Does Charlie Furbush Deserve Another Shot at Starting?
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…