Rotation Report (Part 2)

Looking ahead to Opening Day for 2017, most of the teams have sorted out who will lead their pitching rotations.

We will take a look at the probable rotations for each team, and give an assessment of their depth and quality ahead of the season’s start. We give each club a letter grade and discuss the positive and negative aspects of their pitching.

Here we look at Part 2 of the report:

HAMILTON CRUSADERS (C)

Andrew Ward, Mo-RUo Chen, Andy Boyles, Bob Summers, Bob Halpenny

At first glance the Crusaders rotation seems promising. But their #1 guy, Ward (4-1, 3.00 ERA, 31) spent half of 2016 on the disabled list with a torn labrum, and doesn’t offer a clear picture of where he’s trending. Chen (3-8, 4.88 ERA, 107 K) is an aged veteran southpaw who may now be trending downwards at age 36, ten seasons after he won his only Sandy Koufax Award with Toronto.  The #3, Boyles (8-6, 3.74 ERA, 131 K) is a bright spot, just entering his prime years and trending up with K’s and down with WHIP, but who still struggles to keep from giving out free passes.

Summers and Halpenny are unknowns, coming in as amateur undrafted free agent signings. Halpenny is 37 and not likely to blossom before retiring.

Overall the Crusaders grade out right in the average zone.

JACKSONVILLE RAVENS (A)

Ricky Rodriguez, Angelo Rodriguez, Barrett Block, Mario Cardoza, TOmas Maldonado

The Ravens could have one of the most devastating pitching rotations in the Bull League. They are anchored by four-time Sandy Koufax winner RHP Ricky Rodriguez (10-4, 2.58 ERA, 137 K), a beast of a starter with the best control in the game, a 99 mph fastball, and a nearly perfect curve pitch. These traits have led him to the ERA title six seasons running, as he keeps batters guessing constantly. His 1.00 WHIP last season was his highest since 2012, and it’s still one that most pitchers would drool for.

Backing him at #2 is his long-time rival Angelo Rodriguez (10-6, 3.18 ERA, 159 K), who walked away from Seattle a free agent at the end of 2016 and right into a $20.8M contract with the Ravens, creating a “dream” #1 and #2 rotation that virtually locks up 30 wins next season. The “other” Rodriguez, now 37, has led the league in K’s in six out of his last 8 season, swatting batters away from the plate like flies. The 13-time all-star only won the Sandy Koufax once, but frequently finished second or third to Ricky Rodriguez, including another 2nd place vote last year.

Barrett Block (2-3, 6.10 ERA, 30 K) at first glance seems out of place among such giants, but aside from 2016, a year he struggled with injuries, he has put out great seasons and is capable of 100+ K’s and under 1.00 WHIPs, and would be an easy #2 slot pitcher – or even a #1 – for some teams.

Cardoza and Maldonado are also capable sub-4.00 ERA starters who produce consistent, effective innings most trips to the mound.

KINGSTON CANNONS (C+)

RON ALDER, Jake Figurski, Nate Noftle, Aaron O’neill, ROnald Baldwin

The Cannons haven’t done very much to their rotation during the off-season, but as the saying goes, if it’s ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  A small-market team that has limited budget resources, Kingston wasn’t going to shop for big name starters and so they stuck with what has been working.

Heading up the rota at #1 is Halifax native Ron Alder (8-7, 3.02 ERA, 108 K), who OSA scouts rank as 6th in the league among starters. He has had a history of low-ERA seasons, and is frequently among the top 5 or 6 pitchers on the ERA leaderboard. His WHIP of 1.09 last year is more than respectable and would earn a #1 in most rotations.

The rest of the rotation is forgettably average, however, with Figurski (5-7, 4.74 ERA, 75 K) in the #2 slot, and Noftle (3-5, 3.47 ERA, 74 K) in the #3, both of whom are decent enough to give the team good innings, but need run support to win consistently.  O’Neill and Baldwin are low-slot rotation guys who will win some and lose some more.

MONTREAL METROS (A-)

Judson Martel, Yoshiaki Fujimura, Bill Henson, Danny Tirado, Lou Bricknell

Montreal would have attained an A, and probably deserve one, but for the fact that four of their five starters are over 30, leaving them open to injury and decline risks through the longer 100 game season and beyond. Depth will be an issue for this rotation, though the team is working on developing great prospects to backfill.

Montreal sets high standards, having made the playoffs every season since 2006, winning three Bull Cups along the way. So it’s no surprise they sought out #1 OSA-ranked Judson Martel (11-3, 2.98 ERA, 158 K), who walked away from nine seasons with Boston to test the free agent market. The most surprising thing about Martel is that he has only won the Lake League Sandy Koufax Award once, and was strikeout title holder only once. Martel is a fearless 100 mph fastballer with an incredible forkball that drops out of the floor and fools even top batters with regularity.

Meanwhile, Fujimura (13-2, 2.30 ERA, 112 K) went from letting up the most home runs (28 in 2014 with Ohio) to letting up the least per nine (0.3 HR’s per nine last year, just 4 in total on the season) with Montreal in 2016. With the Metros offense behind him, his win column exploded as he took home the winningest pitcher title last season. He was on fire last year, and became one of the rare pitchers to take home both a Sandy Koufax Award and an MVP award.

As if that were not enough, Henson (12-1, 2.65 ERA, 100 K) at #3 adds another tough outing for opposing batters, though now 37 he may start to show signs of decline. Rumor is he is beginning to rely more on his changeup and breaking ball to get outs, and has learned not to rely as much on striking them out every time.

Tirado and Bricknell are the only starters not to have won a Sandy Koufax Award, though Tirado did take home a Woodchuck Trophy in 2011 as the top Lake League reliever that year.

All in all, Montreal has the most dangerous pitching rotation in the Lake League and if they all stay healthy, could find themselves competing for another Bull Cup this year.

NEvada Speeders (D-)

Barry Requiem, Bobby Miller, Shi-min Chaim, Jonas Reyes, Sjaak Mills

The Speeders had an interesting 2016. Their Pythagorean record had them expecting a 37-45 year, but they handily beat expectations and finished 42-40. Though it wasn’t good enough to get into the playoffs (but only just … the other two 42-40 teams had a one-game playoff to decide on the last wild-card spot), their pitching posted one of the best team ERA’s the club has had in its history, 3.90. The only seasons they went lower were in 2001 and 2003, with both years resulting in playoff trips, including a Bull Cup in 2001.

Three of the five starters are returning Speeders, with Reyes and Mills the off-season acquisitions. Requiem (6-7, 4.27 ERA, 77 K) has had better years, and wouldn’t rate a #1 spot on most other teams, though his 2015 season with Norfolk was far superior. LHP Miller (5-8, 3.94 ERA, 113 K) can contribute worthy innings, but has control problems and walked too many, leaving him with a WHIP of 1.49 and 1.40 over the last two seasons.

Chaim sits in the #3 spot, where he would be on most teams as well, a former Woodchuck Trophy winner who made the move to the starter role but struggles to stay consistent.  Reyes and Mills are both 4.25+ ERA guys who can get wins on occasion, but need constant run support to do so.

NEW YORK MINUTEMEN (B+)

Jose Castaneda, William FEbres, Harry Ferguson, Ricky Naugler, Robby Andrade

OSA #3 ranked Febres (5-3, 2.69 ERA, 151 K) finds himself in the #2 slot this year, behind Castaneda (5-2, 1.99 ERA, 71 K) who at 28 shows high potential as he enters his prime playing years.  Castaneda was plagued by injuries twice last season, but is expected to continue on his improving trend if he stays healthy in 2017. He struck out 10.1 batters every 9 innings last season, and allowed just 6 homers in 63.1 innings.

Febres won a Sandy Koufax Award in 2009 with Denver, but has stayed in the elite pitcher zone since then, working his fastball and changeup on batters to great effect, giving him the K/9 title last season with 13.5.

Ferguson (8-4, 2.88 ERA, 80 K) is another solid contributor, along with Ricky Naugler (10-2, 2.12, 83 K), but #5 Andrade (6-5, 4.59 ERA, 66 K) remains a concern, though he is in the right spot in this lineup. Overall, NY has a lot to like in their rotation, and with proper run support they will be a hedge against powerhouses like Montreal this year.

NORFOLK SHARKS (F)

CHarles Ling, Ivan Morillo, Antama Srijata, Ralph Rowland, Josh Moore

It could be several seasons still before the expansion Sharks are even close to putting together a playoff team. This year they don’t seem any closer. Their one “ace” pitcher is Charles Ling (11-5, 3.76 ERA, 101 K) who is productive enough and could be a #1 on most teams’ rotations, but backed by a poor defensive side and little run support, he may decide to fly to coop after 2017, his final contract year. Ling has limited tools in his arsenal at the best of times anyway, and is streaky and inconsistent.

Backing him at #2 is Ivan Morillo (7-8, 4.52 ERA, 137 K), who despite striking out batters with his great off-speed stuff, still gets stung for home runs frequently, giving up the most in the AEL last season (20). His pitches have no movement, it’s been a frequent complaint, and he should be in a #5 slot, if anywhere. But the small-market Sharks have a tight budget and no real prospects developing.

Suffering from straight-down-the-middle pitches as well is #3 starter Srijata (2-5, 4.46, 67 K), who was dismissed on waivers by New York in 2015, after they realized he was never going to improve much. Rowland and Moore round out what could only be described as a stinker of a rotation. Rowland (6-8, 4.98 ERA, 99 K) is now 36 and may be better off back in the relief role, where he previously won the Woodchuck Trophy twice (both times with a powerhouse Ohio offence behind him), while Moore allows more runs than he strikes out batters, a sure sign of a remaining career counted in weeks not seasons.

Ohio Oxen (B)

Heath SMokem, A. C. Deucey, Frasor Clause, Skeeter Heater, Steve Howard

It may seem odd that the defending Bull Cup champions are graded a B, but this is mainly because their championship victory last year was won mainly on the back of their power offense, most of which remains intact for 2017.

The #1 starter, Smokem (6-5, 3.86 ERA, 124 K) is a surprise choice for a first slot in the rotation. THough he has a great 100 mph fastball, and potentially lethal breaking pitches, his lack of control continues to haunt him, giving him a uncomfortable WHIP of 1.47, and the Lake League lead last year for most walks at 63. Yes, he gets strikeouts, but he is wild and gives too many free passes as well, shifting responsibility for outs to the defense somewhat.

Their better ranked pitcher, according to the OSA, is A.C. Deucey (6-7, 4.43, 82 K), who is ranked 12th according to the scouting organization. Deucey has the opposite problem to Smokem, pinpoint control but no “stuff.” His fastball doesn’t intimidate and his changeup doesn’t fool batters, leaving him giving up too many runs. He hasn’t posted a winning season since 2010 with San Diego. But he does produce solid outings, and with Ohio’s offence behind him, he will collect wins, just not as many as the team management would like.

The rotation’s sole southpaw is #3 starter Clause (9-6, 3.50 ERA, 82 K), who has proven his mettle after four seasons with Ohio, making the switch to the starter role at the beginning of 2016 and surely won’t be looking back. Though he gives up hits, he seldom gives up longballs, and is stingy with free passes. His ERA is below the league average and he should continue to produce winning outings for the Oxen.

Heater (9-5, 4.76 ERA, 92 K) and rookie Steve Howard, who spent 2016 at AAA Toledo, round out the probably rotation for 2017 and all in all it doesn’t look terrible for the team, but they will need to continue to lean on run production to win more often than not.

Seattle Salts (C+)

Adam Price, Aaron Reed, Connor PEarce, ROger Lyons, Marco Helms

LHP Price (10-5, 3.41 ERA, 116 K) was a shining star in the Calgary rotation last season, and big-budget Seattle had no trouble luring him to the Salts with an enticing 4 year, $128 M contract for $32 M a year. Though he never won a Sandy Koufax Award (though he did finish 3rd in voting in the AEL for it in 2015), and he’s only ever led the league in one pitching stat in one season (2013, 0.4 HR/9), he is a solid performer every time he walks to the mound.

But after Price, the rest of the Seattle rotation looks mediocre.  #2 man Reed (6-6, 4.41 ERA, 86 K) can hold his own sometimes, using his great breaking ball to collect K’s, last year he lost some control and hit a BB/9 of 3.5, his highest since his debut year in 2008 when it was 4.6.

Pearce (1-2, 3.18 ERA, 26 K) is now 37, throws straight, and spent most of 2016 on the disabled list after fracturing his elbow in June. He may never be 100% again, and surely should be bumped down to the #5 spot, or even an emergency starter, to give some young kids a chance.  Then there’s Lyons and Helms, two more breaking ball pitchers on a team that loves breaking ball pitchers, but who lack consistency to stay ahead of the elite batters, and end up in trouble.

Overall the team grades out at just above average with Price in the rotation, and probably just below average if he weren’t there.

Toronto Nomads (B-)

Knuckles Malone, Alex Medina, Roberto Villanueva, Tony Rijo, Stuart Bishop

The Nomads, formerly the Ducks, had a disappointing 2016, after losing Malone (3-0, 0.00, 36 K) to a season-ending injury in June. The knuckle-baller had looked very promising before that, throwing three straight shutouts, and striking out 11.7 per 9 innings. The team hopes the 2015 Lake League Rookie of the Year winner stays healthy for this season, as the team needs the OSA’s 4th ranked starter in their rotation to have any hope of reaching a playoff berth.

The #2 starter, Medina (4-6, 4.12 ERA, 112 K) is a capable pitcher as well, and his off-speed pitch regularly fools the best of the league’s hitters – a league-leading 166 times in 2015. But the Medina is best when paired up with another ace starter, wearing down opposing hitters in consecutive games.

After Malone and Medina, however, the rotation goes downhill quickly. #3 slot pitcher Villanueva (2-5, 3.03 ERA, 51 K) is effective enough at keeping runners from scoring too often, but last year Toronto’s weak offense really killed his game, and his lack of control fed free bases to too many of the hitters he faced, leading to inevitable high leverage inning situations. Rijo (3-4, 3.83 ERA, 81 K) is decent enough for a #4 guy, though he had problems controlling his pitches as well. Bishop should be making his debut in 2017 and it’s too early to say what he brings to the mound, though it’s possible the #5 spot is the right place for him.

That wraps up our look at the Bull League’s probably 20 pitching rotations for the season.

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