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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chetthejet January 10, 2009

The reason I, and plenty of others, keep bringing up this KM starting thing, doesn’t necessarily mean anyone is in agreement with it. In fact, I tend to agree with your general point of view on the matter.

Kyle trained for the pen, has been great in the pen, and his late-season performances showed he had a bit too much season on him to remain effective. (Now he knows more about how to deal with the rigors of a ML season.)

I think this matter keeps coming up because Kyle has done so well. I think he would be effective for a short time if he has to start, but I really feel ya on the risk factors regarding his post TJ arm.

I do hope Kyle can remain in his current role, at least for another season or two.

The fact that this matter is even being discussed, however, is probably more of a sad statement of how short the organization has come to resolving a problem they’ve known about since the middle of last season.

Very good points in your piece, PHE.

PHE January 11, 2009

There’s no doubt that McClellan *could* be successful in the starting role.

He has a good repertoire of pitches, he has been a starter, so he understands the different approaches and mindset necessary.

I just don’t believe his arm would hold up. It’s that simple in my mind.

Not to mention you’re just filling one hole in the team by creating another. Who would take McClellan’s spot in the bullpen? Kinney? Franklin in middle relief?

With every pitcher that the “Cards were interested in” that goes off the market, I become more and more worried about this becoming a reality. Yesterday it was Kawakami…

StLCards January 12, 2009

No worries! I just heard an interview with Mo yesterday saying that Carpenter is penciled in to be a starter. Everything is going great!

If only I could buy into it, but I’ve been sold that bill of goods before.

As far as TJ surgery goes, it is highly successful and takes about 2 years to recover from. Having TJ surgery does not preclude a pitcher from being a starter. As a reliever McClellan had to throw gas and couldn’t pace himself. Starting and pitching is a completely different mindset. I’d be more than happy to have McClellan start if he is the best option. Of course, I’d rather have a healthy Carpenter, Peavy, or even Sheets starting, but barring that, McClellan might be as good of an option as another mid to lower tier pitcher that the Cards would be likely to sign. Much easier to sign an experienced relief pitcher to a 1 or 2 year deal that it would be to sign a starter.

PHE January 12, 2009

I’m not saying he can’t start because of a TJ – hell, Matt Morris was better *after* his TJ. I’m saying that McClellan could barely finish out the season throwing 75 innings, much less trying to throw 160.

I realize starting and bullpen work are two different animals, but the conditioning work that would be necessary to get his arm into shape to start concerns me in terms of worrying about reinjury.

Who would you sign to replace him in the middle-relief role?

StLCards January 12, 2009

I would sign Ben Sheets and leave McClellan in relief 🙂

yeah, yeah, I know, he is oft injured etc., but you can’t deny his electric stuff when he is healthy.

There are bound to be a number of pitchers available for middle relief. I’m not privvy to the behind the scenes talk, but rumors suggest that Jenks could be available for trade thus making him the closer and Perez/Motte set up guys. Maybe Mike Gonzalez from the Braves? He could close or be the lefty specialist. I’ve heard rumors that Morrow could be had from Seattle. D’Backs have some good relief options. Probably need to find a team that wants Ankiel and make a deal. He’ll be a Boras free agent, so why not just hand the job to Rasmus and get something for Ankiel now?

PHE January 13, 2009

I’m starting to come around on Sheets. It’s so hard to deny his stuff, and he is still only 29.

I just fear that the price tag is going to be prohibitive. I don’t think the Cards want to have so much tied up long-term in their pitching staff. It’s likely one of the primary reasons why they haven’t gone out and spent a pile of cash on a hitter.

Given Ankiel’s relationship with the Cardinals over the years, I can’t envision them parting ways with him for a relief pitcher straight up, but I guess it’d be better than getting nothing for him when he is looking for 5 yrs, $75mm come this offseason. 🙂

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