After Kyle McClellan bumped his record to 5-0 in his first season as a full time starter, it’s only natural to begin considering his transition from the bullpen to the rotation a success. It’s certainly early but yesterday he offered up his most dominant outing, going 8 innings and allowing just 1 run, not bad considering he was the wild card fifth starter headed into the season.
With his performance to this point – small sample size or not – the comparisons to other Dave Duncan/Tony LaRussa projects are inevitable. The question becomes which of the most extreme “bullpen-to-starter” experiments will McClellan resemble…
In 1985, Dave Stewart pitched 46 games for Texas and Philadelphia, 41 of them out of the bullpen, ending the season with a 5.46 ERA.
Oakland signed him after he was released by the Phillies in 1986 and, shortly after, inserted him into the starting rotation. In his first 11 starts, he ripped off a 9-1 record including three consecutive complete games. He stumbled a bit down the stretch, finishing with a 9-5 record, but it was a good enough for LaRussa and Duncan to pencil him into the rotation the following year.
Not a bad move considering 1987 was the first of four consecutive seasons where he finished Top 5 in the Cy Young voting, won at least 20 games and posted a WAR of 3.4 or higher.
From mediocre middle reliever to the most dominant starter in the AL over an extended period of time is about as good as it gets for the mid-career transition. Stewart wasn’t a youngster when it happened either, he was 29 – two years older than McClellan – when he was promoted to the rotation.
On the flip side of the coin sits a more recent experiment in Todd Wellemeyer. Wellemeyer racked up a whopping zero career starts before the Cardinals picked him up after the Royals dropped him and his 10.34 ERA in 2007.
For those that don’t remember Wellemeyer-mania, he began the season with a 7-1 record in the first two months, giving up 3 ER or less in 10 of his 13 starts. Suddenly people were convinced he’d been miscast as a reliever throughout the first five years of his career and just needed a little sprinkle of Dave Duncan magic to make an impact.
His production leveled off the remainder of the season but he still ended 13-9, with a 3.71 ERA and a WAR of 2.3, making him the second most valuable starter on the team (behind only Kyle Lohse of all people).
A year later, any Cardinals fans dreaming of another Dave Stewart-esque story plunged back to reality when Wellemeyer checked in with a 7-10 record, 5.89 ERA, a -2.3 WAR. By July 2009, he had made his way back into the bullpen and after the season was on his way out of St. Louis landing in San Francisco.
Last week, he formally announced his retirement, at the age of 32.
The two extremes aren’t exact comparisons considering McClellan’s performance out of the bullpen was not one that made his promotion to the rotation a complete shock. But this is a “blog” and that means we can make these sort of generalizations with no fear of repercussions.
That being the case, Kyle McClellan has until he’s 32 to either be a multiple time Cy Young contender or announce his retirement. Choose wisely, Kyle.