Thankfully for Giants fans, Todd Wellemeyer proved that he wasn't a complete failure last night as he pitched seven innings in the Giants' 6-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies (which is always a nice victory to have).
However, despite the solid performance against the defending NL Champs, there are still a lot of questions concerning Wellemeyer and the fifth spot in the rotation.
If you look at his numbers so far, they haven't been good. In his first four starts, Wellemeyer hasn't shown much control, as evidenced by his 14 walks in 21.1 innings pitched. He has an ERA currently of 6.33 and a FIP of 6.83. Also, the velocity simply hasn't been there on his pitches. He throws his fastball over 67 percent of the time, but it only has an average velocity of 89.4 MPH (the slowest of his career so far).
Granted, fastball velocity isn't everything. But when you're giving up more flyballs than groundballs (he has a 0.72 GB/FB ratio) and hitters are making a lot of contact against you (he has an 84.2 percent contact rate), then you're not doing a lot to prove that you're worth a spot in the rotation.
Is Wellemeyer capable of turning things around? He could, but I think it's safe to say it's only a matter of time before somebody replaces Wellemeyer in the starting rotation.
Now, who is that candidate?
So far, there have been two popular names: Madison Bumgarner and Kevin Pucetas.
In terms of the former, Bumgarner was the odds-on favorite to be the Giants' starting pitcher (I even went out on a limb and said he was the Giants' only option). Then Spring Training happened, he got shellacked and his velocity hovered under 90 MPH. By the end of Spring Training, Bumgarner's stock took a bigger hit than Halle Berry's after she did the movie "Catwoman."
Bumgarner has turned it around after a poor Spring Training and a poor first two starts with the Girzzlies (apparently, his velocity is back in the 90's again). Unfortunately, Bumgarner could use more time in the Pacific Coast League, and considering the fact he's only 20-years-old, there is no need to rush him.
The second option, Pucetas, like Wellemeyer, had a solid Spring. However, like Wellemeyer, that hasn't necessarily translated into a solid April in 2010. Despite a 1-1 record and a 3.98 ERA, Pucetas has a WHIP of 1.72 and he doesn't have the strikeout numbers to back it up (only 10 strikeouts in 20.1 IP). If anything, Giants fans are looking at another Joe Martinez/Ryan Sadowski with Pucetas. There is some potential that he could have a good couple of starts. Yet once Major League hitters have seen him a few times, he probably will get batted around, simply because his stuff isn't all that great.
Who do the Giants go with should Wellemeyer be an extreme detriment to the starting rotation?
How about Eric Hacker?
Chances are, Hacker's name is about as familiar with Giants fans as Bree Olson is with Christian activists (I would show you a picture of her, but I couldn't find anything tame).
Well, Giants fans should know about Hacker because he is the best pitcher currently in Fresno. In four starts, he is 4-0 with a 1.25 ERA, a 0.88 WHIP and has 24 strikeouts in 21.2 IP.
It doesn't matter if you don't know his name or not. Those numbers are impressive.
However, is Hacker's a hot start a flash in the pan? Or is it an indicator of things to come?
It's tough to tell at this point. There just isn't enough information at the Major League level to determine whether or not he could be a surprise No. 5 starter for the Giants.
Despite being 27 years old, Hacker has only one stint in the Major Leagues: a three inning sample with the Pirates last year. In three games with the Bucs, he allowed four hits, two earned runs, two walks and struck out one. His fastball averaged 90.1 MPH and he threw a slider along with a curve ball (though 34.8 percent of his pitches were indeterminable, which may be a sign he has another pitch).
Hence, the numbers aren't great for Hacker. That being said, his minor league numbers are pretty interesting.
His control has seemed to be off and on throughout his minor league career. Formerly in the New York Yankees' system, Hacker posted solid K/BB ratios in 2007 in Single-A (3.00), 2008 in Advanced Single-A and Double-A (3.44 and 3.00, respectively) and in 2009 in Triple-A (3.00).
Unfortunately, the FIP hasn't really corresponded. While his FIP was solid in 2007 (3.54) and 2008 (2.90 and 2.87, respectively), that was far from the case in 2009 (5.26 in Triple-A), during his last stint with the Yankees organization
After he was traded to Pittsburgh for Romulo Sanchez, Hacker was sent to Pittsburgh's Triple-A organization and performed well. While his K/BB ratio wasn't spectacular (1.78), his FIP was solid at 3.85, and he was named International League Player of the Week during the week ending August 9th.
What can Giants fans expect from Hacker? Like I said, it's tough to tell, but he certainly is an interesting candidate to replace WellemeyerBABIP numbers over his career (it has only been under .310 twice: in 2007 in Single-A and in 2008 in Double-A), so it is possible Hacker could be a decent, end-of-the-rotation pitcher at the Major League level should he get lucky and have a good defense behind him.
At this point, Wellemeyer is the man in the fifth spot for now. As the season progresses though, don't be surprised if Hacker becomes a much more enticing option than Pucetas or Bumgarner, especially as he continues to pitch well in Fresno.