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Before hoisting his two Cy Young awards, Santana was actually a reliever.
While daunting, the reliever-turned-starter conversion has been done before. It's significantly more common for a starter to become a reliever for a few reasons.
For one, there's a logic chain that goes like this: Fewer innings per appearance means fewer pitches per outing, which means fewer pitches to master, which means less work to become a reliever, who can often get by with one plus pitch or two solid ones.
Secondly, because it's harder to be a starter, those who fail can change course to become relievers; in fact, nearly all big-league relievers were starting pitchers at some point in their pro career, either in the minors or majors.
And third, considering rotations comprise five starters whereas bullpens typically consist of six or seven pitchers, there are simply more relievers than starters in the majors.
Not surprisingly, then, we hear often about those who flamed out or got injured as starters only to turn into great relievers—Mariano Rivera, Dennis Eckersley and Eric Gagne to name a few—but there are quite a few who took the other route.
You might remember that Johan Santana, before becoming a two-time Cy Young winner, pitched as a long man for the Twins. Some others in recent years? Adam Wainwright, Jorge de la Rosa and C.J. Wilson.
In fact, this spring, former Yankee lefty Phil Coke and Rangers' flamethrower Neftali Feliz, who closed games for the AL champs last year, are following suit.
There's even precedent in the Bronx: Hughes, a starting pitcher as a prospect, spent the 2009 season in the pen before his breakout 2010.
While it takes a certain kind of pitcher to take this less-traveled road, a payoff is almost guaranteed. Obviously, an ace or front-of-the-rotation horse can be the result.
But even with a lesser outcome (i.e. a No. 4 or 5 starter), the value of pitching 150-180 innings with even league-average numbers cannot be ignored. Take Scott Baker of the Twins, for example.
Not a pitcher anyone would call "special" by any definition (12-9, 4.49 ERA, 1.34 WHIP in 170 and 1/3 innings), yet he earned 2.5 wins above replacement (WAR) a year ago.
Basically, that stat says he was worth between two and three more wins to Minnesota than if the Twins used, say, a Triple-A pitcher or a readily available free agent in his place.
Doesn't seem like much until you consider only—count 'em—two relievers surpassed Baker's 2.5 WAR total: the Cubs' Carlos Marmol and Giants' Brian Wilson.
Chamberlain produced a 1.4 WAR last year in relief, so if he can approximate Baker's 2010—the innings would be the biggest obstacle—he would be adding more than a win to his value, not to mention the Yankees' tally.
In the AL East, where the Red Sox are already considered the head of the class and the Rays are the reigning champs, well, one win could be the difference between getting to the playoffs and missing out.