Bullpen Duty: 10 MLB Starting Pitchers in Danger of Being Demoted to Bullpen

Ray TannockSenior Analyst IMay 25, 2011

Bullpen Duty: 10 MLB Starting Pitchers in Danger of Being Demoted to Bullpen

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    CHICAGO, IL - MAY 08:  Starting pitcher Edison Volquez #36 of the Cincinnati Reds delivers the ball against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on May 6, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Reds defeated the Cubs 2-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    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

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    BOSTON, MA - MAY 05:  John Lackey #41 of the Boston Red Sox walks into the dugout after he was pulled from the game against the Los Angeles Angels on May 5, 2011 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
    Elsa/Getty Images

    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

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - MAY 17:  Starting pitcher Sean O'Sullivan #37 of the Kansas City Royals pitches during the game against the Cleveland Indians on May 17, 2011 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    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

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    PITTSBURGH - MAY 08:  J.A. Happ #30 of the Houston Astros pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the game on May 8, 2011 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    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

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    DENVER, CO - MAY 10:  Starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey #34 of the New York Mets heads back to the mound after giving up a solo homerun to Seth Smith #7 of the Colorado Rockies to tie the score 2-2 in the second inning at Coors Field on May 10, 2011 in Denver
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    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

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    WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28:   Livan Hernandez #61 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the New York Mets at Nationals Park on April 28, 2011 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    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

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    NEW YORK - JULY 27:  Jon Niese #49 of the New York Mets pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals during their game on July 27, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    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

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    HOUSTON - MAY 11:  Pitcher Edinson Volquez #36 of the Cincinnati Reds throws against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on May 11, 2011 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    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

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    TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 10: Kyle Drabek #4 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws during MLB action against the Boston Red Sox at the Rogers Centre May 10, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
    Abelimages/Getty Images

    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

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    CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 19:  James McDonald #53 of the Pittsburgh Pirates throws a pitch during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on May 19, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    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

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    NEW YORK, NY - MAY 13:  Bartolo Colon #40 of the New York Yankees reacts after giving up two runs by the Boston red Sox during their game on May 13, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    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.