Bullpen Duty: 10 MLB Starting Pitchers in Danger of Being Demoted to Bullpen
In baseball, there is no such thing as job security.
Even the most famous of players will be the first to tell you that if you don't live up to what you are asked, you will be demoted.
This is arguably more prevalent in the starting rotation than any other position in baseball, due largely to the pitching being a key component for a team's sustained success.
Today I want to take a look at 10 pitchers who are in danger of being demoted to the bullpen or worse based on performances, and news current through the morning of Tuesday, May 24th.
John Lackey, Red Sox
I suppose it’s a good thing Lackey is on the DL, otherwise he’d probably be adjusting to his new job in the pen.
An ERA of over 8.00 in the middle of May has a funny way of sending pitchers to the bullpen, no matter how famous you may be.
Lackey is slated for a early-June return, and he’ll have to do far better than he has to save his spot in the rotation.
The Red Sox could wind up giving Andrew Miller or Kyle Weiland a look if lackey doesn’t come through.
Sean O’Sullivan, Royals
O’Sullivan’s days are significantly numbered in Kansas City right now, and with good reason.
He was originally brought in to eat innings for the Royals in a trade with the Angels that sent Alberto Callaspo to the Halos—the Royals also received pitcher William Smith.
But his services rendered thus far has been anything but useful, throwing more balls than strikes (22:16 ratio) and running with a bloated 5.60 ERA.
O’ Sullivan would be better suited in a long-relief gig than as a starter.
J.A. Happ, Astros
To me, it’s amazing what this guy has gotten away with. But to be honest, Happ’s days have got to be numbered, for sure.
Happ is very hittable and has a knack for coughing up the long ball, so you have to think the Astros will only put up with this for so much longer if they want to remain somewhat competitive.
Happ is currently 3-6 with a 4.99 ERA.
Mike Pelfrey, Mets
The Mets were sort of hoping for Pelfrey to become their ace de facto after Johan Santana went down, and it appeared that was the case in 2010.
But Pelfrey has been anything but serviceable in 2011 to say the least.
The good news is that Johan Santana has finally started throwing off the bump this week, meaning he could make a return by July.
Pelfrey is currently 3-4 with a 5.37 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP. In addition to those pedestrian numbers, he has walked almost as many batters (20) as he has strikeouts (28).
Pelfrey could be headed to the pen if things don’t get better.
Livan Hernandez, Nationals
The 36-year-old veteran may be headed to the bullpen, and to be honest, it may just be a good thing, a la Jose Contreras.
The Nationals have been shut out the last three times Hernandez has been on the mound, so the veteran has to be frustrated on multiple levels.
But the Nationals are desperate to climb back into a race that they may be too far behind in, and that could begin with sending Hernandez to the bullpen.
Like I said, it may be a good thing for Hernandez (career longevity) and the struggling Nationals pen.
Hernandez is 3-6 with a 3.71 ERA, but he does have a near 4:2 K:BB ratio
Jon Niese, Mets
Another Mets pitcher whose leash is shortening day by day is Jon Niese, currently the owner of an awful 3-5 record and a 4.55 ERA.
The Mets aren’t exactly helping their staff with crappy defense, either, and things will only get worse with the Phillies on deck.
The Mets could opt to extend a few inches to Niese considering it hasn’t all been his fault, but you also have to imagine their patience is running thin.
Edinson Volquez, Reds
There are only so many times a staff ace gets to prove he is in fact an ace and there are only so many chances that Dusty Baker shells out to his players.
Volquez is officially on watch.
He hasn’t regained his command, he has been nothing but inconsistent on the bump, and the Reds can’t afford anymore issues with his inability to get out of the third inning.
They optioned him to Triple-A earlier this week, and to be honest, he may not get another chance to start altogether in 2011 if he can’t fix his issues.
Kyle Drabek, Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have been competitive all season long, for the most part, but any manager will tell you, one bad pitcher can totally ruin your pursuit even if you have a solid batting lineup.
Drabek certainly has the talent—no doubt—but he has been just barely average since the start of the season.
Currently, Drabek is 3-3 with a 4.34 ERA, but what stands out is his 38/37 K:BB rate, which suggests only bad things to come for Drabek and the Jays.
If Drabek is moved to the pen (a likely situation), the Blue Jays could give Brad Mills, Marc Rzepczynski or even Carlos Villanueva a shot at starting in the coming months.
James McDonald, Pirates
McDonald was a feel-good story in 2010 being promoted to the starting rotation and initially dazzling the Pittsburgh brass before coming back down to earth a bit.
Coming into 2011, the Pirates were hopeful that McDonald could retain his starting position and grow into a quality starter.
So far, things aren’t looking quite like they had hoped.
McDonald struggled out of the gate in 2011, but he has regained some ground with some good starts as of late, but the problem is the Pirates have at least 20 buds growing down on the farm right now (James Taillon and Rudy Owens seem to be the best crops right now).
The other issue here is McDonald himself.
He already has solid bullpen experience, so it wouldn’t be the end of the world for the Pirates to move him back if he doesn’t improve.
This particular player is at least three to four starts from that happening—provided the majority of them are bad—so it’s still left to be seen, but the trend for a move is certainly developing.
Bartolo Colon, Yankees
Colon is a pitcher on the decline who thinks he is still 27 years old. The fact of the matter is that his days as a starter are rapidly declining and the Yankees will have a much shorter leash for him than the White Sox did.
But this is another situation that might be better for both parties involved if Colon can get over his pride issues in the event a move to the pen actually happens.
Through 57 innings pitched, Colon is 2-3 with a 3.77 ERA, but he has been incredibly inconsistent.
The Yanks will more than likely give Colon one or two more chances to show he can maintain his starter status for an entire season, but if Colon fails, he could be a serviceable option in the bullpen.