The fact that there is some debate out there about the status of Aaron Laffey in the Indians rotation is actually baffling to us here at The Lake Erie Soldiers. It is baffling to me a lot more so then my brother, but it is one of those things that I thought was not even under consideration heading into the 2010 season. I keep reading on Anthony Castrovince’s Castroturf Blog and in his weekly mailbag that it looks more and more likely that Aaron Laffey begins the year in the Indians bullpen, and I have been reading similar things elsewhere around the web. It is something worth thinking about now that we are getting closer and closer to pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training in February, and these questions will all start to be answered. But until we actually see it happen, here’s a few things to consider about Laffey and the Tribe pitching rotation.
Before I dive into the reasons that Laffey should or should not be in the rotation, lets look at who else is set to be in there, or could possibly be there, barring any more trades or free agent signings between now and Spring Training. Jake Westbrook is healthy and will most likely be the opening day starter. Fausto Carmona is most likely penciled in at #2. Justin Masterson looks to be the #3. Fair enough. The last 2 spots will be left for a combination of Mitch Talbot, Jeremy Sowers, Carlos Carrasco (very unlikely), David Huff and Aaron Laffey. The only reason in all honesty that Talbot and Sowers are in consideration for one of the last 2 spots, I certainly hope not both of them, is that they are out of minor league options and the club has to either give them a shot on the 25 man roster or try and get something from them before they hit the waiver wire. We have yet to see anything from Talbot, he is in the same situation as Sowers, just with less big league playing time. He has proved he can pitch at AAA but has not yet done so in the majors, but I envision him being the long man in the bullpen if he sticks with the club at all. Sowers… well we all know about Sowers. He can be a good starter until he hits the 3rd time through the batting order around the 5th inning. So it would make sense to have Talbot in the pen if you are gonna have Sowers as a starter and just take him out around 4 innings until he proves that he can pitch past that point. I still have some hope for Sowers to become a serviceable full time starter because he was a 1st round pick. In my honest opinion, I think those 2 should really be competing for the bullpen spot. Lets look at this for a second from the point of view that Laffey is the #4 and Huff becomes the #5.
Huff was the teams best starter last year, lead the team in wins with 11. A good total for anyone who didn’t even start the year with the major league roster. He was a rookie last year. Teams will have video on him now and be able to make adjustments, but the team, I think, has no reason not to go with him in the rotation to start the year. Sure, his ERA was well over 5, but he was a rookie and he didn’t have it easy playing on this team. Now on to the man of the hour. Aaron Laffey. He should be in the starting rotation. No doubt about it. He went 7-9 last year, in 19 starts, 25 appearances overall. He battled injuries during the year and he was the Tribe’s most consistent starter not named Cliff Lee. He did have a rough stretch at the end of the season where he lost 6 straight decisions, but this can be attributed to many things, the sorryness of the Indians had a lot to do with it at the end of the year. Only 2 of those starts he did not go over 6 innings. In 121 innings he gave up only 9 home runs, he has proven that he can pitch at a decent level in the few chances he has gotten, he keeps the ball in the ball park and gives the team a chance to win. He doesn’t strike out a ton of guys and doesn’t walk a ton either, and with a more solid defense behind him this year, it should get even better for the 24 year old lefty. Up until last year he had never been in a game in which he had not started, and while he did pretty well in that role for the few games he was there, he is the kind of pitcher who can stay in games and not let up a ton of runs that this team needs to keep them in ball games. In his career, thus far only 264.2 innings he has a very respectable 4.32 ERA.
On to the debate. He does not have the most glamorous win/loss record or the best stats, but he puts up a good outing more often then not. He goes deep into ball games, very rarely leaves before the 6th or 7th innings. He reminds me a lot of Jake Westbrook, who won’t win any Cy Young Awards, but he will give the team a chance to win every time he is on the mound. He gets a lot of ground ball outs and can work his way out of jams. He is not a power pitcher, and the starting role is what he is best suited for. If the Tribe does aim to use him out of the ‘pen then I think his abilities will be wasted, because he will only come in during mop up innings when the team is down by a lot or up by a lot. That kind of role is more adept to someone like Jeremy Sowers or Mitch Talbot who is trying to earn their way onto a big league team. Laffey has not done much to garner front end of the rotation standing yet, but he is still young and will not be 25 until the season starts. Unfortunately the thinking is that the Indians will give one or two rotation spots to Sowers and or Talbot because they are out of options, but if they need to be on the roster, I’d much rather have them be in the ‘pen. Sowers because he is better in shorter bursts. Talbot because there is no idea how good or bad he will be.
With Aaron Laffey you know what you are getting. A solid starter, who will keep the team in games and give you at least 5 or 6 innings each 5th day. He will pitch productive innings, keep the ball in the park, and let the defense do its thing behind him. If the starting rotation goes as I think it will, with Westbrook, Carmona, Masterson, Huff and Laffey all getting their shot, the rotation doesn’t look as depressing as it does if the last 2 names on there are Sowers and Talbot. Huff and Laffey are young guys who are hungry for their shot, Huff established himself last year, and Laffey has slowly been building a solid, yet unspectacular reputation for himself over the last 3 years. Given health and productivity from Westbrook and Carmona, the top end of the rotation can be very solid, and if Masterson doesn’t work out as planned as a starter, the team knows he is a great relief pitcher which could open the door in the rotation for someone else. Huff is a wild card, and I think he can build of a successful 2009. Laffey is the key to the rotation in my eyes. He can step in and win 15 games if the offense clicks and gives him support. He isn’t a reliever, he never has been, he should be in the Tribe’s rotation and he deserves a chance to have the spot and not have to be looking over his shoulder every day to see if he is going to be replaced in the rotation. But all of this means nothing right now, Manny Acta has said many times recently that he will let the players decide for themselves their roles on the field based on performance. I fully expect Laffey to win a rotation spot in Spring Training. I also think that with Laffey and Huff helping out Carmona, Westbrook and Masterson, the Tribe might just surprise some people.