Jul 9, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Eric Stults (53) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Why is Eric Stults Still Pitching?

If you thought this article was going to be me griping about Eric Stults being run out there every fifth day when he’s clearly not fit to be a major league pitcher, then I’m sorry, this isn’t that article. There are enough people doing that already. Instead, why don’t we try to answer the question that so many people are asking. Why is Eric Stults still pitching?

The argument for getting rid of Stults is this: He is 3-13 with a 5.22 ERA. He has given up 4 or more runs in nearly 40% of his starts. His ERA is the third-worst in all of baseball among qualified pitchers. He has had a lot of starts where the Padres were out of the game early on due to his poor pitching. And watching your favorite team in a game they’re losing 5-1 isn’t fun. At all.

I get that. Isn’t there some Triple-A pitching prospect that we could call up instead of having to watch an aging pitcher get shelled every fifth day?

Well, no, not really. Rushing a prospect to the majors because a veteran is pitching poorly isn’t a very good reason. And there are no prospects in El Paso pitching well enough to push the Padres to make a decision quickly. That’s why we’ve seen veteran minor leaguers like Jason Lane and Billy Buckner called up to make spot starts.

Top prospect Matt Wisler hasn’t pitched well since being promoted from Double-A to Triple-A earlier this year, with a 5.62 ERA. Keyvius Sampson has an ERA of 6.69. Burch Smith has been on the DL since April. Donn Roach’s ERA is 5.26 since being sent down in early June. Juan Oramas has an ERA of 5.95.

The Padres haven’t shown any reluctance to bring up minor league hurlers to fill needs on the major league roster. Jesse Hahn and Odrisamer Despaigne are both getting significant experience in the show filling in for Andrew Cashner and Robbie Erlin. So when they leave Stults in the rotation, it’s likely there aren’t any better options.

Stults has also been the victim of some bad luck. In 13 of his 21 starts, he’s allowed three runs or fewer. But the Padres have given him the absolute worst run support in baseball, a paltry 2.24 runs per start. If, like Travis Wood of the Cubs and his 5.06 ERA, Stults were getting 5.33 runs per start, his won-lost record might look more like Wood’s 7-9.

Stults’ average start this year is 5.1 innings and just a hair over 3 earned runs. That’s what makes a 5.22 ERA. But it also keeps the Padres in the game most of the time. Or at least it would, if they weren’t the worst offense in history.

One of the main reasons that Stults is still pitching, is that he forgets the bad innings, the bad starts. He doesn’t let one bad performance carry over to the next. Bud Black has stated that frequently in his postgame press conferences. In yesterday’s game, Stults gave up six runs on six hits in six innings. A terrible start? Well, it wasn’t good. But it was interesting. He gave up all six runs and all six hits in the third inning. In the first and second, he retired the side 1-2-3. After the third inning, he came out and pitched three more innings, allowing only a walk. So he pitched 5 innings of nearly perfect ball and one inning of six-run ball. Having a pitcher who forgets can save your bullpen some innings. Contrast this with Edinson Volquez last year, who went into an emotion-driven downward spiral when things didn’t go his way. Black didn’t run Volquez  out there for another three innings after he gave up six runs.

Perhaps most importantly, Cashner and Erlin are on the DL. As are Casey Kelly, Josh Johnson, Cory Luebke, and Joe Wieland. The Padres don’t have anyone ready to step into the rotation on a regular basis, and if one more starter gets a twinge, a sprain, or god forbid needs TJ surgery, the rotation is going to be in a world of hurt. Once Cashner and Erlin are ready to come back, then we can revisit the Stults question again.

Let’s get healthy before we go casting off any viable arms. Let’s consider that DFA’ing Stults now would cost the Padres a million bucks in salary the rest of the year. And let’s consider that we’re not in a pennant race, so there’s no particular urgency to get rid of him.

That’s why Stults is still pitching.

 

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