Converting relievers to starters is potentially rewarding, but difficult to do, as the Rangers have shown in the past 13 months. Last year, they converted C.J. Wilson to the rotation and saw him blossom into a dependable starter who posted a 3.35 ERA, logged over 200 innings and started a World Series game. This year, they attempted to convert 2010 AL Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz to the rotation, but returned him to the bullpen before the season began.
Here’s the latest on four pitchers who jumped from the ‘pen to the rotation this year, including one player who sat in the bullpen with Feliz last year and now pitches in the rotation along with Wilson. None of the pitchers below had more than two MLB starts to his name before the 2011 season and all of them were big league relievers last year:
- Alexi Ogando - A former minor league outfielder, Ogando is accustomed to making major adjustments as a pro player. He has allowed 19 hits and 8 walks in 31 1/3 innings, striking out 21. His 2.30 ERA, 6.0 K/9 and average fastball velocity of 94.3 mph are impressive and he has even lowered his walk rate to 2.3 BB/9. But opponents are hitting just .165 against him on balls in play, an indication that he's not quite this good.
- Phil Coke - Coke has allowed 27 hits and 12 walks in 30 innings this year and his strikeout rate has dropped from 7.4 K/9, where it stayed for 2009-10, to 5.1 K/9. Coke's 4.50 ERA is acceptable for a fifth starter if he can keep it there and his peripheral stats suggest he can.
- Kyle McClellan - McClellan has a 3.23 ERA and a spotless 4-0 record despite peripheral stats (5.0 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 10.0 H/9, 4.32 FIP, 4.34 xFIP) that suggest the early returns are not sustainable. Even so, McClellan's 48% ground ball rate should allow him to remain the Cardinals' fifth starter, which is all they wanted in the first place.
- Phil Humber - The third overall pick in the 2004 draft, Humber had not come close to putting it together in the majors until last year. Now a starter for the first time in his MLB career, Humber is pitching for his fifth organization in as many years. So far, the results have been tremendous. He has a 3.06 ERA through five starts with a 21K/8BB ratio. Opponents have been unlucky against Humber on balls in play, and only 5% of their fly balls have left the yard, so that 3.06 ERA may climb closer to 4.00. Still, Humber looks like one of the shrewdest waiver claims of the winter.