Does Charlie Furbush Deserve Another Shot at Starting?

Dave · June 21, 2012 at 11:38 am · Filed Under Mariners 

All year, the talk about the future rotation has centered around the prospect trio of Hultzen/Walker/Paxton and the closer-to-the-majors Erasmo Ramirez. The more I watch Charlie Furbush pitch, though, the more I wonder if he’s earned another crack at starting.

Furbush has been a revelation as a reliever this year, throwing 27 1/3 dominating innings out of the bullpen. He’s faced 100 batters, walked just five, struck out 35, and most importantly, only allowed two home runs. Last year, in his first shot as a big league starter, his walk and strikeout rates were okay, but his home run rate (1.69 HR/9) was atrocious, and was the main reason that he’s working in relief this year. Specifically, Furbush just kept giving up bombs to right-handed hitters, as he allowed 14 HR to the 267 RHBs he faced, an astonishing 2.08 HR/9. He was pretty good against lefties, and so the team took him out of a situation where he would have to run through right-handers all day.

But here’s the thing – Furbush isn’t really acting like a lefty specialist this year. The 100 batters he’s faced have broken down as 52/48 for LH/RH hitters, and while he’s been better against lefties, his line against right-handed batters is pretty great too.

Vs LHB: 5.8% BB%, 42.3% K%, 40.0% GB%, 1.83 xFIP
Vs RHB: 4.2% BB%, 27.1% K%, 46.9% GB%, 2.74 xFIP

Furbush has walked two right-handed batters in 13 innings, and one of those was intentional. RHBs are hitting .130/.167/.283 against him this year. Yes, both home runs he’s allowed have been against right-handed batters, so it’s not like that problem has gone away entirely, but he is showing some signs of being able to hold RHBs in the park, and that’s really all he needs to do to make the leap from reliever to decent back-end starter.

Now, we can’t just take his bullpen numbers and extrapolate them into the rotation, since nearly every pitcher gets a benefit from pitching in relief. LHPs usually face something closer to 75% RHBs, so Furbush would see his mix of batter handedness change and his numbers drop. He’d also have to face batters a second and third time, and that’s when starters really begin to struggle. Furbush’s bullpen dominance doesn’t mean he’d instantly become a good Major League starter.

But it might be worth giving him another shot. For one thing, the Mariners rotation isn’t particularly good, and while we all wait for Danny Hultzen’s late-summer arrival, the reality is that James Paxton and Taijuan Walker aren’t big league ready and might not even be able to contribute next year either. With Jason Vargas looking like a non-tender candidate (you probably don’t want to give him a raise) and Kevin Millwood not exactly a spring chicken, the M’s potential starters for 2013 look like Felix, Erasmo Ramirez, maybe Hector Noesi, and probably Danny Hultzen. That’s four starters, one of whom has yet to pitch in the big leagues, and two of whom are yet to have any big league success. Despite all the talent on the farm, the team’s rotation is currently the weakest part of the roster. This is a bad starting five, and it could use some real improvement.

Meanwhile, Lucas Luetge is showing some promise as a left-on-left specialist, and the team has decided to see if Oliver Perez can throw strikes out of the bullpen, so moving Furbush from reliever to starter wouldn’t cripple the team’s relief corps down the stretch. Especially with Stephen Pryor eventually coming back from his groin strain, Carter Capps looking like he’s deserving of a bullpen job at some point, and even Steve Delabar hanging out in Tacoma, the organization is not short on relievers to add to the roster.

Furbush isn’t the highest upside guy in the world, and even if he has improved his location enough to stop giving up so many home runs, he’s probably a league average starter at best. But you know what, this team could use a league minimum league average starter. If Furbush tops out as the new Jason Vargas (just with the opposite platoon split), that’s okay, that’s a decent piece, and one that the team could make use of.

If you stretch him out and it doesn’t work again, at least you know, and you can safely stick him back in the relief role he’s currently thriving in. But, given the team’s lack of quality big league starting pitchers and Furbush’s performance against right-handers, giving him a crack at starting might be a good use of a rotation spot down the stretch.

Or, they could get really crazy and abandon the five man rotation entirely, but that’s probably too much to ask…


18 Responses to “Does Charlie Furbush Deserve Another Shot at Starting?”

  1. IdahoInvader on June 21st, 2012 12:05 pm

    May be the best move for the team eventually. But I guess its hard to get excited about taking an extremely effective reliever and seeing a possibly mediocre starter.

    Hopefully he’s turned a corner and can sustain some of the success vs RH hitters. He sure seemed a lot better out of the pen than as a starter last year though.

  2. cowdoc on June 21st, 2012 12:10 pm

    Any idea, feeling or data on what happens to all the numbers when you ask a reliever to now pitch more innings in a row. We all hear how the fastball slows a little, true or not? What about the break on the offspeed stuff? Watching him pitch it seems he has more break and much better command than last year.

  3. Westside guy on June 21st, 2012 12:12 pm

    Re: the “abandon the five-man rotation” comment – in your FanGraphs piece, it seemed like you argued it wouldn’t be a good idea for a team with a dominating, innings-eating starter (e.g. Felix, Verlander, Halliday).

  4. IdahoInvader on June 21st, 2012 12:18 pm

    Btw, that four man idea is a fascinating read. Very interesting….

  5. ivan on June 21st, 2012 1:02 pm

    If somebody who has charted Charlie’s pitches calls bullshit on this, I’ll accept it cheerfully. But from eyeballing him through the center field camera, it appears that his fastball, because of his arm angle, runs right into the right-handed hitters’ wheelhouses. That is when he gives up the homers.

    I have said before in these comment threads that Charlie needs better command of the outside corner against right-handers. He needs to expand the strike zone outside and get them to fish. A two-seamer might help him do that, but then he’d have to change speeds with it. I haven’t seen a lot of separation. He needs it.

    He has learned to make that evil slider of his effective against right-handers. He is keeping it down in the zone and they are swinging over it. This is a very noticeable difference — at least that’s how it appears to me — since last season.

    The manual for left-handers painting the outside corner against right-handed hitters was written by Eddie Guardado. He made a career of it. His fastball wasn’t any big thing — Charlie’s is better — but he could put it right where he needed to.

    Can Charlie can master this? He should try. If he can get RH hitters leaning over the plate, his fastball is good enough to bust them inside, and his slider is already tying them in knots.

    If he can, I think yes, definitely, he can be an effective starter, and I think yes, definitely, he should get that chance.

    Pitching effectively is pitching to certain spots consistently, and different spots with different pitches in different counts to different hitters. Nobody gets it right away. People should be patient with Furbush and Ramirez. Not every pitcher can be Felix, or Cliff Lee, or Pedro Martinez, or Greg Maddux, or Juan Marichal, who put any one of 3-4 pitches in any part of the strike zone they wanted to.

  6. hoser on June 21st, 2012 1:19 pm

    Okay, let’s say we do a variant of Dave’s starter-by-committee. It would fit perfectly with the main point of the post. Let’s say that we want to use Felix, Millwood and Vargas traditionally. How would it look?

    Here’s a relatively thoughtless version:
    starter 1: Felix
    high leverage reliever: Wilhelmson
    low-medium leverage reliever 1: Luetge
    low-medium leverage reliever 2: League
    blowout innings eater: Ichiro
    starter 2: Millwood
    starter 3: Vargas
    starter committee 4: Noesi/Furbush/Kelley
    starter committee 5: Ramirez/Perez/Iwakuma

    What do people think?
    Is there a better way using existing personnel?
    Who wouldn’t fit for an arrangement like this?

  7. californiamariner on June 21st, 2012 1:28 pm

    I vote to skip Milwood tomorrow. I’ll be at the game and I want to watch Felix! Lol. But seriously I am getting sick of this Mariner rotation as well. Look forward to seeing some fresh arms in there.

    The 4 man piece is very interesting, but I don’t think the best move for the Mariners.

  8. eponymous coward on June 21st, 2012 1:30 pm

    Despite all the talent on the farm, the team’s rotation is currently the weakest part of the roster. This is a bad starting five, and it could use some real improvement.

    This, and the fact that OF and 1B are a mishmosh of failed/marginal prospects/consistently injured prospects/aging veterans (outside of Saunders, but that’s one of out 4 positions) are why I’m not particularly optimistic about 2013.

    I don’t think Vargas is as bad as he was last night, though. He is what he is: a reasonable #3-4, 2-2.5 WAR pitcher. If you overpay him on a long-term deal, he’s a bad deal like Jarrod Washburn was. But if he’s not overpaid, he’s useful like Jarrod Washburn was, especially when half his games are somewhere that mask his weaknesses. I could see him getting traded at the deadline (as long as he doesn’t have a crappy July).

  9. marc w on June 21st, 2012 1:36 pm

    Yes. Yes, he does.

  10. goat on June 21st, 2012 1:39 pm

    It might work better if there were two pitchers in each starter committee, and then leaving two extra pitchers to help out if someone stumbles or there are extra innings in a game started by one of the other three. That would get to about the sixth inning or so each time, so they would still need to call on some combination of low, medium or high leverage relievers.

    Not quite what Dave’s post at fangraphs was about, but a bit of a compromise considering we’re not likely to apply it with Felix.

  11. marc w on June 21st, 2012 2:04 pm

    “I don’t think Vargas is as bad as he was last night, though.”

    He’s not, of course. But the problem with trading him is that this HR-binge he’s on just shines a light on a problem he’s had for a long time: he gives up a lot of runs away from Safeco. In his career, over 1,500 PA for both sides of the split, batters are slugging .381 at home and .472 on the road.

    It may just have been the luck of the draw, but he made 19 home starts to just 13 road starts last season (and actually had the smallest gap btwn home/road slugging and ISO), whereas this year he’s made more starts on the road. But the point is, after games like yesterday’s, everyone knows about his struggles away from Safeco, meaning I don’t think the M’s are going to get much of anything for him (as he’s making ~$5 million and stands to get a raise next year) no matter what kind of July he has.

  12. hoser on June 21st, 2012 2:05 pm

    That’s a good point about two pitcher committees. You could even combine them. If you decide that Furbush and Ramirez are 4-5 inning pitchers, you could go something like:
    starter committee 4: Ramirez/Furbush
    starter committee 5: Noesi/Perez/Iwakuma
    low-medium leverage reliever 3: Kelley

    One advantage of a hybrid system seems to be that you could have “highly coveted pitchers”. Committee pitchers could also look forward to becoming starters without leaving the club.

  13. terry on June 21st, 2012 2:07 pm

    He’s earned another chance at starting in the same sense that Matt Belisle has earned another shot.

  14. vetted_coach on June 21st, 2012 3:07 pm

    1. I say try Furbush. I say try Hultzen. I say try Perez.

    2. Vargas and Millwood have proven themselves to be at least reasonable options, and the fan base deserves a shot at some consistency and the chance for the occasional quality start from them.

    3. You’ve got to stay with the skeleton of a consistent rotation to reduce the odds of another Dickey, Morrow, or Thornton getting away.

    4. For me, the committee concept smells like you’re attempting to contend – which is not reality.

  15. ck on June 21st, 2012 4:34 pm

    Yes, Charlie, and anyone / everyone else in the organization should be tried out at whatever they might be able to do, to see if they can do it. Sadly, the 2012 Mariners are playing for, ‘funzies’ this year, not ‘keepsies.’ Playing Seager at third in spring training seems like a no-brainer now…I even wonder what Iwakuma, Wells, and Jaso might do if given a chance…

  16. eponymous coward on June 21st, 2012 4:56 pm

    meaning I don’t think the M’s are going to get much of anything for him (as he’s making ~$5 million and stands to get a raise next year) no matter what kind of July he has.

    Whereas what do you get if you non-tender him? Two months of OK if not world-beating pitching in a lost season and then bugger-all, plus a clear indication to the fanbase that this team is too cheap to keep anyone around a decent player who might make decent money, and we’ll only contend if we can get lucky with all our prospects churning out 5 WAR performance while they are still pre-arb, since there’s no money any more to keep any decent players who don’t offer lots of cost advantage.

    Vargas on, say, a $7ish million one year deal for a 2-2.5 WAR pitcher (which would basically be what having him come back in next year would be) is not ZOMG WORST SIGNING EVER (Dave was arguing for tending that kind of contract to someone like Rich Harden, who’s more talented with an arm made out of glass, so not really a better player in the large scheme of things)- the problem is the M’s have turned themselves into Oakland-style bottom feeders, not really able to try to bring in much in the way of FA talent outside of Large Item Pickup Day kinds of signings like Millwood, Kotchman, or Branyan, and a signing like that makes no sense if you’re bottom feeding and picking up credenzas off the side of the road in your pickup truck. It’s masked a bit by Felix, but if you exclude Oakland’s most expensive player (Cespedes) and our most expensive player (Felix)… there’s only a $10 million difference in salary between the two teams. If you drop Ichiro and Oakland’s next most expensive player, we’re pretty much even in terms of salary paid. Like I’ve said for a long time, welcome to Oakland North.

    Anyways, don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect scads of prospects for Vargas, but you’d think someone could use a reasonable back-end starter to shore up a rotation in a pennant race, even if THEIR approach is “he’s a two month rental and then we non-tender him, unless he just blows up in the postseason and does well”. I would expect we’d get more than we’ll get for League, anyways.

  17. PackBob on June 21st, 2012 6:45 pm

    Why not? Everything beyond Felix is a question mark. I’d say trade Vargas for whatever you can get and let Ramirez/Noesi/Furbush go for it. I would think at least one of them would match Vargas for much lower cost, then wait and see if Paxton/Walker develop.

  18. Mariners35 on June 21st, 2012 9:06 pm

    Why not Furbush? Why not Perez? Why not Zoidberg?

    Serioisly, it’s a full on rebuilding, play the kids sort of year. There should be a new face in the rotation or lineup pretty much every two or three weeks from here on out. Furbush can be next in line, sure, why not.

    And the Fangraphs article was an interesting thought experiment, but I thought LaRussa tried something like that once and after thoroughly befuddling the pitching staff, he gave up on it after like tqo weeks or something…

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