Chicago Cubs: Why It's Time to Admit That Trey McNutt Is a Relief Pitcher

Jim WeihofenCorrespondent IApril 29, 2012

MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 22:  Trey McNutt #71 of the Chicago Cubs poses for a portrait during media photo day at Finch Park on February 22, 2011 in Mesa, Arizona.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After a brilliant 2010 campaign that saw 2009 32nd-round draft pick Trey McNutt climb all the way to AA Tennessee with a sparkling 2.48 ERA for the year, many wanted to believe that McNutt was a future ace.

This belief permeated through the Cubs' organization so much that the team held on to McNutt over Chris Archer in the Matt Garza trade.

The next season, neither McNutt nor Archer did particularly well while Garza shined. This season, McNutt is off to a brilliant start, having given up only one earned run through his first four starts, to the tune of a 0.61 ERA.

There's a catch to that, though. Those four starts have only seen McNutt log 14.2 innings. That's a paltry average of 3.2 innings per start.

The rest of his career hasn't been much better. His breakout 2010 campaign saw McNutt last an average of just under 4.2 innings per start. 2011 saw McNutt last just over four innings per start.

Seeing his endurance drop is not an encouraging sign for a fan base hoping he can be a future mid-to-top of the rotation starter. Granted, the 2012 sample size is limited, and McNutt is coming off an injury-plagued 2011 campaign, but things aren't looking great for McNutt's durability.

That said, the Cubs have had success as of late converting fireballers from starters lacking endurance into quality relief pitchers. James Russell, Carlos Marmol, Sean Marshall, Rafael Dolis and Theo Epstein's compensation in Chris Carpenter have all become successful relief pitchers after faltering in the starting rotation in the minors.

For McNutt, the fastest way to the show may be to admit that he's likely not going to be a valuable starting pitcher in the higher levels of the minor leagues, let alone the majors. With his history as a starter, he could prove able to pitch multiple effective innings in relief, much like Marshall.

Of course, these edicts usually come from the front office. While Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer would presumably love to have McNutt as a starter, they'll soon need to come to terms with the reality that he'll be a superior major league contributor as a late inning reliever.