With Josh Johnson Sidelined, Could Robbie Erlin or Matt Wisler Prove Worth Adding?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

Over the weekend we learned that Josh Johnson would be out of action for four to five weeks due to a strained flexor muscle.  Like the Padres we all knew the risk in investing in Johnson, so learning that he’s going to miss time should not be a surprise.  Hopefully you are as well positioned as the Padres to replace him, as they are an organization deep in pitching.

If you aren’t, could Johnson’s replacement be a viable alternative?  Let’s take a look at the two pitchers rumored to potentially step into the role:

 

Robbie Erlin
Acquired from the Texas Rangers as part of the Matt Adams trade back in 2011, Erlin has displayed a tremendous strikeout-to-walk rate throughout his minor league career.  In 426.0 innings the former third round pick owns an impressive 9.5 K/9 vs. a 1.8 BB/9.

He missed time in 2012 due to an elbow issue, but was on the mound in 2013 and spent 54.2 innings in the Majors.  While he posted a 4.12 ERA over his time there, he owned a 1.24 WHIP courtesy of a 2.47 BB/9.  His strikeout rate wasn’t quite what we had seen in the minors, with a 6.59 K/9, and he also didn’t generate a significant number of swings and misses (6.5% SwStr%).

The southpaw does not over power hitters (his fastball averaged 89.6 mph with the Padres last season), so the drop in strikeouts is not a surprise.  Prior to 2012 Baseball America described his makeup as follows:

“Erlin’s secondary pitches, superb control and easy delivery give him more upside than the typical pitcher with an 89-91 mph fastball that tops out at 93. He works both corners with his heater, rarely straying out of the zone, not even with two strikes. Batters don’t see the ball well out of his hand, making his fading changeup a deadly weapon, especially when it arrives anywhere from 12-15 mph slower than his fastball. Erlin buckles knees with a tight downer curveball in the low 70s.”

So, we shouldn’t expect the strikeouts that he showed in the minors, but if he gets the number up closer to 7.0-7.5 it will be more than enough.  We also would love to see more groundballs (35.1% in the minors since 2011), but by a fly ball pitcher in Petco Park isn’t a bad thing.  Nearly a lock to provide a tremendous WHIP, Erlin is a worthy grab in all deeper formats.

 

Matt Wisler
Wisler is widely considered one of the Padres top prospects heading into 2014.  A seventh round pick in 2011, he spent the bulk of 2013 at Double-A posting a 3.00 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 8.8 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9.  Rich Wilson of Prospect 361 (click here for his full Padres Top 10 prospect list) described his stuff by saying:

“Wisler has a nice three pitch mix that starts with his fastball that sits 92-93 MPH.  It’s a good pitch but it doesn’t have the plane that you would expect from a pitcher who is 6-foot-3.   In fact his ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio of 1.06 in 105 innings in the Texas League underscores the observation.  Surprisingly he only gave up seven home runs but that could rise as he progresses towards the Majors.

His best secondary pitch is an 83-85 MPH slider that can miss bats.  He also throws a hard change-up that still needs work as left-handed batters hit .261 against him – 75 points more than right-handed batters.”

Like Erlin he is not a groundball pitcher, with a 39.1% mark in the minor leagues.  As Wilson points out, the righty has also struggle against left-handed hitters.  Just look at this split:

  • vs. Right-Handed Hitters – 10.89 K/9, 0.86 BB/9, .202 average
  • vs. Left-Handed Hitters – 6.26 K/9, 3.96 BB/9, .247 average

In other words, the split is highly concerning and it wouldn’t be surprising to see opponents load up their lineups with lefties when he is on the mound.  With similar strikeout potential, less control and a major red flag, things aren’t as attractive when it comes to Wisler.  Throw in a poor outing on Sunday (5 ER over 2.2 IP) and things are looking worse and worse.

 

Conclusion:
While Wisler has the upside, he’s likely not ready quite yet and could use more time to develop his arsenal in the minors.  Erlin, meanwhile, has already spent time in the Majors and could also help you significantly in the WHIP department.  He’d be our guess as to who is going to win the job and also could be a significant fantasy asset.

Who should target him?  Obviously those in NL-Only formats, as well as those in 14+ team mixed leagues.  In 12-team formats, it truly depends on your alternatives but he could also prove quite valuable in the short-term.

Sources – Minor League Central, Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, Baseball America, Prospect 361

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