What premium success looks like. 14 comments

During the Q&A session at Friday night’s Rangers Awards Dinner, Rangers fans asked manager Jeff Banister about the wisdom of turning reliever Matt Bush into a starter, especially based on Texas’s dismal track record of doing so.

“Your experience is what happened here,” Banister said. “There are 29 other teams that have done this with premium success.”


Which teams? Which pitchers?

Google “relievers turned starters” and three current players pop up: Chris Sale, David Price, Adam Wainwright. Out of 30 teams, those are the current “premium success” stories.

Yes, Chris Sale started as a reliever. But that was mainly because the White Sox front office didn’t trust his mechanics and were worried he’d blow out his arm. They wanted him to start from the beginning.

David Price? He was never a reliever. He had four relief appearances before becoming a full-time starter.

Adam Wainwright had 63 relief appearances his first two seasons, then was converted to a starter.

So the case of Matt Bush being successfully converted to a major league starter is based on Adam Wainwright? One pitcher on one other team?

Yes, there have been some success stories in the past: Woody Williams, Derek Lowe, C.J. Wilson, Ryan Dempster, Chuck Finley, Dave Stewart, David Wells, and Kenny Rogers.

But in most cases of a guy moving from the pen to a starter, it’s really just Delayed Rotationitis. The guy was merely in the bullpen until he got his feet wet in the major leagues. He was an apprentice, not a reliever.

Most successful cases go the opposite direction, turning a starter into a premium reliever. John Smoltz, for example.

The Reds tried it with Aroldis Chapman. Didn’t work. Bush is a similar pitcher. Both rely mainly on that 100-mile-an-hour fastball. When the fastball works, it’s pretty dominating. For a short stint. But no matter how fast the pitch is thrown, major league hitters can connect with a fastball once it flattens after a few innings.

Bush has a devastating four-seam fastball, true. But according to Brooks Baseball, “it results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers, with slightly less natural movement.” Translated, it lands two places: either in the catcher’s glove or in a fan’s glove in the home run porch.

His sinker can be dominating as well but it too generates more flyballs than other pitchers’ sinkers.

Which leads to the conclusion that he is most effective in small doses.

Back to Banister’s answer, though. His assertion that 29 other teams have had premium success with it, while, at best, is misleading, is a pretty strong indictment of his team’s front office, whether or not it was intentional.

His “your experience is what happened here” comment was pretty damning of his GM, saying, loud and clear, to the fan who asked that question, “your experience in reliever-to-starter experiments failing miserably is confined to what you have seen here in Arlington by this team with this front office, but every other team knows how to do it, even if we don’t.”

Throw GM under bus. Back up bus. Repeat.

All of this would lead to a follow-up question.

“If this team hasn’t been successful at it in the past, what makes you think they will now? What has changed?”

Sorry, that was two questions.

This teams has so many questions. So few premium answers.