Dan Haren struggled yet again yesterday, surrendering seven runs (six earned) on eight hits and two walks in 4.1 innings. By the time the day was over, his ERA stood at 4.76, but his ERA may not even be the biggest problem. Haren now routinely labors to get through even five innings, thus taxing an already weak bullpen and affecting not only the game he pitches but subsequent ones as well.
Prior to yesterday’s outing, Haren was already on thin ice as the Dodgers choose to skip his start prior to the trade deadline. Now surely the club is seeking out other options, and this is especially true because Haren sits at 126.1 innings on the year and has an option for 2015 that vests at 180 innings.
But do the Dodgers have any viable internal options to use permanently or at least until they can swing a deal?
Given those choices, it’s an easy decision, right? Keep Haren in the rotation and let him work it out. But it’s not quite so simple since Haren has a 10.03 ERA in his last five starts, and those starts have lasted a total of just 23.1 innings. During that time span, opponents have also posted an OPS of over 1.000 against him, so it’s like he’s been facing a lineup full of Yasiel Puig‘s … except 100 OPS points better.
Maholm would seem like the next logical choice since being the sixth starter is the only reason I can figure the team has kept him around. But as you can see, he’s been abysmal as a starter anyway, walking more than he struck out and posting a horrifying FIP. That’s also probably besides the point now since he might be out for a while following a knee injury yesterday.
And that leaves us with the minor league options, which all look pretty terrible as well.
Zach Lee has the best prospect pedigree, as he was once pegged to be at the front of the team’s rotation. But now he’s now struggling to miss bats at AAA and is showing deteriorating command as he tries to figure out ways around getting squared up. Furthermore, in his last seven starts at AAA, he has an ERA of 7.00.
Red Patterson is a smoke-and-mirrors type that would seem most likely to get the call given that he made a start for the Dodgers earlier in the year, but he has been mediocre in AAA and has a 9.41 ERA in his last four starts there.
Stephen Fife is a name people constantly ask about because of his 3.66 ERA in 91 MLB innings, and he also made a start this year in May. However, he threw only 41.1 innings last year and has just 49.2 innings this year due to shoulder problems, and he was put on the DL with forearm tightness recently. Besides, with a 4.59 FIP in his MLB career even when he was healthy, he probably wasn’t going to be a significant upgrade.
Carlos Frias has the best peripherals of all the pitchers at Albuquerque, primarily on the strength of his ability to keep around 50% of balls in play on the ground. Frias is interesting because I remember liking him when he first appeared in the system due to my everlasting love for velocity, but he eventually faded from view due to a lack of consistency and continuing struggles to develop secondary pitches. Well, Frias has fought through it all and is now a 24-year-old in AAA with a 91-94 fastball with movement and a hard slider that grades out as average. Frias’ control is fine, but his command in the zone has been a problem in the past, making him more hittable than he should be. Additionally, his change-up is a show-me pitch at this point. I could see Frias as a potential option to get through a couple starts since he throws strikes.
The final viable candidate is Chris Reed, who I think fits much better in the bullpen. But now that I’ve looked at the state of the starting pitching in the upper minors, I sort of understand now why they haven’t converted him yet. Reed generates a ton of grounders with his two-seamer that’s in the 90-93 mph range, but his slider and change are both inconsistent, which is why he’s in AA for the third-straight year. While he has a 3.49 ERA in his last 10 starts, he also has only 38 strikeouts (24 walks) in 59.1 innings. Regression is not a great sign for a guy who was striking out more than a batter per inning through June.
The rest of the options include Jeff Bennett, a pitcher with the Isotopes who last started in the MLB in 2008 and only picked up starting again in 2013. Then there’s Matt Magill, who was once solid starter depth but is now a reliever and not ready to step in. 2013 top picks Chris Anderson and Tom Windle are both fighting it at high-A and will definitely not make the jump, and if you seriously suggest Julio Urias or Grant Holmes, I’m gonna strangle you.
So the sad reality? There is no real internal solution to this problem. Even if the Dodgers did have a top prospect that was excelling and close to the majors, there’s no guarantee of success in their first chance to lock down a rotation spot (like Andrew Heaney and countless others). But all the Dodgers currently have is middling prospects and organizational depth struggling in the minors.
If you want to gamble on talent, you go with Zach Lee or Chris Reed. If you don’t want to risk their futures, you go with Red Patterson or Carlos Frias. Either way, what it really comes down to is stalling until Stan Kasten and/or Ned Colletti can pick somebody off the scrap heap. And by “somebody”, I mean “anybody decent”, because Haren is not snapping out of it and the help the Dodgers desperately need in the rotation probably won’t be found within the organization.