Dominant Would-Be Relievers Being Wasted in MLB Rotations
A team paying a pitcher $5 million for 180-200 innings gets more value for their money than one paying the same amount for 70 innings. So it stands to reason that so many teams are insisting pitchers stay in the rotation as long as their performance is tenable.
Unfortunately, this means many teams miss out on potential dominance from those pitchers over shorter stretches. For some, this is due to the restraint needed to stretch one's effectiveness out over 100 pitches. While they may be dominant giving 100 percent, they can only give 80 percent to last that long.
For others, they have only two effective pitches, which is enough for one or two innings, but starters usually need three to turn over a lineup twice. These pitchers would be much better off used in the 'pen, but of course, the value of raw innings pitched will keep them slaving away in the rotation.
Brett Myers, Cleveland Indians
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Brett Myers (currently on the disabled list) has a 4.29 ERA and 1.339 WHIP in 252 career starts. He has a 3.69 ERA and 1.269 WHIP in 129 games as a reliever. Unfortunately, the Indians are low on starting pitching, so when Myers comes back, he will inevitably return to the rotation.
According to Fangraphs, for his career, opponents are batting .183 against Myers' cutter, the pitch he threw more than his fastball in 2012, when he worked exclusively as a reliever. His fly-ball rate on the cutter is just 11 percent, less than half the rate of any other pitch over his career.
The cutter can serve as the foundation for a very effective arsenal to face a lineup once, but when Myers is forced to mix up his pitches and deal with hitters a second or third time in a day, he loses effectiveness.
Erik Bedard, Houston Astros
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From 2007 to 2011, Erik Bedard had a 3.31 ERA, 1.199 WHIP and 9.6 K/9. He also missed all of one season, made only 15 starts in two others and never topped 130 innings once. He again battled injuries in 2012 with ugly results.
The fact of the matter is, Bedard is a good pitcher when healthy; he is just rarely healthy. If moved to the bullpen, Bedard would limit the workload on his body and be able to provide quality innings of relief, even serving as long reliever when needed, as he did on Opening Day for the Astros.
Of course, Houston needs innings-eaters as it limps through what is sure to be a long season, so Bedard is likely to be thrown out there every fifth day as long as he can stand.
Ubaldo Jimenez, Cleveland Indians
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In 2010, Ubaldo Jimenez was 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA at the All-Star break and he finished 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA. During that season, his average fastball velocity was 95.8 and opponents batted .226 against it.
According to Fangraphs, Jimenez' fastball average velocity has dropped under 93 in 2013, but he has ramped it up as high as 96.4, meaning the hard stuff is still there, just in limited quantities. The fastball is key for Jimenez because his off-speed offerings have always been excellent. He has allowed opponents just .190 and .189 averages against his slider and changeup, respectively.
If Jimenez were moved to a relief role, perhaps even pitching in two-inning stints, he could max out the fastball, adding to the effectiveness of his devastating secondary pitchers for a potentially dominant performance.
Tony Cingrani, Cincinnati Reds
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Tony Cingrani has been excellent since being called up to the Reds this season. He has a 0.964 WHIP in 28 innings with 11.9 K/9. Unfortunately, Johnny Cueto is due back from his oblique injury within the week and Cingrani is likely to be forced out of the rotation.
Even if Cingrani has earned his permanent rotation spot, after only pitching 151 innings last season, he would undoubtedly be on a strict cap, forcing the team to shut him down between August and September. But if the Reds moved the dominant young pitcher to the bullpen, serving a super-relief role of two- to three-inning outings, those innings could be stretched out.
In such a role, Cingrani could be around to help the Reds in September and perhaps even October, giving him invaluable postseason experience while developing him against major league hitters. This unconventional approach to player development would be a shock to see from Dusty Baker, but it might be the most beneficial for both Cingrani and the Reds in their title hunt.
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
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In 12 of Tim Lincecum’s first 15 starts in 2012, he pitched at least three consecutive scoreless innings. Between April 23 and June 5 (nine consecutive starts), he did it every time out.
During the 2012 playoffs, Lincecum pitched in relief five times, each for two or more innings. In 13 frames of relief, he struck out 17 and allowed one run. Meanwhile, in his one postseason start, he allowed four runs in 4.2 innings, a Game 4 NLCS loss to St. Louis. It seems manager Bruce Bochy has stumbled upon the most effective use of Lincecum.
However, at $22 million, Lincecum would be a pricey reliever, even in an extended or super-relief role, and the Giants are determined to keep him starting every fifth day until his performance simply becomes untenable, at which point they would be wise to reconsider October 2012. Lincecum can still be a dominant pitcher; he merely needs the right role.