Every year in April we see the kind of thing in baseball that almost always makes my head hurt - or at least has the very strong potential to. Guys who were in the bullpen the previous year are now members of the rotation to start the new season. Sometimes these moves make a big impact. Sometimes they fail miserably. Most often things fall somewhere in between.
Heading into a new season, it's tough enough to predict what we will see from established pitchers. When guys are stepping into a new role and will be forced to pitch much longer each game, though, then it becomes much tougher to figure out what to expect - and whether they can be trusted early on in the season.
Luckily, there are seven questions you can ask that will improve your chances of guessing correctly about the fate of a reliever-turned-starter:
When was the last time they started?: If a guy has never been a starter at some point then it is very unlikely that he will become one suddenly on the major league level. So, has he previously started regularly in the majors? Or did he start in the minors before making the big show? Did he start in college? The more you can find out about where he has started and how he looked doing it, the more you can confidently assess how comfortable and effective he might be. Do your homework - most people won't, so this will give you a surprising edge out of the gate.
Has he filled in in spot duty in the past?: Even if a guy has primarily been in the bullpen in recent years he could have been called into spot action if there was a hole in the rotation that needed filling. You can't read too much into these situations because he likely didn't get a chance to fully prepare physically and mentally for the starts. There is still some knowledge to be gained from looking at the games, though. Did he get better as the innings progressed or did he fade? How did he react to getting hit hard? Did guys figure him out the second time around the order more easily than would be ideal? Just from reading game recaps of previous starts you can learn some things that could be helpful - especially early in this new season when he isn't yet fully settled into his new role.
Why are they starting?: Is the guy in the rotation because he is talented and the team wants him there? Oftentimes you will see a young guy get a chance to start after serving time in the bullpen to mature and face major league hitters instead of starting in the minors for longer - Aaron Sanchez in Toronto this year is just one prime example of this. It's often easier to trust a pitcher in a situation like this than one who is starting for other reasons - too many injuries in the rotation, a troubling lack of depth, a disappointing spring from a guy who was expected to crack the rotation and so on.
Is this the long-term plan?: There is a difference between guys who are in the rotation because they are expected to be a member of the rotation for the season and a guy who is in the rotation as a stopgap measure until something better comes along. A big difference. One guy is worth a close look. The other is likely to burn a hole in your wallet.
Has starting dramatically changed their style?: Sometimes we see guys who were dominant in the bullpen make the move to the rotation - Neftali Feliz comes to mind, though injury derailed that experiment before the sample size was big enough to really learn anything. When that happens you need to look at what made them strong in the bullpen and whether that can translate to starting. A guy who overpowers or tricks opponents for one inning isn't going to be able to do that for five or six - his arm will fall off, and opposing hitters will get wise to his tricks. A guy who was strong in the bullpen because he was accurate and consistent and had strong command of a range of pitches, though, could potentially make the transition seamlessly.
Where in the rotation are they sitting?: Bettors need to deal with a fifth starter differently than an ace regardless of what that bottom of the rotation guy was doing the previous season. You can learn a lot about what is expected of a guy just by where he is in the rotation and who he is surrounded by.
Is the betting public noticing?: Sometimes these bullpen-to-rotation transitions will draw a lot of ink. When Sanchez was handed his spot in the rotation, the major media outlets all wrote about it. That put it in the consciousness of bettors who are paying attention at this time of year -- even casual ones. More often, though, these transitions are almost default moves, and they involve bottom of the rotation spots on teams that don't have enough pitching to have an ideal rotation. Obscure and underappreciated guys making the transition can offer major value for bettors. On the flipside, an overhyped transition can inflate prices and perhaps swing the value to the other side.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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