What To Do With Andy Sonnanstine?

Nothing seems to come easily for Andy Sonnanstine.  His fastball barely tops 87 and he's forced to get by on mixing pitches and superb control, which is not a way to earn the benefit of the doubt from fans or scouts.  The fastball-throwing, strikeout machines are by far sexier and catch your eye easily, which is why players like Daniel Cabrera get chance after chance after chance, while players like Sonnanstine have to force their way onto the scene.  I know the term has garnered a very negative connotation among the sabremetric community, but pitchers like Andy Sonnanstine and Brian Bannister are real "scrappy" pitchers...and I don't mean that as a bad thing in this case. 

Sonnanstine slowly worked his way through the minors without ever heralding great acclaim, and he managed to crack a spot in the 2008 Rays' rotation as the 5th starter.  He had a great year in 2008, posting a 3.91 FIP, and he entered the 2009 season with a spot in the Rays' tightly crammed rotation.  However, despite the fact that he was given a spot to start the season, Sonnanstine had ample reasons to keep looking over his shoulder.  He was the Rays' fourth starter, but with David Price and Wade Davis making their presences known in Triple-A and Jeff Niemann out of options and pitching well, he needed to pitch well to keep himself in the majors.  Call it bad luck, crumbling under the pressure, hit-ability, whatever you want to - Sonny had a bad year.










































A finesse pitcher, Sonnanstine saw his BB/9 rate skyrocket this past year, going from 1.72 to 3.07.  He was unlucky (13.9% FB/HR; 58.4% LOB; .336 BABIP), but he still was far from the pitcher that we saw in 2008.  Now, with Jeff Niemann and David Price firmly entrenched in the rotation and Wade Davis poised to take over the 5th spot, we're left with the question: what to do with Sonny?

Going into 2010, there are four main options for the Rays: trade Sonny, put him in the rotation, leave him in the minors in case of an injury, or turn him into a reliever.  In my opinion, the first two options are highly unlikely.  Trading Sonny makes little sense at this point, since his value is at an all-time low and he would garner little in return, and putting him in the rotation would force Wade Davis back down into Triple-A, where he has little left to prove.  If given the chance in the rotation, Sonny may have a big comeback year and rebound, but with the pitching depth the Rays have and the competitiveness of the franchise, I feel like the chance of him getting a gig in the rotation to begin the year is slim to none.  That leaves us with two final options: leaving Sonny in Triple-A or putting him in the bullpen.

Both options certainly have their merits.  Having starting pitching depth is always a good thing and Sonny still has options left, so sending him down is certainly a viable option.  However, I can't help but feel that putting Sonny in the minors is a waste of his talent for the organization.  The Rays have plenty of other starting pitchers in Triple-A that could fill in for an injured starter (Hellboy, Talbot, Hernandez), and anyway, putting Sonnanstine in the pen wouldn't keep him from filling in an odd spot or two if the Rays had him penciled in as their long-man, which he most likely would be.

Remember what the Rays did with Howell in 2008?  This could be the same sort of process.  Let Sonnanstine start off the year as the long man in the pen and see how effective he is.  If he bombs, then you can always demote him without incurring much damage, and if he dominates, eventually promote him to higher leverage situations.  Starters typically gain miles an hour on their fastball and increase their strikeout numbers when transitioning to the pen, both of which are changes that could benefit Sonnanstine.  I'm not expecting him to be Howell v2.0 (especially since Howell had a higher K/9 total as a starter than Sonny has so far), but it may be the most efficient use of Sonnanstine's talent within our organization at the moment.  He's a cheap, team-controlled arm that has displayed major league caliber talent in the past, so why not use him and save ourselves money on another reliever?

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