July 31, 2014

Indians Spring Training Battles: The Fifth Starter

When the entire Fausto Carmona identity situation came to light, the Indians were left with a dilemma. Should they look for outside alternatives to fill the new void at the fifth spot in the rotation or should they consider the in-house candidates that were expected to start the season at AAA Columbus? As it turned it, the battle would be a combination of both.

Two days after the arrest of the man we now know as Roberto Hernandez, the Tribe traded for right-hander Kevin Slowey who struggled with injuries last year in Minnesota, but was a solid back of the rotation guy the previous three years. Just before Spring Training started, they kicked the tired on veteran righty Jon Garland, who was coming off of shoulder surgery. As it turned out, Garland failed his physical and never joined the club. So Slowey would enter the battle as the lone new guy and would take on Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, Zach McAllister, and Scott Barnes. All of these pitchers have Minor League options.

But would the best man really win?

Economics always play a part in the Tribe’s thinking and Slowey is scheduled to make $2.50 million this season. The Tribe is only on the hook for $1.25 of it. Nevertheless, they are paying him more than the other candidates and he has more of a major league track record as well. McAllister and Barnes were never serious candidates to take the job, but Barnes is seen as a guy who could help at some point this season and should be a guy that is in the rotation in 2013.  So really the competition was down to three guys – Slowey, Huff, and Gomez.

Slowey has shown this Spring that he is what he is. He’s made four starts, allowed nine earned runs on 19 hits in 12 innings pitched (6.75 ERA). He has walked four and struck out five. Nothing special and certainly nothing that has been attention catching for the Tribe staff. But he does have a major league track record.

Huff is Huff. We know what we have there. Despite his five-start hot streak last season (before coming back down to earth) the Indians have to know he is a fringe guy. With the final bullpen spot still up for grabs, the Tribe may be best suited keeping Huff as a long man. Like Slowey, he hasn’t been great this Spring, sporting an ERA of 5.79 (17 hits in 14 innings pitched).

This brings us to Gomez.

When the moves were made to add Derek Lowe, Slowey, and then the attempt at Garland, I wondered if the Indians were down on Gomez despite his solid performance down the stretch last season. It seemed as though they were, to use a college football recruiting term, “signing over” him. But the 24-year old Venezuelan had plans of his own. He showed up in Goodyear ready for action and all he has done has produced. Ask anyone who has been in Arizona over the last month, the most impressive pitcher in camp thus far has been Gomez.

He’s made five spring appearances and has posted an ERA of 1.69 (three earned runs in 16 innings), a WHIP of 1.06, and opponents are hitting just .196 against him.

“It’s interesting to see how far he’s come as a pitcher. We’ve not penciled in [any names] for the rotation, but he’s making a case for himself,” said Manager Manny Acta.

With the way Gomez has pitched this spring and the fact that Slowey, Huff, and the others haven’t exactly set the world on fire, how can the Indians even consider not breaking camp with Jeanmar as their fifth starter?

Count the PD’s Terry Pluto as a guy who is firmly in Gomez’s corner. There were reports over the weekend that the Indians are still searching for more starting pitching help, but to be honest, everyone is. But with the way Gomez has looked this Spring, I think it’s time to give the kid a shot.

We can’t overlook how he pitched down the stretch last September with the big club. In the first four of his five September starts, Gomez was 4-0, allowing six earned runs in 24 innings pitched.

Give him his shot. Slowey shouldn’t beat him out on economics alone. Comparing their springs, that would be the only way he would beat Gomez out.

 

  • Boomhauertjs

    Economics are why Austin Kearns was on the roster way too long last year…

  • Steve

    Untrue. He was on the roster because Brantley, Sizemore and Choo all missed significant time.

    And this is my least favorite time of year to be a baseball fan. Once again, Spring Training numbers mean nothing. And we have to squint pretty hard to find a noteworthy performance from Gomez last year. You may want to focus on just 24 innings, but there are 92 more than say he’s nothing more than 5th starter flotsam. Slowey has shown he can strike out guys at a higher rate and walk them at a lower rate – factors that tell us more going forward.

  • mgbode

    I am in Gomez’s corner.   I think Slowey should be the “longman” in the bullpen.  We will need Huff at some point this season.  Let him get ready in Columbus.

    Looking at the season projections in fangraphs.com, I don’t see a signficant difference between the 2.  So, let’s go with the younger guy who has been brought up through our system and give him some room to see what he does.

  • Hypno_Toad

    Slowey of the 0-8 record last year? 

    I realize wins and losses for pitchers aren’t the most viable stat but Slowey really didn’t look good last year. I think after multiple seasons in the majors we have seen pretty much what Kevin Slowey will be. I don’t think we can say the same about Gomez. Even if this spring is a mirage for him he has out-pitched Slowey at every turn. Why not give the kid a chance? 

  • Steve

    So you undermine your first sentence with your second. And “hey, why not” is not an argument I’m going to buy. No, Slowey isn’t a a world-beater, but I’ll take the k and bb rates, over a couple exhibition games against veterans who are more concerned about which bar to hit that night or AA roster filler.

  • ChadF

    I agree totally with Gomez as the 5 and Slowey as the long man.  He couldn’t beat out Brian Duensing last year for the Twins’ 5 spot and pitched his first 6 games in relief / long relief.  Then he got hurt, rehabbed in single A and made 7 starts in AAA before being called up at the end of the season.  He then went on to pitch terrible when it meant nothing to the Twins, but everything for Slowey.

    If Gomez is going to fail let him do it at the major league level and not in Columbus.  He’s already proved he can win games at the end of last year.  

  • Hypno_Toad

    “aren’t the most viable stat” does not mean “completely meaningless”

    look at Slowey’s AVG against the past three seasons…

    2011 – .309
    2010 – .280
    2009 – .321

    Yeah Slowey doesn’t walk many guys, but he gives up a lot of hits because of it. He reminds me a lot of Josh Tomlin. I just think we know what we have in Slowey. He isn’t going to light the world on fire, but he won’t walk guys and he’ll have a modest ERA around 4. He is exactly what you want out of a #5 starter.

    Gomez on the other hand doesn’t have as much MLB experience. He’s 4 years younger than Slowey. He seems to have made some nice strides in his game this spring. We don’t have much to go off of in the majors but in the past thee years minors look at his AVG against and K/BB rates

    2011 – .244 110/49
    2010 – .284 78/42
    2009 – .242 124/45

    The minors are obviously not the majors but why not take a risk on a kid who could be taking a major step forward this season and adapting his game to the major league level rather than plugging in a sure fire #5 type guy?

    So yeah, why not give the kid a chance is fine with me.

  • kjn

    Spring training results are meaningless.

    That said, I’d like to see Gomez get a chance at the ML level. Like you say, we’ve already got a pretty good idea of the type of players Slowey and Huff are.

    The Indians want to compete this year so I don’t think economics will figure into the decision at all. On top of that, I fully expect to see all of these guys getting ample opportunity to start in the bigs thanks to injuries and wear-and-tear.

  • kjn

    Thing is, wins are meaningless. They’re the most arbitrary, illogical made-up “stat” you can find.

    I agree with your larger point though: I’d like to see what Gomez can do at the ML level.

  • kjn

    This is something I’ve noticed about most Cleveland sports debates- they usually center around deciding between two equally disappointing-to-mediocre options.

    What chump should start in left? What back-up QB should the Browns start? Re-sign Grady or get a bargain bin CF? Slowey or Huff?

    Now granted, in this case we’re talking about 5th starters so intrinsically they’re not going to be world beaters, but still. It’s something of a trend.

  • Steve

    You won’t say it but I will, wins, on an individual level, are all but meaningless. And in fact, hits against are something that are more variable than k and bb.

    You put Gomez out there because the scouts saw more life in his fastball, or he added a new pitch to his arsenal. Because of something tangible that says he should improve over his previous major league results.

  • mgbode

    it’s hard to find many teams that are not doing the same with their 5th starters.  unless, of course, they have a disappointingly, mediocre option entrenched in the spot this year (which would have been us if Fausto was his name-O).

    btw, it’s a fun song to sing with your kids.  I suggest you try it out though you have to change the cadence a little on the spelling to make it work (3fast,3fast instead of 2slow,3fast on B-I-N-G-O)

    there was a pitcher had a name and Fausto was his name-O
    F-A-U-S-T-O
    F-A-U-S-T-O
    F-A-U-S-T-O
    and Fausto was his name-O

    then repeat with the claps replacing the letters until there’s nothing left but claps.
    the last line of the song then becomes:
    and Roberto was his name? DOH! (complete with head-slap)