Here's A Thought: The Phillies Should Get Hector Ambriz, Not Pedro Martinez

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Here's A Thought: The Phillies Should Get Hector Ambriz, Not Pedro Martinez
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Much has been made of the Philadelphia Phillies' recent pursuit of Pedro Martinez.

I was pondering that potential acquisition today, and it does make sense on a certain level.

Pedro Martinez has a ton of big-league experience, he's only 37, and signing him gives the Phillies a fifth starter to complement the Cole Hamels/J.A. Happ/Joe Blanton/Jamie Moyer quartet.

Aside from Moyer's bad luck with the home run ball this year, the four have pitched well enough to get by in their roles. But Antonio Bastardo clearly isn't a big-league pitcher yet, and Rodrigo Lopez is years behind his days of being effective.

The Phillies need a fifth starter, and they need one badly.

Could Pedro fill that role? Sure.

There's a problem, however.

Pedro Martinez is no longer a known commodity. Yes, he was unbelievable in five 2007 starts, he was a good fourth starter in 2006, and he was excellent before that. But last year, he was barely serviceable at the back of the Mets' rotation.

In particular, Martinez suffered from the home run ball in 2008 (1.57 HR/9). Pitching in old Shea Stadium, a pitcher's park, Martinez couldn't keep the ball in the yard.

What makes you think he'll keep it inside Citizens Bank Bandbox?

Of course, there's nothing to lose, other than a couple million dollars and some innings.

But should the Phillies take that risk?

Perhaps they should, but only if there are no alternatives.

Roy Halladay, Erik Bedard and other big names are often thrown around, but I think the Phillies should take a different approach.

I decided to look around Triple-A and try to find someone who would fit the Phillies' needs.

To be successful in a Phillies uniform, a pitcher must be able to prevent homers. To be successful in the major leagues at all, a pitcher must have a good strikeout-to-walk ratio.

To be a more worthwhile acquisition than Pedro Martinez, a pitcher must possess both those traits and not be a hot prospect.

I looked around Triple-A. There are a bunch of guys who meet two out of the three criteria very nicely, but there's one name that sticks out as a perfect fit.

Hector Ambriz.

You've probably never heard of Ambriz unless you're a Diamondbacks fan or a minor league nutcase like me. Ambriz is a chunky 25-year-old righty with a 5.74 ERA in Triple-A. He wasn't ranked in the Diamondbacks' top 30 prospects by Baseball America entering the season (although he was ranked No. 27 coming into 2008).

So why on earth am I saying the Phillies should turn to an out-of-shape non-prospect to fix their rotation?

Well, let's run through the three qualifications.

Hector Ambriz has thrown 62 2/3 innings pitching in a hitter's league with a hitter's home park. He has allowed just three home runs, for a sparkling .43 HR/9. This isn't a fluke: Ambriz consistently has kept the ball in the park in his minor league career. He's certainly capable of a homer rate of less than one HR/9 if pitching in Philadelphia.

In those 62 2/3 innings, Ambriz has struck out 56 batters and walked just 23, for an above-average 2.43 ratio. Again, this would likely go down a bit in the majors, but Ambriz should be able to keep the K/BB ratio around 2.00.

Ambriz's 5.74 ERA is a mirage created by a .380 BABIP and 58.9% strand rate, two numbers that are purely luck and way out of line with anything he's ever done in his career. His FIP is just 3.18, an outstanding figure.

In the majors, pitching in a similarly difficult park, Ambriz profiles as a 4.00 ERA pitcher. If you want a statistical comparison, think Paul Maholm in 2008. Maholm posted a 2.21 K/BB ratio and a .92 HR/9, while keeping 53.6 percent of balls on the ground. That added up to a 4.15 FIP.

Stuff-wise, there's not much to worry about: Ambriz isn't a trick pitcher. He throws his heater in the 89-96 range, sitting at 90-93. He's got a plus splitter, an average curveball, and a usable changeup. Imagine if Joe Blanton threw a plus splitter instead of an average slider, and you'd have a rough comparison for Ambriz.

There's also the matter of Ambriz's availability: in order to be a better fit than Pedro, Ambriz needs to be easy to acquire.

Given that he's 25 and just getting to Triple-A, Ambriz isn't exactly a well-regarded guy. Scouts think he's overweight, which hurts him. The 5.74 ERA also makes Ambriz look worse than he is. I mentioned Baseball America's disregard for the righthander this year, which reflects the general consensus.

All the Phillies need to do to get Ambriz is give up someone like Mike Cervenak, who has no use in Philly but could be the infield utility guy Arizona wants. Failing that, some low-minors C-or-D-level prospect like Jason De Fratus would be enough to get Ambriz.

The point is, the Phillies can acquire Ambriz quite easily without giving up anyone they'll miss.

The Phillies also get Ambriz for six years of team control, whereas Pedro would only be around for one.

With a good four-pitch arsenal and solid numbers in every area, especially homers, Hector Ambriz is a perfect fit for the Phillies.

While signing Pedro Martinez isn't the worst of ideas, it's quite clear that in trading for Hector Ambriz, the Phillies have a much more worthwhile alternative, for both 2009 and future seasons.

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