ball in play. Talbot is never going to be top of the rotation material, but as a back-end guy, you could do a lit worse than The Fury.
Coming into the Spring, nobody knew who he was, other than “that guy we got for Kelly Shoppach.” Now, he is viewed as an innings eating bullpen saver.
David Huff (2-9, 6.04 ERA, 1.69 WHIP, 70.0 IP, 34 K’s, 30 BB’s)
Those who read my stuff know I’ve never been a Huff guy. He may have won 11 games as a rookie, but he ERA was 5.61. He doesn’t strike out a lot of guys and walks way too many. To me, he is just another soft-tossing nibbler. The difference is he doesn’t induce the double play grounders to get out of jams the way Laffey does.
Huff has had two huge moments in 2010. The first was his complete game win over Texas in April, where he allowed two runs on four hits, walking just one. On that day, he didn’t miss his spots. The rest of the season hasn’t been that way. The other moment was a horrific accident that could have ended his career. On May 29th in New York, the Yankees Alex Rodriguez drilled a line-drive right off of Huff’s head. Amazingly after being carted off the field on a stretcher, he didn’t miss a single start.
Sadly, his pitching hasn’t really come around since New York either. The Indians brass kept him around probably too long. They gave Huff just enough rope to hang himself, and that’s what he did. On June 22nd, he was sent down to Columbus. I suspect he is a 4A special.
Aaron Laffey (1-2, 10 ER in 20 IP, 14 K’s, 11 BB’s, in Four Starts)
Laffey worked out of the bullpen for the first two months of the season, before being sent to Columbus to be stretched out as a starter. Since returning to the rotation, Laffey doesn’t really look any more appealing than Huff did. Like Huff, he is a soft-tossing lefty, but Laffey is a true ground ball specialist.
In his last start, the reports were that his velocity was way down, topping out in the mid-80′s. I was a big Laffey fan in 2007, when he came up and took the fifth spot in the rotation from a struggling guy named Cliff Lee. You may have heard of him. But since, he has been bounced back and forth between the rotation and the pen, AAA and the majors. It hasn’t served him well.
Laffey is who he is at this point. It won’t shock me to see Carrasco take his spot in the rotation at some point in the next month if Laffey continues to be a five and fly guy. In his four starts, he has gone only six innings once.
The craziest thing is usually a last place team is going through starting pitchers in record numbers. The Tribe has only used six.