McClellan to the rotation? Why?

by on July 15, 2008 · 6 comments

It’s that wonderful time of the baseball season called the All-Star Break where, regardless of your team’s current position in the standings, discussion inevitably turns to what might happen in the post-season.  Who’s going to be a free agent?  What players are sure to be traded (perhaps even at this season’s deadline)?  What are the team’s chances of competing next year?

It is in this rampant “what if?” discussion that I keep seeing Kyle McClellan’s name come up while inferring that he could or should slide into the Cardinals’ starting pitching rotation for 2009.  Now I realize that most of this is being spurred on by the talk earlier in the season that K-Mac was an option to make some starts, because surely the Redbirds’ season was over after they had suffered injuries to Adam Wainwright, Joel Pineiro, Todd Wellemeyer, and the refusal of Mark Mulder’s shoulder to cooperate with his brain.

Well, here we are, five weeks later, and the rotation has managed to survive.  Mike Parisi made a couple of uninspiring starts, Mitchell Boggs helped them stay afloat, and Brad Thompson has bailed them out of some short-start situations.

Word is that Wainwright could be back in early August (I don’t care what Orel Hershiser says).  That leaves some combination of Waino, Pineiro, Wellemeyer, should’ve-been-All-Star Kyle Lohse, Braden Looper, and then any mix of Boggs, Jaime Garcia, even maybe Anthony Reyes (who is back to dominating AAA after his stint on the DL) or Chris Carpenter before the season is out.  And that’s just for this season.

So again I ask, why would the Cardinals move McClellan to the rotation?

Next year looks even more promising, if we make a couple of assumptions.  Carpenter, Wainwright, Pineiro, and Wellemeyer are all virtually assured of being in the starting rotation when the team breaks camp in 2009 (I know, knock on wood).  That still leaves Boggs, Garcia, Parisi, Reyes (or whomever they might get in trade for him), even Thompson perhaps.  Then you take into account a possible re-up with Lohse or Looper, and again, the rotation looks pretty full from my point of view.  Depending on off-season signings and/or resignings and development of a couple of youngsters, this rotation looks pretty stacked already without considering McClellan for that role.

I know the arguments FOR putting McClellan in the rotation.  He keeps the ball down (generally) which Duncan loves.  He has four pretty good pitches that he can throw.  He was originally drafted as a starter.  They’re expecting a Wainwright-esque transformation out of him.

That’s all fine and good, and he could well turn into a wonderful starter for the Cardinals if that’s the route they take.  But again, I ask, presented with the evidence above, why?

Still not convinced?

McClellan hasn’t been a full-time starting pitcher since 2005 (and even that’s debatable, since he made only 8 starts that year in 17 appearances).  He had Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow in July 2005 after being moved to the bullpen in Quad Cities in May after struggling as a starter.  He came back briefly in August of 2006 to make 3 rehab starts with Johnson City (which lasted a total of 7 innings combined) before having to go back under the knife, this time for ulnar nerve surgery to move a nerve somewhat related to the Tommy John procedure.  Since then, McClellan has made 1 total start in Palm Beach, and 84 relief appearances between Palm Beach, Springfield, and now St Louis.  His ERA in relief was 1.24 in Palm Beach, 2.35 in Springfield, and now 2.94 with the Cardinals after completely skipping AAA Memphis.

McClellan and Russ Springer have been the stalwarts of an otherwise suspect bullpen this season for the Cardinals.  McClellan has logged the most innings of any Cardinal reliever (which I guess might lend it’s self to starting, since he’s putting in innings and in theory stretching himself out).  Why take away one of the best parts of a struggling unit?

Sure, next season you’ll see more Chris Perez and maybe Mark Worrell.  But then who?  Jason Isringhausen isn’t likely to be back.  Who knows about Springer, Ron Villone, and Randy Flores?  The Cards have much more important places on the roster to spend their money besides more retreads to run through the bullpen.  Why keep throwing mud at the wall to see if it will stick?  McClellan is, for now, a proven commodity (hopefully his arm holds up for another 30 or so innings this year).

If you want to impress me by moving McClellan somewhere, name him your closer for 2009 this winter.  THAT would be a productive move.

Writing about the Cardinals and other loosely associated topics since 2008, I've grown tired of the April run-out only to disappoint Cardinal fans everywhere by mid-May. I do not believe in surrendering free outs.
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Rockin' the Red July 16, 2008

I’d always assumed McClellan would naturally move to the rotation, but you make a pretty compelling argument. I think, however, that keeping Kyle in the bullpen might waste the variety of pitches he’s able to throw. We have Jason Motte, Francisco Samuel, Fernando Salas, and (some believe as a reliever) Jess Todd knocking on the door in the bullpen as well, so I’m not terribly concerned about the BP’s future. The future of Izzy and Springer will be the driving force if there’s any changes. Good post.

PHE July 16, 2008

You’re right – I neglected to note the general overwhelming amount of arms the Cards organization suddenly has available at their disposal. And lots of the “starters” that are currently in the minors probably project as relievers in the bigs (as you mention Todd).

Certainly we could see a big shift in the way the front office operates in coming seasons – being able to promote pitching from within has always been a huge organizational benefit so you can spend the big cash on guys who play every day.

Short term though – never mind the stats, I wonder if his arm could handle the stress of starting. Guess it all depends on how well his doctor performed. 🙂

Thanks for reading.

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