Eric Stults: Staff Ace?

There was a time, somewhat recently, where every five games the Padres played I mentally chalked up as a win. When Jake Peavy was anchoring the Padres staff there was no game I looked forward to more than a Jake Peavy start. Seeing Peavy as the probably starter meant I was already mentally penciling in a win for that day (a habit that made the days they did not win all that much more difficult to handle). A similar experience took place when Mat Latos took over the mantle of “staff ace.” It was a glorious time that I now remember through a fog of time.

Alas, they are no longer here.

I could make the argument here that the need for a true “staff ace” is overstated. 3 solid starters and 2 middling ones will likely get yourself into the post-season. But that’s for another time. Nevertheless, it’s a nice weapon to have. One guy that you can count on to stop a losing streak, to win that win-or-go-home game. There’s little question that as I write this the Padres currently do not have one.

Or do they?

Stay with me now because this is where the journey gets a bit weird and a lot crazy. But may I present to you Exhibit A in the Padres Staff Ace case: Eric Stults.

I’ll be the first to say that Eric Stults elicits in me a pretty sizable shrug. In fact, I’m pretty certain that if he walked into my apartment right now I wouldn’t recognize him. And I’d likely call the police. Because a stranger would be intruding my home. It wasn’t until I started writing this post and did a Google Image search of him did I think “oh yeah, that guy!”

But again, stay with me here.

In 9 starts in 2013 the Padres have won 6 of the games Eric Stults has started, including 4 of the last 5 starts. He hasn’t given up more than 3 runs in his last 4 starts. His last start against Washington was certainly the high-water mark of his season thus far, going 8 innings, giving up 1 ER on 4 hits while striking out 5.

In fact, going back to 2012, Eric Stults has been much better than serviceable. I know, I was stunned to learn this as well. In 2012 he had an ERA+ of 126, WAR of 1.5 or for you traditionalist, an ERA of 2.92 in 14 starts.. By the way, he lead all starters in all three categories and only Huston Street came close in WAR (1.3) among all pitchers. His 2013 taken as a whole has not been as good (ERA+87, ERA 4.05) though that’s likely more a by-product of small sample size as two games (both against San Francisco) are pulling his numbers down. In fact, since April 27 (where he gave up 5 runs in 4 innings vs San Francisco) he’s lowered his ERA from 5.67 to 4.05. He’s success, in part, can be attributed to his ability to not walk guys. So far in 2013 he has only walked more than 2 guys once for a BB/9 of 2.5. That number was 2.2 last year.

So who is Eric Stults? Well, he was the 15th round draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002. A few noteworthy names from that year’s draft: BJ Upton, Prince Fielder, Zack Greinke, and Padres 1st round draft pick Khalil Greene. The Padres 15th round pick (6 spots ahead of the Dodgers pick of Stults) was Rolando Agosto. I know nothing about this person except that his Baseball-Reference page ends in 2003 in Ft. Wayne.

Stults made his MLB debut in 2006 as a September call-up. But he could never stick in the Dodgers rotation, bouncing between various Minor League teams and spot starts in the case of injury. By March of 2010 the Dodgers were done with the Stults experiment and sold his contract…Hiroshima Toyo Carp.

Only a few things of interest here as I know basically nothing about Japanese baseball. One, Hiroshima is a name that stands out when you see it. Interestingly, this baseball team was awarded to Hiroshima as part of the reconstruction process after the atomic bomb. Two, they have not been above 3rd place since 2000. And three, their mascot is basically a purple copy of the Philly Phanatic. His name is Slyly.

Philly Phanatic Japanese Doppelganger

We’ve gotten off track. Where were we? Right, Stults. Anyway, he was underwhelming in Japan. But that didn’t stop the Rockies from signing him to a Minor League contract in 2010, appearing in 6 games in 2011 before being DFA’d. He was picked up by the White Sox where he made all of 1 start during a double-header before being DFA’d.

And found his way to our hearts.

Stults had never made more than 10 starts for a MLB team before 2012. His previous best season was 2008 when he made 7 starts for the Dodgers posting an ERA of 3.49 and an ERA+ of 120.

I don’t know how Eric Stults does it. His stuff seems underwhelming, yet effective. But here he is, after a career of Minor League bus rides and a stint in Japan, solidifying himself as a key part of a MLB rotation.

The Padres and Stults are likely not a long-term relationship and it seems more likely that by the end of the season we will be talking about Andrew Cashner as the ace of this staff. But since coming off the DL in July of 2012, no pitcher has been more effective or consistent than Eric Stults.

He’s not Jake Peavy or Mat Latos. But he just may be the staff ace for now.

 

 

Now that I’ve written this look for Stults to get lit up tonight in Arizona. You can rub it in my face @LeftCoastBias. Or in the comments section. As always, look for my whimsical musings every Friday. 

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  • Petco Porch

    His underwhelming stuff and contrasting success reminds me of Brian Lawrence. If he had good control and hit his spots, he could be very effective. But, if that control was just a little bit off, if he started hitting the middle of the plate too much, he was hammered.

  • Melvin

    He has a solid tERA this year, an era estimator that includes batted ball types. Unfortunately the FIP and xFIP are still below average. Like Geoff said though, love those walks. He’s an interesting guy.

    • What would you say is the best go-to metric to predict future success/failure for a pitcher? I chose ERA+ but sounds like the consensus might be FIP.

      • Melvin

        Tough to say, I got obsessed with tERA for awhile because it seemed like it included more information than FIP. Although quickly looking up tERA for this I’ve now learned that Fangraphs carries SIERA which also includes batted ball info and is an improvement on tERA. I have more reading to do, here’s the writeup on SIERA:
        http://www.fangraphs.com/library/pitching/siera/

        All in all, I like FIP and xFIP for their simplicity more than ERA+, since ERA itself is fairly flawed due to the nature of “earned” runs and defense.

  • If you’ve got a Baseball Prospectus login, have a look here for an analysis of how Stults does it: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=20129

  • Mike

    My lasting thoughts are when it mattered most, both Jake & Mat failed when the Padres needed a must win.