From the moment they're drafted to the day they retire, starting pitchers are generally more highly coveted than relievers. They're selected earlier on draft day, they earn more in arbitration and they sign more lucrative free agent contracts. There are exceptions of course: Drew Storen was a first rounder, Jonathan Papelbon earned nearly $30MM through arbitration and most starters would love to match Mariano Rivera's free agent earning power. But for the most part, teams invest more in starters.
So when a rotation opening emerges or a pitcher is particularly impressive out of the 'pen, baseball officials are often tempted to convert relievers into starters. This year has been no exception, so let's take another look at converted relievers. 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, Rangers – Ogando has been tremendous for the Rangers. The converted outfielder has a 2.86 ERA with 6.7 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 in 97 2/3 innings. His ground ball rate has dropped to 36.3%, yet his average fastball velocity is impressively high at 94.7 mph. After successfully converting C.J. Wilson in 2010 and Ogando this year, will Texas move Neftali Feliz to the rotation in 2012?
- Phil Coke, Tigers – Coke lost his rotation spot last week after posting a 4.91 ERA with 4.3 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 77 innings. The left-hander was solid in April and May, but put together a string of ugly outings in June.
- Kyle McClellan, Cardinals – McClellan, who is replacing the injured Adam Wainwright, has a 4.27 ERA with 4.7 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 through 90 2/3 innings. McClellan's ERA has jumped two runs this year and he has already set a career-high in innings pitched. He has not surpassed 100 innings since he was a starter in the Midwest League seven years ago.
- Phil Humber, White Sox – It took a while, but Humber is finally putting it together in the Major Leagues. The former third overall pick has a 2.69 ERA with 5.5 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and a 46.1% ground ball rate in 103 2/3 innings. Even if Humber's ERA rises – his peripheral stats suggest it will – the White Sox have found themselves a valuable arm.