The court will now examine the custody of fifth starter of the Los Angeles Angels. This is certainly not a role guaranteed to any one pitcher. Over the last several years many individuals have tried and failed. The court must remember the Ervin Santanas and the Dustin Moseleys, men who at one time or another made cases for spots in the back end of the Angels’ starting rotation. Some men are top prospects waiting to pitch at the top of the rotation. Some men just want to watch the world burn…
The Case for Williams
Let us first examine the case for Jerome Lee Williams, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound right-handed pitcher. Williams is a journeyman starter who succeeded in a limited run with the Angels in 2011, but has never sustained success at the major league level for an extended period of time.
Williams was drafted by the San Francisco Giants with the 39th overall pick in the 1999 Rule 4 draft. He quickly became one of the team’s top prospects and found himself amongst BaseballAmerica’s top 100 prospects by 2001. Williams succeeded at every level of the minor leagues, and reached the major leagues for a spot start in April of 2003. By June Williams was enrenched in the Giants’ rotation. The young hurler won five straight starts from late June through the middle of July and was one of the bright spots on a first place team heading into the All Star break.
Williams regressed a bit in the second half of the 2003 season and was on the bump when the Giants lost Game 4 of their NLDS series to the eventual World Series champions, the Florida Marlins. Williams’s lousy start was hardly the reason the team lost the series and the promising young starter prepared for a full season in San Francisco’s rotation.
In 2004, Williams pitched in the Giants rotation through the end of July, but missed significant time in August and September. He ended up 10-7 with a 4.24 ERA and 80 strikeouts and 44 walks in 129.1 innings. The future still looked very bright for Williams, who finished the season at just 22.
2005 was a key year for Williams. After struggling in April, he was sent down to Triple-A, where he pitched miserably for six starts. In late May, the Giants flipped Williams and David Aardsma to the Cubs in exchange for LaTroy Hawkins, who is now part of the Angels bullpen. After a few successful minor league starts, Williams earned a spot in Chicago’s rotation in late June and pitched well over the final months of the season. He ended up with a 3.91 ERA in 106 innings, to go along with 59 strikeouts and 45 walks. Williams again looked to be on track to become a successful middle-to-back-end starter.
Williams pitched only 12.1 innings for the Cubs in 2006, all in April. His spotty control and inability to miss bats landed him in Triple-A, where he was solid but unspectacular. The Cubs waived him in September of 2006 and the Oakland A’s picked him up before releasing him in December.
Williams received an invite to Spring Training from the Washington Nationals. Despite walking more batters than he struck out, Williams went 3-1 with a 3.44 ERA in Spring Training and nabbed a spot in Washington’s rotation. To illustrate how little Spring Training stats mean, Colby Lewis was kind enough to post a 16.62 ERA for the Nats that spring. Lewis, who was ironically taken exactly one pick ahead of Williams in the 1999 draft, became a middle-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues a few years later.
Williams was unimpressive in six starts with the Nationals to start the 2007 season. He was injured during his fifth start, and was never able to get where the Nationals wanted him to be. After a failed rehab assignment in Double-A, Williams was released in August.
After his release from the Nationals, Williams floated around the minor leagues, making appearances for the Long Beach Armada and the Inland Empire 66ers, among others, before getting a chance to pitch for the Angels in 2011.
The 30-year-old’s issues came when he could stopped throwing strikes. Through the first three seasons of his career Williams walked 3.3 batters per nine innings. In his two short, terrible major league stints in 2006 and 2007 Williams walked 6.2 batters per nine. Last season, when he was relatively successful, he walked 3.1 batters per nine. If Williams can command the strike zone, he should have no problem holding down the fort as a serviceable back-end starter.
Today, it seems that Williams can be successful so long as he commands hit pitches and has a solid defense and ballpark behind him. His history, coupled with his talent, make him an excellent candidate for the final spot in the Angels’ rotation. Williams looked to be the clear option entering Spring Training, but a hamstring injury kept him sidelined until earlier this week, when he tossed a few innings in a minor league game.
Williams knows that he needs to perform to earn or keep the job. Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times spoke to Williams after his start:
It is a competition. Everyone knows that. You can’t control that. You can only control how you perform.
Williams may be responsible enough to earn custody of the fifth starter spot, but the court must decide what is best for the Los Angeles Angels in order to come to a decision.
The Case for Richards
Garrett Thomas Richards is a 6-foot-3, 215-pound flamethrowing right-hander pitcher. He entered professional baseball after a successful college career at the Universtiy of Oklahoma. In 2009, the Angels selected Richards with the 42nd overall pick in the Rule 4 Draft. After signing for $800,000 Richards made his professional debut with 35.1 innings in the Pioneer League.
Richards’s first full season action came in 2010 at Low-A Cedar Rapids, where he struck out a batter per inning over 19 starts. Midway through the season the Angels promoted the hard-throwing righty to High-A Rancho Cucamonga. Despite pitching in the California League, Richards was still effective, posting a 3.89 ERA and a 4.56 K:BB ratio in seven starts.
In 2011, Richards began the season at Double-A. The 23-year-old pitched well, but saw a significant dip in his strikeout rate. Nonetheless, the Angels brought him up and he made his major league debut in August. The Angels used Richards sparingly as a reliever in September.
Prospect guru Kevin Goldstein ranked Richards seventh among Angels prospects, noting his “heavy fastball that sits at 93-95 mph and touches 97.” Goldstein also writes that the youngster has flashed a plus slider, but Richards’s biggest weakness is his lack of a consistent plus secondary pitch. Hitters sit on his fastball and wait for offerings they can hit. Goldstein sees Richards as a future fourth starter.
The former Sooner has put together a solid spring thus far. In 14.1 innings he has struck out 12 batters and walked just four. While he has been impressive, it is unclear whether or not he has done enough to win the fifth starter spot. His future may be very bright and he may win the job, even if he does so in June rather than April. Richards is a young man, but his maturity and skillset might make him an excellent fifth starter in 2012.
The court has examined the evidence of each side. As of March 28, 2012, the court chooses to award full custody of the fifth starter role to Jerome Lee Williams. The court reserves the right to alter its decision based on new evidence that may come up over the next several days. If Williams fails to succeed in his role, then Richards will be among the first given the chance to join the Angels’ rotation.
Jerome Williams, despite his sporadic track record of success, has more experience and evidence in his favor than the young, completely unproven Richards. Other candidates may be awarded custody if and when either or both of these pitchers fail, but that is a discussion for another case. For now, the court has decided that Jerome Williams deserves the position.
Hudson Belinsky can be followed on Twitter at @hudsonbelinsky.