Save McClellan for next year

by on September 19, 2008 · 2 comments

I think it’s time to start thinking about shutting Kyle McClellan down (if he’s not unofficially done anyway) for the season, albeit what little is left of it.

Kyle had another rough outing on Tuesday night, surrendering three runs in one-third of an inning.

Unfortunately, this type of appearance has become all too common in recent months for KMac, a guy who really carried this bullpen through the months of June and July when they were struggling the most.

August and September have been a different story for the rookie. McClellan posted an ERA of 5.59 in the month of August, in only 9.2 innings pitched. September has been even worse, with a 12.79 ERA in 6.1 innings. Compare these months to 15.2, 12.1, 16, and 14.2 innings pitched in April, May, June, and July, respectively and you see the beginning of a pattern.

McClellan is tired, and fading as badly as the Cardinals in the Wild Card race.

You’ll remember from a previous diatribe here by yours truly that McClellan has had multiple surgeries on his throwing elbow:

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.

So following those procedures, McClellan pitched as a reliever for one year in the minor leagues, 29 innings at Palm Beach and 30.2 at Springfield. So prior to becoming a big-league reliever, he was a reliever for all of 59.2 innings, at a level no higher than AA.

Conveniently (and not coincidentally, I would argue), McClellan hit the 59.2 innings pitched mark this season on August 3rd.  His ERA through those innings?  2.87, while surrendering 58 hits over those innings and walking only 17.

Since that appearance on August 3rd, McClellan has pitched 15 more innings to date.  His ERA during that period of time is a whopping 8.40.  He has allowed 20 hits, and given up 8 walks in that span.  His ERA for the season has shot up from 2.87 on August 3rd to 3.98.

In those 15 innings, McClellan has only made two appearances in which he did not allow a hit – in both of those he surrendered a walk.  McClellan has allowed a base runner in all 13 appearances he has made since August 3rd.

It appears KMac has hit his breaking point.  Really, it’s been worse than that, if you string him out another couple of appearances.  August 3rd is the 59.2 inning cut off, but his three appearances following that (August 5th, August 8th, and August 11th) he allowed zero runs.  Take those out of the equation, and his ERA is 11.45 in his last 10 appearances.  That’s a far cry from the shutdown middle relief guy Cardinal fans fell in love with in the first four months of the season.

I think the Cardinals need to protect their investment here in a kid who can really project to be a cornerstone of their bullpen for years to come.  McClellan has electric stuff when he’s on (and rested and healthy).  He has a good repertoire of pitches with which to get hitters out.  But he also has a balky elbow.  Why risk it?

Yet this is not the worst news – rumor persists that McClellan will get a shot at the Cardinals 2009 starting rotation.  I can’t believe the Cardinals would be so short-sighted.  Yeah, fine, you got great mileage out of Braden Looper as a starter (and he’s about to cash in as a result – think Jeff Suppan money, you watch).  Todd Wellemeyer has had varying degrees of success converting to starter.  But why keep playing this game of Russian Roulette?  The Cardinals should have an abundance of options for the rotation next season coming out of Spring Training, especially if John Mozeliak is as aggressive as he says he’ll be, and brings in another front line starter.

Get McClellan’s off-season rest and strengthening program started early, Redbirds.  And for gosh sakes, just get him conditioned to throw 70 innings a year before you start thinking about trying to get him to throw 160.

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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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PHE September 19, 2008

Heh – I swear I’ve been trying to write this post since Wednesday morning and didn’t see this:

Notebook: McClellan labors

prior to writing.

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