Leafing Through Pages: Analysis of Sports and Other Topics

02/22/2010

The Modern Trend of Turning Starting Pitchers Into Middle Relievers

The recent signing of Chan Ho Park as a reliever by the New York Yankees got me to thinking about the recent conversion of starters to relievers.

The first big name is probably Dennis Eckersley who turned the conversion at age 32 with Oakland into the second half of an eventual Hall of Fame career where he was able to add on another 12 seasons to his career.

The Atlanta Braves pulled off the same feat with John Smoltz in 2001 when he turned 34. After 4 seasons he managed to pull of the astonishing feat of going back to being a starter to moderate success but that also extended his career an additional 4 years that he may not otherwise have gotten.

Even average starters such as Darren Oliver with 5 years through 2009 and Kerry Wood in 3 years through 2009 having seen their careers as starters likely over, have managed to revitalise themselves and extend their careers as members of the bullpen with some solid success as well. Wood has saved 54 games the past 2 years with Chicago and Cleveland in his newfound role of Closer.

Chan Ho Park, the impetus of this thought process had a 2.52 ERA for the Philadelphia Phillies last season as a reliever despite being 36 years old. He also put up a 7.9 K/9, a number he hadn’t reached since 2001 when he went 15-11 with a 3.50 ERA at age 28.

Adam Eaton could be following a similar path after being used as a reliever in 4 games with 8 IP with Colorado last year at age 31. He put up a 5.62 ERA after putting up an 8.56 ERA in 8 starts with Baltimore. He too has been a mostly average starter but could flourish as a reliever putting up a 7.9 K/9.

Jamey Wright was a long time struggling starter stuck with Colorado for most of his career but has recently found new life as a reliever first with Texas in 2007 at age 32 where he put up a 2.05 ERA in a relief role and last year with Kansas City with a 4.33 ERA in 79 IP. He’s also put up career highs in K/9 with 6.4 in 2008 and 6.8 last season at ages 33 and 34.

The signing of Chan Ho Park seems to be a demonstration that such a trend of converting former, aging starters over to the bullpen will not only see them extend their careers for a handful of additional seasons but also help give them added value through their success of having to only go 1 or 2 innings rather than struggling through 5 or 6 a start. Consider this movement a potential future that could see even more names appearing, even if fans don’t realize it.

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