MSTI’s 2010 in Review: Starting Pitchers, Part 3

Carlos Monasterios (A)
4.38 ERA, 5.37 FIP, 3.3 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, -0.2 WAR

You thought John Ely came out of nowhere? How about Carlos Monasterios, who’d pitched just two games above A-ball before being plucked from Philadelphia (via, briefly, the Mets) in last winter’s Rule 5 draft? I admitted I’d never even heard the name before at the time, which still comes in second to Monasterios admitting he barely even knew what the Rule 5 draft was.

He impressed enough in camp that I gave him a 15% chance of winning the wide-open #5 starter’s job that eventually went to Charlie Haeger, though he ended up making the club as a long reliever out of the bullpen, which is where he stayed for 11 of his first 12 appearances, save for a short (4 IP) emergency start on May 1 in Pittsburgh. For a guy with little experience and even less velocity (his fastball rarely topped 90 MPH), Monasterios was surprisingly effective in the early going, as he never allowed more than one earned run in those 12 appearances – all but three of which lasted more than one inning. When he was allowed to pitch, that is; I’m not going to link them all now, but in going back through the archives looking for bits about him, I found a surprising amount of times where I complained that Torre was wasting his better relievers in the lowest of low-leverage situations (think seven-run leads in the 9th) rather than using Monasterios, sitting him for up to a week at a time.

As the Dodgers suffered through injuries to Chad Billingsley and Vicente Padilla, Monasterios was forced into the rotation for five starts in May and June, where the results were a little less bright, allowing 35 baserunners with just 8 strikeouts in 22.2 innings, averaging barely over four IP/start. He then went on the DL himself with a blister, though he made the rookie mistake of admitting that the problem wasn’t really that serious.

When he returned in July, he split the remainder of his season equally between the pen and the rotation, starting seven games while relieving in eight. I didn’t always understand why:

Dylan Hernandez lets us know that James McDonald is being sent to the bullpen after just one start, with Carlos Monasterios getting the nod on Saturday, which is a good idea because… hell, I have absolutely no idea. I said the other day that I prefer McDonald in the bullpen anyway, but McDonald wasn’t exactly terrible in his one start, and his five strikeouts were two more than Monasterios has been able to get in any appearance, start or relief, the entire season. Even if you don’t want McDonald, John Ely allowed three runs in seven innings in his first start for ABQ, and starting him on Saturday would have only put him at one extra day of rest off his usual schedule. The idea that Monasterios is a better choice to start than either McDonald or Ely… well, I just can’t get behind it.

Indeed, Monasterios was much more effective as a reliever (2.06 ERA, .620 OPS against in 19 games) than as a starter (5.91 ERA, .899 OPS in 13 starts). Still, he made it through the entire season as an out-of-nowhere Rule 5 pick, and didn’t embarrass himself despite being relied upon far more than anyone would have expected. For that alone, he gets an A, but he probably also gets a ticket back to AAA next year now that he’s officially Dodger property. If he can develop a reliable offspeed pitch, he may yet have a future as a back-end starter, but even if he’s only a long reliever out of the pen that’s still a pretty good return on the $50,000 it cost to acquire him.

Charlie Haeger (F)
8.40 ERA, 5.51 FIP, 9.0 K/9, 7.8 BB/9, -1.7 WAR

And now we come to what is probably my biggest disappointment of the season, because I badly wanted the Haeger experiment to work out. A rubber-armed knuckleballer can be a huge asset at the back of a rotation, and Haeger appeared to have mastered his craft in becoming a 2009 PCL All-Star and pitching in some nice work for the big club at the end of the year. Now, we’ll all remember him for failing about as badly as he possibly could have, but the funny thing is, it started out so well. Remember his first start of the season?

But if you think I’m going to say a single bad word about a 5th starter who struck out 12 in 6 innings, you’re absolutely wrong. In just the fifth start of his career, Haeger tied Tim Wakefield’s career high for strikeouts – and Wakefield’s had 422 starts to get that many.

Haeger’s knuckler was dancing so much that two of those strikeouts actually ended up with a man on first, as A.J. Ellis couldn’t hold onto the ball. This guy’s been a big favorite around here for quite a while now, and with Joe Torre’s propensity for yanking 5th starters at the first sign of trouble, Haeger probably needed a good first start more than any other member of the rotation.

Unfortunately, that was the high point of Haeger’s year, if not his career. He was pressed into late-game relief three days after that start, and made his second start on two days rest. He didn’t make it out of the 4th inning, allowing seven runs to the Giants, and followed that up with equally disappointing starts against the Nationals and Mets before pitching four relief innings of one-run ball against the Brewers on May 4.

Then, on May 8, he faced the Rockies at Dodger Stadium, and…

last night Charlie Haeger got as many Rockies out as I did – zero.

Haeger faced only five Colorado batters, walking three while allowing two hits, and that was the last we’d see of him for nearly a month. With the Dodgers wanting to recall Ely before his ten-day demotion window was up, they needed to perform some roster gymnastics, which I found entertaining:

So while you can speculate on who that’s going to be… we all know it’ll be Charlie Haeger, who miraculously came down with a “bruised heel” after getting precisely zero outs against the Rockies on Saturday. What fortuitous timing!

A few weeks later, he managed to hurt his foot again, leading me to wonder if maybe he had really been hurt all along. He made one more lousy start in June (4.2 IP, 4 ER against the Angels) and that was that. He was DFA’d the next day, cleared waivers, and headed back to ABQ, where he was unable to find the success which he’d had there in 2009 – a 41/42 K/BB isn’t going to get you that far, even for a knuckleballer.

It’s clear that Haeger shouldn’t be – and won’t be – in the running for a rotation spot in 2011. Still, I think it’s premature to write him off completely. He only just turned 27 in September, and when Tim Wakefield was 27, he was going 5-15 with a 5.84 ERA and a 83/98 K/BB ratio for Pittsburgh’s AAA club. The point is, knuckleballers are notorious for taking a long time to develop. It may not be with the Dodgers, but we’ll be seeing Haeger in the big leagues again.

Ramon Ortiz (F)
6.30 ERA, 5.45 FIP, 6.3 K/9, 4.8 BB/9, -0.7 WAR

Ah yes, the first of our two disastrous Ortiz signings. Yes, he only made two starts and was more of a reliever, but I need to make these divide equally somehow. Shockingly, a 37-year-old who hadn’t been in the bigs in either of the previous two seasons and hadn’t been even league-average since 2004 didn’t work out. Who’d have thunk? Remember, I’d actually had an “Ortiz DFA-O-Meter” set up to see which of them would hit the chopping block first.

The funny thing is, Ramon Ortiz was only with the team until May 27 – less than two months – yet there was no shortage of complaints about him. Fooled by a nice shiny spring training performance, the team let him break camp in the bullpen, and disaster struck almost immediately.

April 8:

I know the traditional move says to save your closer until you have a lead on the road, but I can’t express how much I hate, hate, hate that idea. You can’t get to a lead if you’ve lost the game beforehand, and watching undead Ramon Ortiz blow the game while Broxton watches is infuriating. I can’t restate this enough: your best reliever never entered the game, while three non-roster invites (two of whom, granted, performed well) did. I will never understand this.

April 13, the home opener:

When Ethier homered in the bottom of the 6th, we were looking at a 9-2 laugher. Yet Ramon Ortiz came in and was predictably horrible, allowing three runs on three hits (including a Mark Reynolds blast) and a walk. As you can see, this has spawned the birth of the “Ortiz DFA-O-Meter” to the top right, as they battle to see which one gets dumped first. So what was once a blowout became a situation in which the top two relievers (Ramon Troncoso and Jonathan Broxton) had to contribute 2.1 innings. That may not seem like a big deal today, but we saw this exact thing happen last week. Just wait until one of the next two games when it’s a tight situation, and now one might not be available, simply because Ramon Ortiz can’t hold a 7-run lead.

Of course, being awful out of the bullpen wasn’t quite enough, because the Dodgers had to let Ortiz get two starts in May. How’d that go?

Hey, I’m not going to complain too much about (what appears to be, since it’s still the 4th inning as I write this) the end of a 9-game winning streak. They were going to have to lose sometime, so that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to basically punt a game by letting Ramon Ortiz start, which was never a good idea in any way whatsoever. Should we really be shocked that Ortiz got lit up, allowing five earned runs and nine baserunners in 3.1? Of course not. His ERA is now 6.30. It’s just not working. I know there’s no obvious answer as to who fills the last spot in the rotation until Vicente Padilla returns, but we all agree it just cannot be Ortiz again, right?

Fortunately, that was it for him. After sitting unused for a week, he was DFA’d to bring up Justin Miller, and spent the rest of the year bouncing around the AAA clubs of the Mets and Rays, not meeting with much success for either.

But hey, no one could have seen his failure coming, right?

******

Next! Jonathan Broxton turns into a pumpkin at midnight! Hong-Chih Kuo defies the laws of medicine! And George Sherrill‘s deal with the devil expires, and then some! It’s relievers, part one!

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