Bullpen To Rotation: It Has Worked For The Blue Jays Before


It started with Aaron Sanchez.  “Don’t put him in the bullpen in 2015!” the pundits cried.  “No pitcher ever learns a new pitch in the majors!” (Drew Hutchison?)  “And pitchers never successfully transition from the ‘pen to the rotation!”  (Wainwright, Sale, Richards …?)

Now that Sanchez is likely to start in the rotation, the voices have shifted to Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro.  Different players, same message.

Which got me to thinking.  In the past, it was far more common to start pitchers in the bullpen than it appears to be today.  Have the Jays ever had successful converted relievers in their rotation in the past?

When I think of “past” and “success”, I am naturally drawn to the two World Series years:  1992 and 1993.  Using those two years as a test, and applying a cutoff of 50 innings pitched as a starter over the two years, what were the pitchers’ paths to the mlb Jays’ rotation?

Of the 10 starters who meet the 50 IP criterion, three of them were starters from the beginning.  Juan Guzman, Al Leiter and Dave Stieb each started their careers in the rotation and never looked back.  The other seven pitchers all spend significant bullpen time, in one form or another.

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Jimmy Key


Pat Hentgen


Dave Stewart

all started as pretty much “pure” relievers.  Combined, they played in 123 games in their initial seasons, of which they started 2.

David Wells was a reliever for even longer.  In his first three seasons he pitched a total of 179 innings, of which 5 were as a starter.

David Cone and Todd Stottlemyre are interesting cases.  Both started out as long men out of the bullpen and spot starters (a role that might be interesting for Osuna and Castro), transitioning over time to a full-time rotation spot.

In Cone’s first year he pitched exclusively out of the bullpen for the Royals.  In his second year (1987), he started as a long man and moved to the rotation on April 27th.  But exactly one month later, he fractured his pinky finger, requiring surgery and the loss of 72 games.  When he returned in August, he started 6 more games and was then returned to his bullpen role to end the season.  He started the 1988 year in the bullpen as well, but was promoted to the rotation (this time for good) in early May of that year.

Mar 13, 2015; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher

Roberto Osuna

(72) against the Baltimore Orioles at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Todd Stottlemyre’s first two years with the Jays were as a 5th/spot starter and bullpen long man.  He began the season with six starts in April and May, but was struggling with a 5.79 ERA.  For the remainder of the year he alternated between starting and relieving, ultimately ending the season in the bullpen.  In 1989 he started in the bullpen and was ultimately promoted to the rotation –this time to stay – on July 1st.

Jack Morris is also an unusual case.  In his first season, he appeared in seven games, starting six, to replace an injured Mark Fidrych.  He seemed destined to be a direct-to-the-rotation type.  But in 1978, his second year, he struggled in his first three starts and was moved to the bullpen.  Of his 106 IP in that year, only 32 were as a starter.

The bottom line?  Of the ten Jays starters in the Series years, only three were starters from the beginning.  Three (Cone, Stottlemyre and Morris) were long men who transitioned into the rotation, and four started their pitching careers solidly in the bullpen.   Every one of these pitchers went on to have good-to-great careers.  They were clearly not damaged by starting in the bullpen – and I strongly suspect that Osuna and Castro will not be either.

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