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Tales of Feliz, Bard figure to scare off future starting conversions

Jul 31, 2012, 6:51 PM EDT

Aroldis Chapman AP

If the Reds were still thinking of putting Aroldis Chapman into the rotation next year, today’s announcement will surely give them pause.

Former Rangers closer Neftali Feliz will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss most or all of 2013 after being diagnosed with a torn UCL in his elbow. It means two of this year’s three big relief-to-starting pitching conversions have gone awry, as Daniel Bard is currently trying to figure things out back in the pen at Triple-A Pawtucket.

For what it’s worth, the third has been a huge success, what with Chris Sale pitching in the All-Star Game for the White Sox. However, that came with a hiccup, as concerns about his elbow prompted the White Sox to shift Sale back to the pen briefly in May. It was thought to be a permanent conversion, with Sale going into the closer’s role, but the left-hander was able to talk them out of it.

Personally, I’ve always felt that midseason relief-to-SP conversions were a bad idea. The Braves are actually trying that again with Kris Medlen now, even though the same switch two years ago likely led to his need for Tommy John surgery. The Padres tried it with Andrew Cashner this year, and he quickly landed on the DL, though not with an arm problem.

The Rangers, Red Sox and White Sox all prepared their youngsters as best they could, using them as starters in spring training and going slowly with them. Feliz got off to a nice start after the move, going 3-1 with a 3.16 ERA in 42 2/3 innings, but his elbow put him on the DL in mid-May. Bard was simply horribly inconsistent in going 5-6 with a 5.24 ERA. He had a 34/37 K/BB ratio in 55 innings.

Chapman was the big name some thought might go from the pen to the rotation next year, but he’s been so strong in as a reliever that it’d take a lot of guts for the Reds to make the switch. There aren’t many other youngsters likely to make the move.  The Cubs could try turning Arodys Vizcaino back into a starter next year after getting him from the Braves in Monday’s Paul Maholm-Reed Johnson deal. He’s missed the entire 2012 season following Tommy John surgery. Tampa Bay’s Wade Davis, a starter throughout his career until this year, could be put back into the rotation if traded, but he seems to have come along nicely as a reliever and is probably better off there.

  1. Matthew Pouliot - Jul 31, 2012 at 6:53 PM

    And none of you will ever know how badly I wanted to go with a Bard’s Tale headline here.

    • bleedgreen - Jul 31, 2012 at 7:04 PM

      Hey everybody! This guy’s a nerd! NERD!

      (I loved the Bard’s Tale games!)

    • phillyphever - Jul 31, 2012 at 8:17 PM

      Florio’s becoming a major influence for bad jokes on here huh?

  2. seeingwhatsticks - Jul 31, 2012 at 6:57 PM

    I don’t think it’s impossible to make the conversion but I think teams need to factor in what experience the player has in each role. Someone who has been a reliever for an extended period, without a ton of experience as a starter, is probably going to need more than 1 season to make the change. That might mean simply going through the routine of a starter during the offseason and spring training before returning to the bullpen, or it might mean more of a long reliever/spot starter role during a transition year. I do agree that making the switch permanently mid-season is probably a bad idea.

  3. matt20hew - Jul 31, 2012 at 7:14 PM

    Reblogged this on Today's News.

    • ezthinking - Jul 31, 2012 at 7:32 PM

      Piss off.

  4. Carter Dotson - Jul 31, 2012 at 7:20 PM

    The flipside of it from an Aroldis Chapman standpoint is that Chris Sale and Lance Lynn have both had great seasons so far. Though I do have my concerns about Chapman’s secondary stuff, he can be dominant in short stints, but what about when going through the lineup a second or third time with reduced velocity?

    • paperlions - Jul 31, 2012 at 7:22 PM

      Lance Lynn has always been a starter, he was just used out of the pen last year out of necessity

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jul 31, 2012 at 10:24 PM

        Wasn’t Chapman always a starter in Cuba?

  5. aaronzona2011 - Jul 31, 2012 at 7:20 PM

    How often is this actually successful? The only guys I can think of recently is CJ Wilson and Dempster.

    • paperlions - Jul 31, 2012 at 7:26 PM

      Exactly….those guys (along with Sale) were the first that came to mind….so we are just going to ignore the successes and focus on the poor outcomes? Because….you know…relievers never ever get hurt?

      Chapman is a very good closer, but his value as a closer is about 1/3 of what it would be if he was an above average starter, and about 1/4 of what it would be if he could have been a staff ace….and there is still no guarantee that he’ll stay healthy in the pen (you know…like the guy the Reds signed to be their closer this year). If you have a reliever with the repertoire to start, it is still worth the risk to see if he can do it.

      • seattlej - Jul 31, 2012 at 9:58 PM

        There are a number of guys that are mL starters that go to the pen for a year or two to break into the MLB before transitioning back to starting… A couple that jump to mind are Wainwright, Lowe and Billingsley, and there are certainly others.

        Bard’s was a bit of a different tale (see what I did there), in that he hadn’t started since somewhere around Low-A. I suppose Felix was a bit different as well, in that while he started in the minors, he never successfully handled a starter’s workload for a full season.

    • Jeremy T - Aug 1, 2012 at 3:15 PM

      Should Ogando be considered a success?

  6. pipkin42 - Jul 31, 2012 at 7:28 PM

    Forgive me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Feliz always a starter in the minors? They moved him to closer “temporarily” and then Ron Washington didn’t want to give up his security blanket, turning him into a max-effort, short-stint guy. Bard, meanwhile, has always been a reliever, and thus might have been expected to be less successful as a starter.

    • bobulated - Jul 31, 2012 at 9:35 PM

      Same with Medlen; always a starter in the minors.Saying switching contributed to his elbow injury is kind of a leap in logic IMHO. Relievers blow out their elbows too, yes innings and over use can be part of it but injuries happen.
      BTW the Derek Lowe is another guy who had success as a reliever before being converted to starter.

  7. ezthinking - Jul 31, 2012 at 7:33 PM

    If an elbow is going to go, it’s going to go. The bullpen can’t save it; may make it worst with the 100% effort and the up-and-down nature of the job.

  8. sabatimus - Jul 31, 2012 at 7:39 PM

    No mention of Joba, eh? Granted, he did the converse, but that seems to have screwed with him in nearly the same way.

  9. hittfamily - Jul 31, 2012 at 7:46 PM

    Smoltz was in the Pen for 4 years, and he missed the year prior to that. He went 33, 35, 32 starts, after starting a combined 5 starts in the previous 5 years.

  10. trybe29dr - Jul 31, 2012 at 8:46 PM

    And dont forget the Joba Chamberlain fiasco. Some guys are starters…some guys are relievers. If it aint broke dont fix it. Not many players have arms like smoltz and to a lesser degree brett myers…not everyone can go back and forth without skipping a beat

    • seattlej - Jul 31, 2012 at 10:02 PM

      Right, but the upside is so much higher as a starter that it’s generally worth trying. These guys were probably exceptions, as there were big red flags with each of them.

      The conversion back to starting for guys like Wainwright and Lowe certainly paid off, no?

      • pipkin42 - Jul 31, 2012 at 11:21 PM

        Ryan Dempster spent some time as a reliever in the mid-2000s after being a pretty bad starter. Then he went back to starting and he’s mostly been above-average since.

  11. Tim's Neighbor - Jul 31, 2012 at 9:49 PM

    Likely led to his TJ surgery? That’s an awfully bold and unprovable statement. I’m guessing you have some sort of study to back that up.

  12. metalhead65 - Jul 31, 2012 at 10:09 PM

    don’t forget the reds had him stretched out to be a starter this spring then switched back to the pen when injuries hit, how much can his arm take if they decide to do it again? besides now that he is almost unhitable it would be stupid to try and make him switch back to a starter.

  13. johnnynewguy - Jul 31, 2012 at 10:18 PM

    Didn’t the A’s in the late 90′s and early 2000′s do this with their pitchers? Harden, Duchscherer, LIlly. Now granted some didn’t work out but they were successful when healthy. Not to mention I would come to expect that just about every pitcher at some point nowadays is going to have Tommy John. The White Sox have also been fairly successful at converting. Buehrle also started in the pen.

  14. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jul 31, 2012 at 10:31 PM

    Didn’t Strasburg, Beachy, Wainwright, Anderson, Sheets, Bedard, Burnett etc have the surgery too? Are they all headed to the ‘pen now?

    UCL tears, like feces, happen. I don’t think Feliz’s surgery should prove or disprove anything. As m handle indicates, Sabathia would be a beast of a setup man, but that certainly would not maximize his value. If a guy has a chance to be a starter, he should be given every opportunity. Pitching well in relief does not preclude one from being a good starter.

    Pitching is just tough, man.

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