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Meet the New Number Five Starter

Opening Day has come and gone and while neither my White Sox nor Cubs were able to achieve victories, it was an exciting day for myself and for baseball fans around the country.

Over the last few weeks, during spring training, teams have been evaluating many players for spots on their opening day roster, one of the hottest spots being the fifth position in the starting rotation.

While I'm not sure how each team is going to run their starting rotation in terms of order, I'll do my best to profile a number of pitchers who are going into this 2007 season as the number five starter for their respective ballclub.  I'll take a look at their projections and ponder whether these pitchers can sustain a spot in their starting rotation throughout the entire season.

John Danks, Chicago White Sox:

Ozzie Guillen went into spring training this season holding an audition for the White Sox number five starter role.  Acquired in the Brandon McCarthy deal, the 22-year old Danks pitched better than any of his counterparts and won the job.  Though his 5.91 spring ERA is hardly impressive, it was better than that of Gavin Floyd (9.00 ERA), Charlie Haegar (8.10 ERA) or Adam Russell (8.53 ERA), all whom were being considered for a spot in the major league rotation.  I feel the same way about Danks now as I did back in December when he was first acquired by the Sox:  I believe he needs more time in AAA.  Danks is a home run-prone pitcher with poor control and that's not suited for major league competition or the hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field.  Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus likes the White Sox going with Danks, I on the other hand prefer the knuckle-balling Haegar. PECOTA's projected ERA for Danks is 5.53 in 110 innings of work and while I agree with Silver that this figure is pessimistic, I don't think Danks is ready to produce much at all in the majors.  Danks has a tendency to struggle at new levels of play and unless he improves his peripherals he isn't a good bet to succeed against major league hitters.

Dustin Moseley, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim:

Replacing the injured Jered Weaver, Moseley will open the season as the Angles number five starter. My guess is the 25-year old right-hander earned the job on a strong spring in which he pitched 19.2 innings and gave up only 5 earned runs (2.29 ERA).  Moseley pitched mostly at AAA Salt Lake last season in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League and even though his 4.69 ERA might have been a bit inflated, his equivalent statistics stunk:  9.7 H/9, 3.0 BB/9, 5.3 K/9 and 1.3 HR/9.  Consequently, PECOTA's projection isn't very optimistic, projecting Moseley's ERA at 5.19 in 50 innings. How long Moseley will remain in the major league rotation is uncertain.  Weaver is aiming for an April 16th return, meaning Moseley will likely make only a couple of major league starts if Weaver returns on his set date.

Mike Pelfrey, New York Mets:

Due to the Mets' lack of rotation depth, Pelfrey will begin the season as the teams number five starter, likely making his first start of the season on April 13th against the Nationals.  Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus rated Pelfrey as an Excellent Prospect this winter claiming the hard-throwing right-hander has a chance of one day becoming a frontline starter.  The Mets aren't banking on that this season, but PECOTA likes Pelfrey, forecasting him to pitch 125 innings and post a 4.37 ERA which is a luxury from the number five spot in the rotation if he pitches more innings.

Chad Durbin, Detroit Tigers:

With Kenny Rogers out at least three months due to a blood clot in his shoulder, Durbin is getting his chance, opening the season as the Tigers fifth starter.  Durbin has pitched 337+ career innings, mostly coming in relief, and has a career ERA of 6.14.  As Rotoworld, and many other fantasy baseball websites have already indicated, keep an eye on Andrew Miller who could replace Durbin in the rotation if he struggles.  Given Durbin's track record, Miller could be in the Tigers rotation come May or June.

Matt Belisle, Cincinnati Reds:

It appears Belisle is the favorite to open the season as the Reds number five defeating the likes of Kirk Saarloos in spring training for the final rotation spot.  The 27-year old pitched well out of the Reds bullpen last season, pitching 40 innings and yielding only 16 earned runs (3.60 ERA) while also showing good groundball tendencies.  PECOTA's projection for Belisle looks pretty good for a number five starter:  A 4.29 ERA in 110 innings pitched, but like Durbin you have to wonder how long Belisle will remain in the rotation if top prospect Homer Bailey dominates at the AAA level.

Wade Miller, Chicago Cubs:

Miller basically won the fifth spot in the Cubs rotation on a strong spring which included 20.1 innings pitched and a 3.98 ERA.  PECOTA isn't optimistic regarding Miller's 2007 season with the Cubs, forecasting a 5.09 ERA in 70 innings as the number five starter.  Miller is by no means the pitcher he was in Houston both stuff-wise and peripheral-wise.  Even with Mark Prior headed to the DL or AAA, Miller's tenure in the Cubs rotation probably won't last that long.  Prior has recently made strides in improving his velocity and could be back in the Cubs rotation in May.

Julian Tavarez, Boston Red Sox:

I don't want to go too in depth with this because Nate Silver already did so, but I think we can all agree that while Papelbon's move to the bullpen should help the Sox, Tavarez doesn't project very well as a starter.  Still, there are plenty of other options for the Sox including soon-to-be-returning Jon Lester.  As Nate also notes, the Sox could always make a run at Roger Clemens too.

Darrell Rasner, New York Yankees:

With Chien-Ming Wang beginning the season on the DL, the Yankees planned on using Jeff Karstens as his replacement.  But after Karstens too was placed on the DL, the Yankees named Rasner their number five who will likely start against the Orioles on April 8th.  PECOTA doesn't like Rasner a whole lot (5.02 projected ERA in 25 innings), but his projection is probably useless:  Wang is expected back in three weeks or so.  And even if Wang or any of the Yankees starters sustains a long-term injury, Phillip Hughes has a better chance of sustaining long-term playing time in the major league rotation.

Russ Ortiz, San Francisco Giants:

Russ Ortiz?  Really?  As we all know, Ortiz was awful last season starting for both the Diamondbacks and the Orioles.  He has likely won the job on a "strong" spring which features a nice 3.00 ERA in 18 innings pitched.  As if it wasn't expected, PECOTA doesn't like Oritz at all projecting a 5.43 ERA in 80 innings pitched and prefers both Jonathan Sanchez (4.61 projected ERA) and top prospect Tim Lincecum (3.21 projected ERA) over him in the starting rotation.  I think we'd all bet Ortiz doesn't hold this spot all season, especially if Lincecum continues to dominate in the minors.  

Brandon Duckworth, Kansas City Royals:

Because of Luke Hudson's injury and Brian Bannister's spring training troubles, Duckworth gets the nod as KC's number five to open the season.  Duckworth's PECOTA projected 6.08 ERA in 60 innings is awful and makes Hudson's 5.10 projected ERA look golden.  Duckworth shouldn't start too many games for the Royals and might be kept around for a role in the bullpen when Hudson returns from injury.

Braden Looper, St. Louis Cardinals:

Watching the pre-game to the Mets-Cards Opening Night game, I recall hearing Peter Gammons claim that he believes Looper will thrive in the major league rotation.  While I hope so for the sake of the St. Louis faithful, PECOTA doesn't think so, projecting a 4.82 ERA in 70 innings.  Mark Mulder's return to the rotation, which is scheduled in three months or so, should keep Looper in the major league rotation for a while unless he's so god-awful that the Cards are forced to go with Ryan Franklin every fifth day.

Josh Towers, Toronto Blue Jays:

Towers had a solid season in 2005, but fell flat on his face in 2006 after pitching 62 innings and posting a redonkulous 8.42 ERA.  Towers was sent down to AAA Syracuse for the remainder of that season, but pitched well enough this spring (2.45 ERA in 25.2 innings) to earn a spot as the fifth man in the Jays rotation.  While his PECOTA forecasted 5.22 ERA in 100 innings is much lower than the figure he posted a season ago, it appears Towers might not ever have a season like he did in 2005 again.

Jaret Wright, Baltimore Orioles:

Can Leo Mazzone turn Jaret Wright back into the starter he was in Atlanta during the 2004 season? Well, Wright's spring performance doesn't make things look too promising:  A 10/17 K/BB ratio in just over 18 innings.  While spring training statistics aren't of utter importance, PECOTA isn't convinced Leo is going to work any magic with Wright projecting a 4.92 ERA in 132 innings.  

While I didn't cover the fifth starter for each team, I wanted to look at the cases that interested me the most.  I'm not exactly sure how long these pitchers will hold a spot in the rotation.  My guess is some will sustain the job throughout the entire season while some will not.  Regardless, I think we could see a few nice surprises here, especially in the likes of Danks or Pelfrey if they live up to the hype they've attained as prospects.

References:  Thanks to Adam J. Morris over at Lone Star Ball for recently posting a list of possible number five starters.  It made writing this a whole lot easier.