Kyle McClellan and starting: Let’s review

by on January 9, 2009 · 7 comments

Rumors persist among Cardinal fans and scribes that Kyle McClellan is the logical fifth starter if Chris Carpenter can’t go because of persistent injury issues.

I’ve gone on record here more than once as being opposed to this idea, and I haven’t changed my tune.

As McClellan labored down the stretch, I wrote Save McClellan for next year in September.

Of note in that post:

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.

A couple things strike me in reviewing my own writing.  Apparently I was the one a bit short-sighted, as Jaime Garcia had a TJ, Carpenter is again struggling with his arm, and Mozeliak seems more interested in a cheap, cost-controlled starting pitcher than spending any serious free agent dollars on a starting pitcher.

The second paragraph still holds true though, even more so in my opinion, after reading McClellan’s comments on

“I hadn’t pitched a full season since 2004,” said the St. Louis native who missed almost two full years rehabbing an injury to his right arm. “There was definitely a point where I hit the wall.”

So, as I wrote in September, the guy just didn’t have any bullets left in his gun.  McClellan threw 75 2/3 innings in 2008, his most since 2004 and more than his 2006 and 2007 seasons combined.  He “hit the wall” indeed.  What makes him, or the organization, think his arm will hold up to the rigors of throwing more than two times that amount of innings in 2009?

That brings me to my original riff on the subject, around the All-Star Break last season, when I wrote McClellan to the rotation?  Why?.

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.

Well, I whiffed on this one, didn’t I?  Carpenter is assured of very little right now (depending on whom you listen to).  Garcia and Mike Parisi both went under the knife.  After the Rule V draft, the Cardinals have absolutely nothing to show for the once most-promising prospect in the system, Anthony Reyes.  They did re-up Kyle Lohse, but Braden Looper is all but gone.

This nugget of McClellan’s history still applies though, and is the driving force behind my opinion on the whole situation:

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.

Arm injuries just aren’t easy to come back from.  McClellan has proven that once, and made an appropriate adjustment in order to continue to the Major Leagues and be successful.  Why mess with that now?

The underlying theme and/or factor here that worries me most is Mozeliak’s apparent reluctance to spend money on that last starting pitcher.  He has made clear his preference for cost-controlled pitching, which I’d normally be very supportive of.  In this case, I’m afraid he’s going to look to McClellan as that answer, rather than trading from other surpluses to acquire the cheap starter he desires.

McClellan arguably represents the Cardinals’ best remaining option in middle relief, for a bullpen that struggled mightily last season, to be polite.  Why take that away?  Unless the Cards are going to spend their remaining free agent dollars on right handed relief solutions, moving McClellan creates a hole in the ‘pen while *maybe* solving one in the rotation.  Obviously I don’t have all of the information Johnny Mo does, but that just doesn’t seem like a worthwhile gamble to me.

I do have another gamble I’d make though.

To be continued…

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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