Most teams pay their big-name starting pitchers a fortune to provide 200 innings this season. But for a few of those pitchers, their performance is crippling teams that hope to contend, and that brings their job security into question.
Some of these pitchers have long track records that afford them a longer leash. They may not lose their jobs based on a bad first month, but if the struggles continue into June, teams may begin looking for alternatives.
Some of these pitchers will turn it around and finish just fine, but others will either be demoted, traded or pushed to the bullpen.
Ryan Vogelsong is 1-4 with an 8.06 ERA and 1.839 WHIP in eight starts. While Vogelsong rewarded supporters with two excellent seasons at age 33 and 34, posting a 3.05 ERA and 27 wins in 2011 and 2012 combined, his track record prior to 2011 is decidedly fuzzy.
Between his debut in 2000 and the start of 2011, Vogelsong had a 5.86 ERA and 1.590 WHIP in 315 innings, not appearing in the majors in 2002 or in any season after 2006. He had no seasons with a winning record before 2011, and his luck may finally be running out.
While the Giants lack an elite prospect to sub in Vogelsong's place, if he continues to get rocked every time out, they will have to find some suitable replacement.
Wade Davis was the complementary piece acquired with James Shields in the much-discussed Wil Myers trade between Tampa Bay and Kansas City. The Royals hoped Davis would slot into the rotation immediately and provide stability in the middle of a rebuilt rotation.
Davis has a 5.98 ERA, 1.893 WHIP and 6.6 K/9, which is much more in line with his 2009-2011 numbers than his 11.1 K/9 from 2012. Of course, that 2012 season was his only full year coming out of the bullpen, where he also put up a career-low 2.43 ERA.
This may be a case—similar to Daniel Bard in 2012—of a team attempting to make a pitcher into something he is not. Davis may simply be used best as a dominant bullpen arm.
Jeremy Hellickson was once the top pitching prospect in baseball. His first three seasons resulted in a 3.06 ERA and 1.193 WHIP. However, over his last two seasons, according to FanGraphs, Hellickson has posted FIPs of 4.44 and 4.60, respectively, despite his ERA being far lower, along with 5.9 K/9.
Hellickson is now running a 5.82 ERA in nine starts in 2013. The Rays find themselves only 4.5 games back in an abnormally average American League East. This may give Hellickson a longer leash because they can stay in contention while he works out the kinks.
However, Hellickson's peripherals have long hinted he has not pitched as well as the surface numbers indicate. The Rays have Chris Archer, Taylor Guerrieri and Jake Odorizzi in the minors, so they have flexibility if Hellickson needs time in the minors.
Jarrod Parker was a revelation for the underdog Athletics in 2012. He won 13 games in 181.1 innings and posted a 3.47 ERA with a 6.9 K/9. In his last two starts of the season, Parker heroically beat Texas on September 26 and again on October 1.
In nine 2013 starts, Parker has a 6.04 ERA and 1.699 WHIP, and his BB/9 has risen to 4.5. More importantly, he has given up 1.7 HR/9, more than three times the ratio from 2012.
After Parker's performance in 2012, he probably has a few more weeks to right the ship. The A's are 6.5 games back in the division, despite holding second place. With the Rangers already pulling away from the group, Parker will need to figure things out sooner rather than later.
The Giants won the World Series in 2012 with Tim Lincecum in the bullpen. During the 2012 playoffs, Lincecum pitched in relief five times, each for two or more innings. In 13 frames of relief, he struck out 17 and allowed one run.
Meanwhile, in his one postseason start, he allowed four runs in 4.2 innings, a Game 4 NLCS loss to St. Louis.
Lincecum has made 41 regular-season starts since the beginning of 2012. He is 13-17 with a 4.95 ERA and 1.449 WHIP over 234.2 innings. Prior to 2012, he never had the BB/9 over four or HR/9 over one that he had last season.
The Giants are currently tied for the division lead, so they have time to wait on both Lincecum and Vogelsong, but there will be difficult decisions to be made if their struggles start to threaten the Giants' season.