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Kyle McClellan as a Starter?

February 6, 2010

I’m warm to the idea of putting McClellan in the rotation, and I’ll explain why I like it. First of all, McClellan does seem to have the repertoire of a starting pitcher. Here’s a look at some of his Pitch F/x data proving he has enough weapons to succeed as a starter. The data comes courtesy of

Type Count Selection Velocity (mph) Vertical (in) Horizontal (in) Spin Angle (deg) Spin Rate (rpm)
FF 483 44.40% 91.4 7.2 -7.79 227 2,136
CU 278 25.50% 75.8 -8.02 6.53 40 1,688
SL 153 14.00% 87.7 3.43 0.72 172 755
SI 95 8.70% 90.8 6.54 -9.15 235 2,220
FC 60 5.50% 88.5 5.3 0.19 180 1,090
CH 20 1.80% 84.6 5.54 -7.61 233 1,769

So what does this prove, exactly? Well, first of all it proves that I like making tables even though I stink at formatting them, that much you already knew. Getting on point…in order to succeed as a big league starter, there are some ingredients you must have, unless you’re a freak. Those ingredients are at least one “plus” pitch, two average pitches and average command. Looking at this chart, Mac has the pitches. And we’ve all seen him pitch dozens of times, I think our eyes tell us he has the goods.  (Some quick clarification  – sinker/fastball, same thing. Bad Pitch F/x algorithm! Bad! Same goes for his cutter/slider).

Anywho, his two-seam fastball is average. He doesn’t generate tons of sink, but the pitch has good “tail”. His cutter/slider and his curveball can both be very good pitches at times.

Let’s look at his results –

Type Strike Swing Whiff Foul In Play
FF 65.20% 45.30% 3.50% 21.50% 20.30%
CU 48.60% 32.00% 10.40% 10.40% 11.20%
SL 56.20% 45.10% 9.80% 17.00% 18.30%
SI 61.10% 41.10% 6.30% 14.70% 20.00%
FC 66.70% 50.00% 5.00% 20.00% 25.00%
CH 45.00% 35.00% 10.00% 5.00% 20.00%

A fair share of whiffs on the curve and slider. His command is fair enough, although he did walk a few too many hitters last year.

So I hope I’ve established that he has the pitches to start, how exactly would he do? Sean Smith did a study on pitchers from 1953 up to 2008, and found that when switching from starting to relief and vice-versa, a pitcher’s walk rate would stay static, while their hits went +/- 5%, their homers went +/- 15%, and their strikeouts went +/- 16%. Let’s apply those numbers to McClellan and see what we come up with. First, here’s his 50th percentile CHONE projection as a reliever:

McClellan 63 5 25 2 48 3.99

Now let’s see what we come up with for 150 innings for McClellan as a starter, take it for what it’s worth –

McClellan 150 14 61 5 102 4.42

150 innings, 4.42 FIP is a 1.6 WAR pitcher, which is a little over 3 times higher than what his projected WAR would be coming out of the bullpen with an average leverage index of 1.3; in other words him pitching as the primary set-up man. That’s Nick Blackburn/Jon Garland territory, which is serviceable. Let’s put it this way – if the Cardinals had Nick Blackburn, would you prefer they started him or put him in the bullpen? You’d want them to start him, of course.

But wait, to who does Mac’s innings as a set-up man fall to? Yo-yo and unproven arms like Motte, Hawksworth and Boggs pitching in the 8th inning is a scary proposition. Let’s just say for now that McClellan’s innings would fall to Jason Motte. His CHONE projection calls for a 4.4 FIP. The bad news is no non-LOOGY reliever is very likely to do better. And one of those pitchers would be taking Motte’s spot, and so forth. If you give his innings to Motte, that’s a loss of 0.4 WAR, and an increase in sales of garden tools…I mean angry mob supplies in the greater St. Louis area.

Let’s not also forget Jaime Garcia. He’s not projected to fare as well (4.69 FIP), but as a 5th starter, that’s fine and it’s feasible he plays better than projected. Garcia also is a talented arm. With the way the bullpen is set-up now, given the chaining, putting McClellan in the bullpen or in the rotation ends up being closer to a wash than I would have imagined, and that’s assuming he’d succeed according to the numbers I laid out. So is it worth it?

Speaking from a long-term perspective, I’d say heck yes. It would be more beneficial for the Cardinals to have a nice, cost-controlled pitcher in their rotation than one in their bullpen. If the Cardinals think Mac is even close to being the real deal, they need to upgrade the bullpen with someone available for cheap like Kiko Calero or (I can’t believe I’m about to type this) Chan Ho Park. It would be a worthy investment to develop a nice, young starter while saving your team some unnecessary angst in the late innings.  And hey, if he bombs as a starter, there’s no harm in having some extra depth in the bullpen, anyways.

Sign Kiko. Give Mac a long look.

  1. easy permalink
    February 6, 2010 6:39 PM

    If he could really achieve those numbers I’d be real in favor of the switch. My problem with it is that he seems to have some stamina issues as a reliever having faded in the late season the last two years. Would this be exacerbated with more innings or would four days rest between outings solve the problem? I really don’t know but the former makes more sense to me.

  2. Red in Chicago permalink
    February 7, 2010 6:36 PM

    I saw a Twitter from McKernan the other day relaying a message from Russ Springer that there was mutual interest. I’m thinking $1 million plus incentives. Whether he could be the “primary” set-up man is another story. But yeah, in general I like the plan as long as someone else comes in.


  1. McClellan and Stamina « Play a Hard Nine

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