Eye on the minors – A scrap heap lefty for the pen?

Lefty bullpen guys are supposed to be tough to find.  How else can you explain Ron Villone still on the roster in Syracuse?

So, finding one on the scrap heap should be a cause for celebration.  Looks like GM Mike Rizzo may have done just that with the emergence of LHP Chuck James at Harrisburg this season.

James was a 20th round pick for the Atlanta Braves in 2002.  After dominating the rookie league as a 21 year old in 2003 (50.1 IP 1.25 ERA 0.894 WHIP and a 12.2 K/9 3.4 BB/9) he posted similar numbers in a full season a Low A (132.2 IP 2.24 ERA 1.055 WHIP 10.6 K/9 3.3 BB/9) in 2004.

2005 saw James go from High A ball to a cup of coffee with the Braves.  And you can see why: 161.1 IP 2.12 ERA 0.862 WHIP 10.8 K/9 2.0 BB/9.

He spent the bulk of the next two seasons in the Braves rotation posting a 118 ERA+ in ’06 and 103 ERA+ in ’07.  James couldn’t translate his dominance to the big league level however with his K rates slumping to 6.9 k/9 in ’06 and 6.3 k/9 in ’07.  As a result, we find a huge variance between his 3.78 ERA and 5.06 xFIP in ’06 and 4.24/ 4.97 in ‘07.  In other words, James was pretty damn lucky.

His luck turned in ’08 and he was sent out after 15 terrible starts (9.10 ERA although he didn’t pitch nearly that bad with an xERA of only 6.28.)

James underwent shoulder surgery after the season.  He was out of baseball for all of 2009 and according to Geoff Morrow of the Patriot-News in Harrsiburg, James contemplated retiring and becoming a firefighter.

He signed with the Nationals last winter and started the year in the Syracuse Chief rotation.  After 5 decent starts he was sent to Harrisburg where he’s put up great numbers in his 11 appearances out of the Senators pen.  29.2 IP  0.92 ERA and a Cliff Leeesque 31/2 K/BB ratio.

With Sean Burnett as the only lefty in the pen and Burnett’s marked inability to get left handed batters out, the pen could use a lefty specialist.  Syracuse has Villone,  Atahualpa Severino and Victor Garate in their pen from the left side but they all have flaws Garate’s 5.3 BB/9, Severino’s 6.2 K/9 and you don’t even want to ask about Villone.

With Rizzo dealing Matt Capps this week, James will have to be in the discussion to take that roster spot.