Jun 19, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Atlanta Braves pitcher Gavin Floyd (32) throws a pitch in the first inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
I suppose we should take Chris Antonetti at his word when he says that Gavin Floyd will be in the rotation no matter what. I would hope that if T.J. House comes to camp and pitches like Clayton Kershaw there would be some wiggle room in that statement, but let’s assume that Floyd will get thirty or so starts this year and see if that gets the Indians closer to a division title or not.
Floyd has never been anything other than an average major league starter. He was slightly better than average early in his career and has been slightly worse than average since about 2010. Until 2013 he was quite durable, making 29 or more starts for five straight seasons and averaging about six innings per start every season. He is not necessarily better than anyone who finished the season in the rotation, but Antonetti is betting that one of his young pitchers will be unable to maintain the level of performance that he showed in August and September. Somebody will get hurt, or the hitters will figure them out. It’s just the laws of probability: take any four randomly selected major league pitchers, and at least one of them will regress from one year to the next. When you’re talking about four guys in their mid 20s, with 131 major league starts between them, the odds go up quite a bit.
So Floyd is an insurance policy, a guy who, if healthy, can be written down for twelve wins, 4.20 ERA, and 190 innings, because no one else in the rotation (actually, not even the reigning Cy Young winner) has enough of a track record that to bet the farm on that. Let’s face it, if House had not come up from Columbus last year and performed far above anything his minor league stats suggested ēwas possible, the Indians would have been out of the race way before the last weekend. So having Floyd around avoids that, or at least it means that several pitchers have to flop before the season is lost. That makes it a good signing, even though his ceiling at this point in his career is probably fourth starter. Somebody with #2 upside would have been nice, just to keep Carrasco and Bauer from feeling like they needed to shoulder that burden, but, looking at what Justin Masterson and Brett Anderson just got paid, this is a better use of payroll dollars.
So what happens if we come out of camp and Floyd is obviously the sixth or seventh best pitcher on the roster? Well, that depends. If Floyd is still not 100% healthy, or if he hasn’t regained his command, the Indians will use some sleight of hand with the DL or extended spring training to give him time. There are 21 games in 25 days in April, so the fifth starter may on get one or two starts the first month. That gives Francona plenty of time to figure out who his best guys are.
Eventually, though, Floyd will be in the rotation, unless he does a Brett Myers. How does it impact the other guys? To me, this makes it a certainty that Zach McAllister will open the season in the bullpen. He is out of options, so it is better to spend spring training having him get ready to pitch every day rather than getting him ready to throw a hundred pitches. That still leaves Tomlin, Salazar, and House to compete for the fifth spot. Again, by my count the fifth starter would not be needed until April 21 (probably longer, with the normal April weather), so all three could start the year at Columbus unless someone else isn’t ready to go. They could just use five guys and give everyone an extra day off the first few times through the rotation, but I would think they would want to establish a rhythm of pitching every five days.
Having said all that, my guess is that they really want Salazar to end up in the rotation. He has by far the best upside, and a rotation with Kluber, Carrasco, Bauer, and Salazar in it for the next four years or so should be a perennial contender, if they all reach their potential. House’s major league performance last year was enough of an outlier compared to his minor league numbers that the likelihood of it being a fluke is high enough to hedge your bets; hence the signing of Floyd. House will probably get 10-15 starts in Cleveland this year in any event, just because of sore arms and doubleheaders. He is exactly the kind of guy a good team needs to have handy in case something goes wrong; in the 70s and 80s he would have been a long reliever, now that sort of guy stays in Triple A until he is needed. House will probably be more likely to maintain his effectiveness when he is only on the roster for short stretches; his stuff is not dynamic enough to fool hitters if they face him many times.
Tomlin is what he is at this point; he will probably be giving someone three or four Cy Young worthy starts a year when he is 35. The other 25 starts are replacement level; Tomlin would be in the rotation on a dozen major league teams, but not on any that expect to play in October. He will probably find his way to Cleveland once or twice as well this year, and be better than what most teams pull from their AAA roster in a pinch. For that reason, he is good to have around.