In Orange County, a 5.53 ERA trumps 2.68

Stephen Dunn

So this must feel like a nasty kick in the pants:

Jerome Williams has the lowest earned-run average among the Angels starters at 2.58. He is tied with Felix Hernandez for fourth in the American League. The only AL starters with a lower ERA are Clay Buchholz of the Boston Red Sox, Hisashi Iwakuma of the Seattle Mariners and Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox.

On Wednesday, the Angels told Williams they were moving him back to the bullpen.

source: Bill Shaikin in the L.A. Times

Caveat: Officially speaking, Williams is not tied with Felix Hernandez for fourth in the American League. He was tied with Hernandez, yesterday. But the Angels played their 60th game Wednesday night, and Williams has thrown 59⅔ innings this season. Which leaves him (for the moment) exactly ⅓ of an inning short of qualifying for the list.

But the general point stands: Williams has posted an outstanding ERA, and guys have become All-Stars while doing less. Which makes Williams' demotion look at least a little strange.

If you count Garrett Richards -- and the jury's still out on this one -- the Angels actually have seven starting pitchers. But neither Richards nor Williams were in the Original 5: Jered Weaver, C.J. Wison, Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson, and Joe Blanton. And with Weaver and Hanson recovered from their injuries, something had to give.

You knew that Weaver wasn't going anywhere, and Wilson's pitched well enough (and earns plenty). Vargas has started a dozen games, and is 5-3 with a 3.71 ERA, exactly what the Angels might have figured. Which leaves four guys for two spots, and one of those guys is ... well, this:

Joe Blanton, who made eight relief appearances for the Philadelphia Phillies last season, remained in the rotation despite leading the major leagues in losses and hits allowed. Blanton is 1-9 with a 5.53 ERA, which ranks 45th among the 47 qualifying AL starters.

Williams smirked at the question of whether he believed his experience as a reliever worked against him.

"I guess that's my fault, huh?" he said. "I kind of saw this coming. In this game, you never know."

It takes some guts for a manager to keep the guy with a 5.53 ERA in the rotation, and yank the guy with the 2.58 ERA. Could Mike Scioscia be right about these guys? Williams has a 2.3 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but has given up just four homers in those 59⅔ innings. Blanton leads the club with a 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but has given up 10 homers in 71⅔ innings. This season offers very little evidence that Williams is actually better than Blanton.

Then again, we've got more than just this season. Blanton always strikes out significantly more batters than he walks. Does that mean he's controlling the strike zone, though? This is the fourth season straight in which he's given up home runs in bunches, and tons of other hits, too. The result is a 4.90 ERA since 2010, and we're probably past the point of attributing that ERA to bad luck.

Meanwhile, since his improbable return to the majors two years ago, Williams has made 27 starts for the Angels, going 13-10 with a 3.85 ERA. His strikeouts and walks look pedestrian, but he's fared better than Blanton when it comes to home runs. I suppose Blanton does have another edge, having proven over the last decade that he's exceptionally durable, starting at least 28 seven of the last eight seasons. Meanwhile, Williams hasn't started even 20 games in a season since 2005, when Blanton was a rookie.

Yes, the Angels do seem to be showing self-destructive fealty to the plan, as it sure doesn't seem like Blanton's excellent strikeout-to-walk numbers will ever result in excellent (or even good) run prevention. On the other hand, there are good reasons to consider Williams the quintessential swing man, able to step into the rotation when needed but exposed if forced to stay there for long.

The good news for Williams is that he'll undoubtedly get another chance to start. The Angels just have to hope he's ready.

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