Updates On Converted Relievers Now Starting

One way for teams to avoid building their rotations through free agency is to move relief pitchers to the starting rotation. Few relievers have the repertoire and durability to succeed in the rotation, but teams are understandably tempted by certain promising bullpen arms. After all, starters have the potential to limit the opposition for 180-200 innings, while relievers might pitch 60-70 innings.

The Rangers have successfully converted C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando to starting roles under Ron Washington and Mike Maddux in recent years, but some conversions don't work out quite as well. For example, Phil Coke and Kyle McClellan started the 2011 season in the rotation, before returning to relief roles.

Here’s an early season update on four pitchers who jumped from the ‘pen to the rotation this year. None of the pitchers below had started more than three MLB games in a season before 2012 and all of them were big league relievers last year:

  • Daniel Bard – Bard's walk rate has spiked, his strikeout rate is down and he's generating fewer ground balls. His average fastball sits in the 93-94 mph range, down from 97.3 mph out of the bullpen, but he continues to generate swings and misses. A dropoff is expected from relievers who move to the rotation, and Bard showed promise against the White Sox last week. 
  • Neftali Feliz – Feliz's 3.81 ERA is a little deceptive. He has 18 strikeouts against 14 walks, partly because he's generating fewer swings and misses. He has also been lucky on balls in play, as his .194 opponents' BABIP indicates.
  • Jeff Samardzija – The strikeouts are up, the walks are down and the peripheral numbers suggest this may well be sustainable. Samardzija's fastball continues to average 94.7 mph and batters are swinging and missing more than ever. So far, Samardzija's conversion has been a major success, especially relative to pre-season expectations. To his credit he has faced the Cardinals — the NL's top offense — twice.
  • Chris Sale – Sale's transition to the rotation is going smoothly. Though his fastball velocity has dipped to 92.4 mph and his strikeout rate is down, he's limiting walks and averaging more than six innings per start.

Note: Though Lance Lynn, Anthony Bass and Felix Doubront pitched in relief last year, they also started in the minors for an extended period of time, so I don’t consider them converted relievers. Advanced stats via FanGraphs.

24 Responses to Updates On Converted Relievers Now Starting Leave a Reply

  1. ClintB92 3 years ago

    Samardzija has had the most success.  It’s a great sign for the cubs who really need it. 

    • Cosmo3 3 years ago

      Indeed. It’s like we suddenly have a legit, long-term #2 starter that we weren’t expecting at all. LaHair has been another bright spot who looks like he’s finally broken out (a la Michael Morse for the Nats), and perhaps Campana as well, if he can sustain his recent success at the plate. Castro has picked up right where he left off last year too.

      It’s still going to be a long climb for the Cubs. But considering these handful of promising young players they have now at the MLB level, and at least a couple of potential studs on the verge of call-up from Triple-A (Jackson and Rizzo), not to mention plenty of cash to spend in FA, it may not be as long as we thought.

      • ClintB92 3 years ago

        Definately, the cubs are my favorite national league team and little things like this bring signs of promise

    • Sky14 3 years ago

      I’m not sure how you define “most success” but out of this list Sale has performed the best

      • GDane 3 years ago

        Without a doubt.  Sale’s number are better than Samardzija’s almost accross the board.

    • Samardzija may be an exception, and Sale too. Oganda is back where he belongs, and if Nathan weren’t dong as welll as he has,Feliz would be much better in the pen. been But, Bard is not making the transition very well. if you have a reliever,(a very underated property) doing well as reliever,leave him the hell alone. Boston, being cheap with Jon Papelbon,have created their own mess by letting him go. Moral of the story. Spend the money on proven quality starters.

  2. ClintB92 3 years ago

    I think Feliz will come into his own though along with Sale as they are two guys that were starters in the first place and just relieve because of crouded rotations.

  3. Cards_fan 3 years ago

    I think you’re forgetting Lance Lynn, the greatest reliever to starter transition of the season.  Filling in for Carpenter quite nicely

    EDIT just saw the Note, nvmd

    • ClintB92 3 years ago

      I dont think it should have been in a note because all the others were starters in the minors as well.

  4. ClintB92 3 years ago

    But of them all I am worried about Bard the most because he doesnt look near as comfortable.  The Red Sox better hope he comes through

    • Bard was good again yesterday, especially if ding-a-ling Cody Ross makes the catch in LF.  No problems with Bard IMO

  5. rockfordone 3 years ago

    Ben – Where do you get your stats -watched Sale’s last start fastball 94 to 97 all day?????

  6. rockfordone 3 years ago

    Agree with you(Cards-Fan) totally. Sale was always a starter forced to bullpen because of team need.

    • brian310 3 years ago

      most of these guys are starters forced to pen… Samardzija, Feliz (don’t know about Bard)…

      • Sully65 3 years ago

        Bard was a struggling Starter in minors and was converted to Pen.

  7. D. Phelps next soon

    • andrewyf 3 years ago

      doesn’t really count – he was just filling in as long reliever. been a starter his whole career.

  8. Koby2 3 years ago

    So why did the Rangers put Ogando back in the bullpen for this year?

    • Yes, the rotation was very crowded and he’s a shutdown reliever. I wanted to see him start because I believe he’s better than Feliz (at the moment), but he’s so valuable in the bullpen. He and Mike Adams make the 7th and 8th innings a lot more comfortable.

  9. Anthony Bass anyone? He’s been great so far.

    • Amish_willy 3 years ago

      Doesn’t qualify as a “converted reliever”. Lot of young starters end up in the pen initially, like Luebke last year. Bass has been great though.

  10. Trout Almonte 3 years ago

    Just saying, Coke started for 5 yrs in the minors, Wilson started about 80 games at the lower levels for 4 yrs, McClellan also started at one point.  Bard was a starter for his first pro season, and Samardzija also started for a long time in the minors.  I think that this post is a very nice idea but you might want to establish a standard for what count as “converted relievers”.

  11. johnsilver 3 years ago

    Bard’s FB has been 93-94.. As a floor and where he sits at, but he has still hit it up to higher speeds (95+) when he has had to in counts and the important thing for his success as a SP? His Change has come around and been able to throw it for strikes.

    Arguable the best SP in the early going so far on the team.

  12. CC 3 years ago

    Aroldis Chapman!

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