Updates On Converted Relievers Now Starting

Building a rotation through free agency can be expensive and frustrating, so teams are understandably open to alternatives. One way for teams to avoid free agent salaries and long-term commitments is to move relief pitchers to the starting rotation. Yet few relievers have the repertoire and durability to succeed in the rotation, so it's not uncommon for converted relievers to flop as starters. 

Here’s a mid-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 walked more batters than he struck out and posted a career-high ERA as a starting pitcher before being optioned to the minor leagues in early June. The right-hander saw his fastball velocity (93.1 mph) and swinging strike rate (7.9%) dip as a starter. He's now pitching out of the bullpen at Triple-A, and the results have been mixed. This attempted transition has been a disappointment.
  • Neftali Feliz – The Rangers have successfully converted C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando to starting roles under Ron Washington and Mike Maddux in recent years, but Feliz's conversion didn't go nearly as well. He will miss the rest of the season and much of 2013 to undergo and recover from Tommy John surgery. Feliz's injury may be unrelated to his change in roles, but it doesn't make the reality of his elbow issues any more pleasant for the Rangers. The 24-year-old started just seven games before hitting the disabled list, and the results were acceptable, if not overwhelmingly positive: a 3.16 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 4.9 BB/9.
  • Jeff Samardzija – Credit the Cubs for putting Samardzija in the rotation this spring. He's enjoying a breakout season with a 4.19 ERA, 9.0 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 120 1/3 innings (he recovered from an ugly month of June to string together some strong starts in July). The 27-year-old has maintained his fastball velocity, averaging 95 mph with his heater. Among MLB starters only Cole Hamels and Tim Lincecum generate a greater percentage of swings and misses (12.0%).
  • Chris Sale – Sale has pitched to a 2.61 ERA through 124 innings with a 114K/31BB ratio and impressive hit and home run rates. The 2012 All-Star has lost some zip on his fastball (now 92.1 mph), but he continues to generate lots of swings and misses. A major success for rookie manager Robin Ventura, pitching coach Don Cooper and the White Sox.

Note: Though Lance Lynn, Anthony Bass and Felix Doubront pitched in relief last year, they also started in the minors for much of the 2011 season, so I don’t consider them converted relievers. Advanced stats via FanGraphs.

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

  1. Michael Rodgers 3 years ago

    Sale definitely deserves to be in strong consideration for CY Young. That kid has been nothing short of spectacular for that White Sox ball club

    • CHendershott 3 years ago

      If the season ended today he’d win it. If he can avoid injury and fatique he’s should be the best candidate at the end of the season, especially if the White Sox make the playoffs.

      • James 3 years ago

        he will be losing ground as part of a 6 man rotation… his counting numbers may just not be as strong

  2. the_show 3 years ago

    I don’t really consider Chris Sale a converted reliever..He was a starter in college and the White Sox always intended for him to start they just put him in the bullpen initially as way of getting major league experience.

    • stl_cards16 3 years ago

      Agreed. That’s like saying Adam Wainwright is a converted reliever.

    • Chewtoy123 3 years ago

      Same with Neftali Feliz. I believe he started all through the minors and only closed for one or two seasons before getting the starter role.

  3. Nats are doing the experiment with Ryan Perry (in AA at the moment). Never started a ML game (for Detroit or the Nationals). So far, it’s going very well.

  4. Nats are doing the experiment with Ryan Perry, who was a reliever for Detroit before he was traded to the Nats. He’s in AA, and so far, so good.

  5. M.Kit 3 years ago

    Ogando may be the most impressive, being that he started out in the Rangers system as an outfielder

    • Yeah, but Samardzija started out as a Wide Receiver.

    • James 3 years ago

      yeah, but he was an illegal immigrant that tried to sneak into the country without proper paper work, and a sham marriage. no respect for a man who has no respect for the rules of our country (most other major leaguers who immigrated here do it legally, and do not get banned from the country for 5 years)

  6. $6042963 3 years ago

    I don’t want to be a wet blanket, but I wouldn’t be letting Chris Sale keep elevating his innings at this point. Yeah, I believe in the Verducci effect. And Chris Sale is a prime candidate for it in 2013. I believe in erring on the side of caution with young arms like that. Without him they risk losing a playoff spot, but by not shutting him down they risk perhaps a longer term loss of a great talent. And this year, Texas seems so strong anyway that the chances of Chicago making it deep into the playoffs is small.

    • William Kafer 3 years ago

      Texas, is strong, yes, but not unbeatable. I mean, look at that rotation breaking down. Would you be comfortable throwing Darvish or Harrison in the playoffs right now?

      • $6042963 3 years ago

        No team is unbeatable. I just think TX is so loaded, as are the Angels right now. And, yes, I’d feel comfortable throwing those pitchers in the playoffs. That ballpark in Arlington is tough for pitchers — the hot weather and the way the balls fly out of there. Look at what happened tonight with Wilson and Dempster. So it impacts both pitchers.

        It’s a tough call with Sale. But just like they are going to shut down Strasburg early despite the Nats leading the division, Chicago should make that tough call with Sale and err on the side of caution. Already, he’s probably pitched by far the most innings in his life. And he’s doing it after coming off two years of working as a reliever and logging relatively few innings. Just don’t be surprised if he has a very poor 2013 — or worse, gets hurt.

  7. hawkny1 3 years ago

    All my life I have repeatedly read that MLB quality starting pitchers have to have at least three different pitches they can throw for strikes to be successful at that level. Boston’s Bard, according to everything published about him, has had only two good pitch types, the fastball and a curve, of sorts, since turning pro. Thus, it became a mystery to me why he was allowed to convert from a premiere setup man to mediocre starter, both during and after this failed experiment took place. Considering the fact the Red Sox had recently brought in a new manager, new pitching coach and promoted the 1st assistant GM to GM, I am still befuddled by the question, “Who ultimately allowed this to happen, and why?”. None of the aforementioned were in a position to decide. This was such a bad decision, ranking right up there with the ill founded decision to ship Josh Reddick to Oakland for their oft, injured closer, Andrew Bailey. No one has really stepped forward. Nor has the question really been asked by the Boston sports writers to the degree a legitimate culprit could be identified. But, if ever there is a dimwit accurately identified, that club official should be ridden out Commonwealth Ave, on a rail, all the way to Worcester, and be told never to return to Beantown again. Amen.

    • slider32 3 years ago

      AJ Burnett is getting by this year with 2 great pitches, but this rare in today’s game!

    • rjs 3 years ago

      Its about money; the idea was that successful conversions of Bard and Doubront got you two cost controlled
      starters at the back of your rotation for the next few years. I
      am sure the entirety of baseball operations was on the same page on the
      decision. Hindsight is 20/20 and even though the attempt with Bard resulted in the worst possible outcome, the bullpen has not been the problem this year.

  8. Karkat 3 years ago

    Bard :(

    • baseball52 3 years ago

      Samardzija 😀

      • Karkat 3 years ago

        Sometimes I just sit at home and cry about Daniel Bard.

        • start_wearing_purple 3 years ago

          You should get a new hobby.

          • Karkat 3 years ago

            lol, I know right.

            But for real, Bard was one of my favorite guys on the team. I really hope he can figure it out and come back as the reliever we know he can be.

        • baseball52 3 years ago

          It’s understandable. I remember when he and Miller were the best 1-2 in College Baseball. Now they’re really bad in the MLB… At least they’re together.

    • YanksFanSince78 3 years ago

      It was so funny to me when the idea of Bard being transformed to a starter. To me, it just seemed like a bad idea to take a successful relief pitcher and assume that he could be a successful starter given that he has NEVER had success as a starter in the minors, never had a FIP under 5.00 and had never pitched above A+ in a starters role.

      In fact, I thought it was quite arrogant that just about every Sox fan seemed to think he would be a mid-rotation starter at worst. I could see a small market team trying to be economical taking that chance but couldn’t fathom why the Sox didn’t just leave Bard in the pen to close, bolster the rest of the bullpen and go out and obtain a decent #3 or #4 type on a 1 or 2 year deal. Smh. Oh well.

      • Karkat 3 years ago

        You need to start talking to some better Sox fans, dude. I (and most people I knew) were totally against the move from the start. From my perspective, he really only had two solid pitches, and his reliance was heavily on fastball velocity (which is unsustainable over the length of a start). It always felt like a bad idea just given those parameters.

        • YanksFanSince78 3 years ago

          That’s the thing. They were all pretty well known guys on this site, most of whom I respect. It just seemed that they felt that his floor would be that of a mid-rotation starter with a 4.00 ERA ability. Mind you…they felt that was the WORST he would do. Just odd.

          • YanksFanSince78 3 years ago

            What’s even worse is that it just seems that the Sox, a team that usually makes some good moves, have succession of ideas that have gone poorly. Be it bad signings (Jenks, Cameron, Lackey, Crawford) or just bad ideas (moving Youk to 3b, Bard to the rotation). I know the Crawford situation is still too early to call it a complete bust though. ALL TEAMS, especially those that play the FA market heavy have epic fails but just seems like the Sox are having all theirs at the same time (cue Future’s “Same D@mn Time” song now).. haha.

          • Karkat 3 years ago

            To be fair, I don’t think Jenks and Cameron were bad signings at the time, Crawford’s contract was always too large, but the signing itself is only this bad in hindsight. The Youkilis thing is also very much some Monday morning quarterbacking (he broke in as a 3B, after all).

          • start_wearing_purple 3 years ago

            I tend to take offense with your comment about “arrogance”. Of the Sox fans on this site who’s opinions I respect I seem to recall a) As Karkat said, most of us didn’t like the idea but were at least intrigued by the possibilities. 2) None of us thought his floor was mid rotation. Most of us thought that was best case scenario.

          • YanksFanSince78 3 years ago

            @start_wearing_purple:disqus What is there for you to take offense too? I never said YOU said but at the same time I distinctly remember cautioning certain people here about it being risky expecting him to make such an easy transition. Most of them pointed towards the fact that his early problems stemmed from poor control and that it was now no longer an issue.

            Not sure how you can invalidate conversation I know that I’ve had. Again, I never said SWP said such and such.

          • start_wearing_purple 3 years ago

            You said: “I thought it was quite arrogant that just about every Sox fan seemed to think he would be a mid-rotation starter at worst.” You generalized and I fall within the category of the generalization,

        • Leonard Washington 3 years ago

          He had two great pitches, a fastball, and a slider and was developing a solid “changeup” he got side tracked because of the fact he always threw from the stretch.

      • notsureifsrs 3 years ago

        let’s be clear, here. is it your position that daniel bard’s current problems are the result of being converted to a starter? that’s what it seems like you’re implying

      • James 3 years ago

        i agree. even to save money sign aaron cook, livan hernandez and a few other washed up old guys and hope you can cobble together a rotation. Bard had far more value as the closer.

        Best idea, sign an edwin jackson type (mid rotation starter) and not sign bailey.. sign what you actually needed

  9. MetsMagic 3 years ago

    Sale was one of the best starting prospects in baseball a couple of years ago, they just fast tracked him to the majors in the bullpen.

  10. slider32 3 years ago

    Looks like Ryan’s philosophy on having starting pitchers pitch more really hasn’t panned out.

  11. NomarGarciaparra 3 years ago

    so it looks like the red sox are the only team incapable of successfully converting relievers?

  12. expos94 3 years ago

    he started a bunch of games last year and I may be mistaken but I think he also got some starts when he was with the Brewers.

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