The fifth starter job is 30-year old Eric Stults's for the taking. He is out of options and cannot be sent back to the minors yet again without exposing him to the waiver wire, and given how the Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti craves depth like Jamie McCourt craves expense money, the club will give the Indiana native every chance to win the job this spring, at least the job to start the season.
Triple-A baseball has been a five-year home for Stults; that is where he has amassed 116 starts and 156 appearances over the last five years. Mentally make downward adjustments (for the better) to his AAA statistics to account for the fact that his home ballparks have been some of the more notorious hitter's stadiums in minor league baseball.
A recurring theme on Dodger blogs over the past couple seasons has been a call to the powers that be to give Stults, a 2002 15th round pick from Bethel College, Indiana, where baseball is played at the NAIA level, a longer trial for the fifth starter job. The basic reasoning is that he would be playing for the major league minimum and is just as capable of putting up an 80-something ERA+ as any scrap-heap level veteran that would make twice that or more. Perhaps 2010 will be the year that occurs.
Stults has fairly average stuff and touches 90 mph with his fastball. He needs to have very good command to be successful and occasionally that happens and he, well, Stultifies hitters. In 2009 he was the only Dodger to record a shutout or a complete game; he also had one of the four shutouts thrown by Dodger pitchers in 2008. Unfortunately, he also struggles at times on the mound, losing command and walking too many batters.
Last year he did not win the fifth starter job in the spring, but because of Hiroki Kuroda's early-season injury, he was put into the rotation in April and was performing acceptably as a fifth starter, including the aforementioned shutout on May 9, against the San Francisco Giants. A thumb injury suffered on May 15 on this nice fielding play changed Stults' fortunes for the season however. Pitching through the pain didn't help and he ended up on the disabled list, making only one more start after being activated from that list, not even receiving a September call-up.
According to similarity scores, the second most similar player to Stults through age-29 is ex-Dodger Mark Hendrickson at 978, where 1000 is a perfect match.
Stults is a pretty good hitting pitcher. In 57 PAs in the majors he has a line of:
.213 / .278 / .255 / .533, 42 OPS+.
Compare that to Juan Castro's career line of:
.230 / .270 / .332 / .601, 57 OPS+.
Stults has also hit .274 / .308 / .419 / .727 in the minors, almost all in AAA.
Stults has about 1.4 years of service time, so he wouldn't be arbitration eligible until 2012 at the earliest.
|2010 Projections - Age 30 Season|
Who knows when Joe Torre's patience with Eric Stults will run out. He's certainly surprised us before with how quick he seem to turn his favor away from the long-time Dodger farmhand. Because Torre has previously stated a preference for Stults not to come in from the bullpen, I will guess that he starts the season in the rotation as the fifth starter and stays there, but isn't good enough to keep the front office from trading for a starter in July and DFAing Stults in hopes that he clears waivers and can get back to Albuquerque one more time.
4.67 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 83 1/3 IP (all as a starter) for the Dodgers.
What is your guess for Eric Stults in 2010? Give us a prediction of ERA, WHIP, and innings pitched.