More than halfway through June, teams begin to realize what the final three months of the season will bring. Some will plan for the future, others will gear up for a playoff run, and others will bring in the pieces necessary to win in October. This is the time of the season where teams make a lot of starting rotation changes because teams can’t afford to send a struggling pitcher out to the mound every five days when wins are so important. Also, this is the time of the year when teams start to promote their top prospects now that the Super-Two deadline has passed.
One such prospect takes the mound on Thursday night in Miami and that’s Andrew Heaney. Heaney is already a polished pitcher at 22 with a fastball that sits 89-93 and can touch 96 when he reaches back. The Marlins have shown little hesitance in calling up prospects, in part because they’re in a position to give them experience at the Major League level and also because owner Jeffrey Loria doesn’t have to worry about saving money in the future because he just rebuilds when those players reach the age of making substantial money.
The Blue Jays, with Marcus Stroman, and the Orioles, with Kevin Gausman, have already brought their top farm talent to the big leagues for an extended look. Others that may follow suit include the Mets, with Noah Syndergaard, the Rockies, with Jonathan Gray, and the Twins, with Alex Meyer.
Through the dog days of summer with injuries and call-ups, bettors will be required to look up statistics and scouting reports on some of these young guys to try and gain an edge over the books. Most of these young starters have unrefined breaking balls and some control problems. It’s important to look at statistics like K/BB and realize the run environment that the pitcher was pitching in. For example, 15 of the 16 teams in the Pacific Coast League have a team slugging percentage of .390 or higher. Eight of the 14 in the International League have a team slugging percentage of .390 or higher, but only two are over .400, while 13 teams cross the .400 in the PCL. For teams with Triple-A pitchers that have had a lot of success in the very hitter-friendly PCL, that should be a telling sign.
Keeping that in mind, let’s look at some MLB pitchers that could be on the verge of losing their jobs.
Aaron Harang (ATL): The shine may be coming off of Aaron Harang as the veteran right-hander now owns a 5.32 ERA and a 5.21 FIP in the month of June. In those four starts, Harang has issued 16 BB against just 12 K and gave up nine runs on 13 hits to the Phillies in his last start. His velocity was down quite a bit in that start and his terrific April is starting to look like a distant memory. With Alex Wood ready and waiting to return to the rotation, the leash may be really short with Harang.
Matt Cain (SF): Matt Cain might be losing his job, not to a prospect, but to the disabled list. Cain’s velocity dropped for the third straight start on Wednesday and his strikeout-to-walk ratio has been trending downhill since the start of the season. The Giants already have uncertainty in the rotation with Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong, so it’s hard to see them waiting a while to give Cain some time to fix whatever is ailing him.
Marco Estrada (MIL): Marco Estrada was mentioned in last week’s article and he didn’t do much to keep his rotation spot in his last outing. He gave up five runs on eight hits and allowed three more homers to the Reds. Estrada’s ground ball rate for the month now sits at 21.8 percent, by far the lowest in the league. With the Cardinals making a push, Estrada is probably ticketed for a DL stint sooner rather than later so that the Brewers can take another look at top pitching prospect Jimmy Nelson.
A.J. Burnett (PHI): In keeping with the recent Phillies tradition of signing bad contracts, A.J. Burnett’s decline continues as he tries to pitch through a sports hernia. He’s put together back-to-back quality starts against the Padres and Cubs, but he had allowed 19 runs in 20 innings over his three previous starts. Burnett has a 5.50 ERA since May 1 and his strikeout rate in three June starts is down to 11.1 percent. There isn’t a big name prospect waiting in the wings, but Burnett may be shut down shortly to preserve him for the second year of his two-year deal.
For pitchers to start backing over the next few weeks, consider Danny Duffy (KC). Duffy is getting stronger and stronger in his return from Tommy John surgery and his ability to miss the barrel of the bat is a big benefit in spacious Kauffman Stadium. The Royals are hot right now and Duffy is a big part of the reason why.
Jarred Cosart (HOU): Jarred Cosart can be a hit-or-miss play because of the awful Astros defense, but Cosart’s promise is starting to shine through. Whether it was a mechanical adjustment or a feeling of comfort at the Major League level, Cosart has posted an 18/4 K/BB ratio this month. If his control improves, his 95+ mph fastball and good secondary stuff can lead to a lot of success. The Astros offense is much improved as well.
Jose Quintana (CWS): Jose Quintana should be an underrated commodity in the near future because of his 5.51 ERA in the month of June. Not only is the ERA ugly, but Quintana allowed five unearned runs in his first June start against the Dodgers. There’s nothing in Quintana’s profile that would suggest injury, so this is just a run of bad luck where balls are finding holes and a mechanical tweak from the stretch may be necessary. Look for a bounce back from him real soon.