San Diego Padres.
The 31 year old righty had has a very inconsistent career. After being the 4th overall pick in 2003 by the Friars, he dealt with shoulder injuries. He finally established himself in the second half of 2009, when he made 14 (mediocre) starts. In 2010, the Padres moved him back to the bullpen, perhaps trying to protect his shoulder. Soon after the start of the season, he required an appendectomy which sidelined him for much of the year. He would make 7 starts at the end of the 2010 year, posting a 3.76 xFIP, which was roughly the same as his numbers as a reliever at that point. Then 2011 happened. The year the Padres had been anticipating since investing a 4th overall selection in him. He made 31 starts, and averaged just under 6 innings per start. He had a 3.73 ERA with a 3.71 xFIP. Solid starter, right? Well, his career took another turn for the worst in 2012, as the dreaded elbow injuries occurred. Not promising.
But here we are in 2013, Stauffer back up with the Padres, again as a reliever. He owns the best xFIP of any Padres pitcher, of 2.98. Of the 10 (!) pitchers that have started for San Diego this year, Tyson Ross has the lowest xFIP at 3.59. Few pitchers on the roster inspire any sort of confidence going forward, besides Andrew Cashner and Burch Smith. Matt Wisler, Matt Andriese, and Casey Kelly may be solid pieces in the near future, while prospects like Max Fried, and Keyvius Sampson are a bit further away. In short, the Padres need guys right now, to bridge the gap to the next wave of talent. So, why have the Padres been experimenting (ie. wasting their time) with the likes of guys like Jason Marquis and Sean O'Sullivan? Why not just try again with Tim Stauffer? If I knew that, I wouldn't be writing this article.
In Stauffer's eight starts at AAA Tuscon this year, he posted a 3.16 ERA with a 2.85 FIP, largely due to a BABIP of .377. It is also noteworthy that Tuscon is in the Pacific Coast League, which is widely regarded as a hitter's haven. As I mentioned earlier, his time with the big club in 2013 has been very successful. In 39 relief appearances, he has logged 64 innings, and has boosted the strikeouts. While his SwStr% is up along with the strikeout rate, I don't believe that would continue in a starting role. He'd probably find himself closer to his career rate of 6.5 K/9, while keeping the BB/9 around 2.5-2.75.
However, it is possible that he is a different pitcher now, as he is limiting fly balls at a career-best rate. Why? Well, it could have to do with his Pitch F/X data. He uses his curveball less, and has replaced it with a greater dose of his changeup. For his career, Pitch F/X shows that his curveball's PitchValue/100 grades out at -1.94 runs below average. His changeup, on the other hand, grades as 1.12 runs above average per 100. To quickly summarize, his curveball was garbage, and his changeup was the opposite of that. That adjustment can't hurt, and it's not like Stauffer blew in the first place. He has a career ERA of 3.89, xFIP of 3.95. He just hasn't been healthy.
I'm not saying that if the Padres inserted Stauffer into their rotation that he would suddenly become the guy he was in 2011. He could (likely?) get injured again, and such an event could end his days as a starter. But what if he didn't get injured? What if he had a full, healthy year? I would suggest that his career xFIP of under 4 would hold true, and possibly be improved upon with his new pitch usage rates. Furthermore, as mentioned, he could hold down the fort until the younger arms in San Diego's system arrived, while also saving the young pitchers' service time clocks.
Even though the Padres need a lot more than one back-end starter, I'm always a proponent of maximizing an individual's value. The situation I have presented is certainly better than the inconsistent 4.18 xFIP the Padres have received from their starters this year. Hopefully the front office in San Diego agrees.
Thanks for reading!