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Cardinals Last Spring Training Game - Pic 57

Image by BattlefieldPortraits.com via Flickr

Last week, I expected McClellan’s rotation conversion to be official before I had a chance to produce the third installment of this series. While that hasn’t happened yet, Joe Strauss confirmed that the writing is on the wall:

If he works like a starting pitcher and his schedule gets rearranged like a starting pitcher, then Kyle McClellan is finally a starting pitcher, even if his manager withholds final approval.

And Rick Hummel concurred:

Manager Tony La Russa, asked if McClellan would be in the bullpen March 31 on opening day, replied “no.”

This is as much an admission as La Russa will give that McClellan, who has given up one run in 17 innings this spring, will be starting the fifth or sixth game of the season.

As if it weren’t clear enough already, Lynn, Dickson, and Valdes were assigned to minor league camp today.

This will serve as the final installment of this series unless an incredibly unforeseen development (trade, injury, etc.) takes place. The contenders’ numbers through week three (only including stats up through yesterday – 3/20/11):

  • Kyle McClellan – 0.53 ERA
  • Lance Lynn – 4.91 ERA
  • Brandon Dickson – 6.00 ERA
  • Bryan Augenstein – 1.13 ERA
  • Raul Valdes – 9.53 ERA

Check out McClellan’s dominance in the following graphs:

 

 

McClellan has compiled the most innings while striking out more than two times as many batters as he’s walked.

McClellan’s groud balls are through the roof. While Dickson was also impressive in this regard, more hits fell against him.

Lastly, McClellan faced the stiffest competition (MLB hitter defined by having at least 200 PA in big-leagues).

With all signs pointing towards McClellan joining the rotation, what should fans expect? Thankfully, there’s been some quality content on this subject around the Cardinals’ blogosphere.

  • Azruavatar listed three reasons to believe in McClellan’s conversion: (1) He throws four pitches, (2) he has encouraging non-splits against left-handed batters, and (3) 217 big league innings pitched with a respectable 4.00 FIP.
  • Steve weighed in on McClellan’s repertoire here at GHG. Although McClellan boasts a four-pitch arsenal (fastball, cutter/slider, curveball, and changeup), he relies mostly on two of them (choosing his fastball and curveball 83% of the time). While that’s a lot, we learned that it isn’t that much more than his peers. In fact, Westbrook relies on two of his pitches 84% of the time.  Steve added that McClellan’s pitches rank favorably according to FanGraphs pitch type values.
  • At Fungoes, Pip took “a realistic view of McClellan’s spring performance” by researching other Cardinals (Morris, Wainwright, Looper, Thompson, and Simontacchi) who have made similar transitions (30 relief appearances and 30 games started) since 2000. Averaged together, these pitchers ERA inflated by sixty points while Looper’s conversion offered a worst-case scenario (ERA inflated by 1.17). Pip advised us to expect something between an average and worst-case scenario which would result in an ERA between 3.83 and 4.40.
  • At VEB, bgh cautioned readers about taking McClellan’s career ERA at face value since it was lowered by a 2010 season in which he stranded 89.6% of base runners, a remarkably impossible number to sustain. Some pitchers are able to consistently produce better than average left on base percentages, but they typically boast impressive strikeout rates…  McClellan’s career 7.03 K/9 doesn’t exactly qualify.
  • Thanks to Tango, we know that pitchers converting from the bullpen to the rotation surrender more HR/PA, higher BABIPs, generate fewer strikeouts, but maintain walk rates. We can also expect ERAs to inflate by 1.00. Since McClellan has pitched between two and three hundred big-league innings, SIERA, FIP, and xFIP are still better predictors of future ERA (as opposed to ERA itself). Pay closer attention to McClellan’s 4.00 FIP rather than his more tantalizing 3.23 ERA. This reasoning beckons an even more conservative estimate, something that approximates a 5.00 ERA. Is he capable of better? Yes. Should fans expect better? Probably not.

In a tweet, Strauss mentioned Bryan Augenstein as a contender for the final bullpen spot, suggesting that his candidacy was legitimate for a, “lot of reasons.” In my estimation, these “reasons” include striking out more than one batter per inning, keeping the ball on the ground more than it’s been lofted into the air, and facing stiff competition (decent percentage of MLB-level hitters). Augenstein has another supporter in Tom S. at VEB, who noted that his unattractive minor league ERA’s thus far have mostly been the result of unlucky strand rates; he’s also on the right side of age 30 (or 40 – I’m looking at you, Batista) and wouldn’t cost the team a 40-man roster spot (Batista would).

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Andy Beard

Proud STL resident. Baseball enthusiast. Music lover. Theology thinker/reader. MA in Clinical Psych. Never met a pizza I didn't like.

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