February 24, 2011
Could McClellan Start?
The baseball media world went into a finding frenzy after the Adam Wainwright news broke, as the replacement starter pool was created then drained until few remained. Christina Kahrl did a good job of skimming the pool for trash yesterday, but one name deserves a little more attention: St. Louis reliever Kyle McClellan. Although McClellan last made a start in 2007, Derrick Goold reported that he is on the starter’s program for the second consecutive spring after nearly winning the fifth starter’s job last season. McClellan may have spent the duration of his big league career in the bullpen, but he does have more than 50 career minor league starts to his name and there is reason to believe he could make the transition.
The first thing to look for in reliever-to-starter cases is whether the pitcher has the stuff to make the conversion. Since managers cannot hide poor platoon splits with starters as they can with relievers, a lack of stuff can manifest itself in strong differentials. McClellan is a right-handed pitcher, but his career OPS against is actually lower versus lefties (.622 to .695) despite a worse strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.70 to 2.43). Some of that difference is due to a batting average on balls in play more than .030 points lower –the sample size is small enough (387 plate appearances) that regression should push the figure closer towards league-average heading forward.
McClellan limits extra base hits because of his groundball propensity (roughly 50 percent for his career) and he’s kept his walk rate in check for the most part. He lives off a low-90s sinker that he can locate well (the pitch went for a strike about 68 percent of the time during 2010) and throws a variety of other pitches –including a curveball which nets the highest rate of whiffs (12.5 percent)— which should be enough for him to give batters multiple looks throughout the game.
Above are conversions of McClellan’s notable statistics, arrived at through The Rule of 17 process (detailed and applied with Alfredo Aceves here). The closest comparison to the projection from the 2010 season is Randy Wolf of the Brewers. Keep in mind The Rule of 17 knows not of McClellan’s elbow injury history, what –if any— restrictions the Cardinals would place on his outings, and a host of other variables that would damage the optimism. All it knows is the numbers input from McClellan’s relief career, which tells it that McClellan is a mighty fine reliever. Ultimately –as Kahrl noted— McClellan could be too good in relief to move into the rotation.