Looking Back at What Was: Starting Rotation

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Source: Yardbarker.com

This is the eighth in a series of posts looking back at the realities of the Indians 2010 season. We’ll look at what was hoped for, what actually happened, and what the expectations are going forward at the position in 2011.

For the third straight season, the Indians dealt their Opening Day starter in July to a National League contender. Jake Westbrook wasn’t quite putting up the numbers C.C. Sabathia or Cliff Lee did, but I like to think he was at least as well liked as either since coming over from the Yankees in the David Justice trade now over 10 years ago. After trading Jake, Fausto Carmona filled in admirably as the ace of the staff, but the rest of the rotation was inconsistent at best.

The rotation coming out of spring training started with Westbrook and Carmona, followed by Justin Masterson, David Huff and Mitch Talbot. I’ll start with these five and discuss how they did and why they stayed or went, and then talk about the replacements.

Jake Westbrook
Jake Westbrook was a class act. In his entire stint with the Tribe, he never once complained about an assignment to the bullpen or anything really. However, he just isn’t a number one starter. He’s 73-75 in his career with a 4.29 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. Not bad numbers by any means, but not ace material. From day one this season he looked like he still had plenty of rust to knock off after spending basically the past 18 months on the shelf with injuries. He started slow and by the time he got going, Mark Shapiro seemingly couldn’t wait to unload him on the Cardinals for another minor leaguer. While I wasn’t glad to see him go, he was in a contract year and the team wasn’t likely to bring him back, so I was happy to see him get a chance to play for a contender and he actually pitched well for the Cards. There have been whispers of bringing him back next year, but I believe Larry Dolan is still looking for his misplaced checkbook, so I’ll believe it when I see it. Would love to see him back, though.

Fausto Carmona
I’ll never forget Fausto’s 2007 season, when he won 19 games and withstood a barrage of insects that the mentally-weaker Yankees couldn’t handle in the ALDS. I will try as hard as I can, though, to forget about his 2008 and 2009 seasons. In fact, I won’t even bring them up again. After a sizzling spring training, hope that the 2007 Fausto was back seemed reasonable for once, and throughout the season he showed signs of dominance with that ridiculous hard sinker. He was the Tribe’s only All-Star, but you wouldn’t know it by just looking at his numbers. He posted only a 13-14 record, but had 11 quality starts in which he received either a no decision or a loss. If he can put up similar numbers and continue to lower his walks, he should be able to tilt the record more to the positive side of .500, assuming his friends score a couple runs for him.

Justin Masterson
Ed likes to say that Masterson made 29 spot starts for the Indians this year, a reference to the fact that he seems to be more cut out as a setup man rather than a starter. Fact is, you don’t trade Victor Martinez for a setup guy. Or at least you don’t admit it right away. Materson’s 2010 season was like digging through the garbage trying to find the money you accidentally tossed. You know the good stuff is in there, but the more you dig, the harder it is to convince yourself it’s worth being elbow deep in waste. But as we got deeper and deeper into the trash and found a few ones, the pile got smaller and the fives and tens started to show more easily. I think he pitched well enough towards the end to get back into the rotation again, but if he starts off horribly again (2-7, 5.21 ERA through June), he may find himself in the bullpen faster than you can say Aaron Laffey.

David Huff
No. No. A thousand times, no. I don’t care if David Huff doesn’t allow a baserunner in all of spring training, if Manny Acta puts him back in the rotation I want Acta subjected to the same testing Ron Washington (congrats to his Rangers who just clinched the ALDS as I type this section) failed, because he must be on some serious narcotics. I guess Huff pitched okay-enough in 2009 (11-8, 5.61 ERA!) to get another chance in 2010. His line for 2010: 15 starts, 2-11 record, 6.21 ERA, 1.69 WHIP, 37 K, 34 BB, 101 hits in 79.2 innings. Jeremy Sowers, anyone?

Mitch Talbot
When the Indians traded Kelly Shoppach to the Rays, I honestly didn’t care who the got in return. I was just glad one more person was out of Carlos “Supernatural” Santana’s way. When I learned who it was, and that he made the rotation, I was extremely skeptical. I basically assumed that he would get a few starts, pitch like Jeff Juden, and then bounce back and forth between Columbus and Cleveland. He made me look foolish, spending basically the entire year in the rotation, DL stint aside. Another guy who’s numbers were not spectacular by any means, but he was surprisingly consistent for most of the year, and could possibly be a stalwart in the middle-to-back-end of the rotation for a few years to come. Congrats to him for proving me wrong, I like to think it doesn’t happen often, and I hope he continues to make me eat the words I spoke in March.

A couple of the replacements worth noting:

Jeanmar Gomez
Like I’ve said before, I love this guy’s future. He came up in July for a spot start against Detroit and looked phenomenal. The shocking thing about it was not just that he pitched well (he had done so in the lower minors), but that he has been having a horrendous season with the Clippers and was only brought up because it was his turn in the rotation. He was sent down directly after his first start, but made his way back up and pitched very well for most of the season. He got rocked in his last three starts, but since I like his future so much I’ll attribute that to arm fatigue. Whether or not that was really the issue, expect him to compete for a spot next year.

Josh Tomlin
Here’s an assignment: for your first major league start, you’re going to face the defending World Champion Yankees while Alex Rodriguez is sitting at 599 career home runs. How did Josh Tomlin do with this assignment, you wonder (or would like a reminder)? 7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, W. That is pretty damn impressive for anyone, let alone a kid making his first major league appearance. Just like Gomez, he pitched well for the rest of the year but was roughed up a bit in September, but I’ll allow the same excuse (fatigue), and he should be right there in the mix come spring.

Carlos Carrasco
Considering the price, this kid better be good. Acquired in the Cliff Lee Debacle, his ERA in 2009 was nearly 9 with the big team in 22.1 innings with 11 K and 11 BB. Bleak. However, after getting a September call up this season, he posted a much better line (3.83, 38, 14) in twice the innings. With as much as the Indians paid for him, expect him in the rotation next year.

Justin Germano
Just kidding.

If you’ve been keeping track, I’ve pegged six guys as either shoo-ins or probables for the rotation. That’s a problem. If I (and Ed, too, I’d imagine) had my way, they’d move Masterson to the pen where he could be dominant rather than average. That leaves Carmona at the front, and some combination of Talbot, Gomez, Tomlin and Carrasco in any order after him. In all honesty, Mitch Talbot is probably just holding Alex White’s place until he is ready, and eventually someone else will be bumped for first rounder Drew Pomeranz (but he’s a couple years away). At the very least, the flexibility allows the team to keep from rushing Alex White to the majors too soon. It will be hard for fans not to call for the 2009 first round pick if any of the above struggles, especially if he torches the minors again next year (150.2 IP, 2.45 ERA, 1.12 WHIP!), but I’d hate to seem him here if he’s not ready.

All that said, a few injuries could make pretty much all these projections completely irrelevant. I’d like to think that the rotation has some stability, though. With the back end of the bullpen settled, if the team can produce any amount of offense this rotation should crank out quite a few more wins than last year. But that, as we know all too well, is a big “if”.

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