Friday Notes: Kyle McClellan; Matt Carpenter and his boss

Kyle McClellan would be hard-pressed to lose the fifth starter job at this point—not only is he pitching really well, he's also talking about ground balls and sinkers. McClellan's home run bump last season makes it hard to think of him as a groundball guy, but he does have a career GB/FB ratio of one, which is significantly better than the league average. It made me wonder about what the starting conversion did for other long-term relievers—especially if there are times, as McClellan mentions in the article, where all he does, or wants to do, is throw the sinker.

The worst-case scenario, of course, is that of Danny Graves, who had one of the most punishing seasons of the last 10 years when he was moved into the rotation in 2003. His strikeout to home run ratio, that year, was 2.0, and that incendiary season came after a career of very high ground ball rates—from 1996 to 2002 he got 1.27 grounders for every fly ball, part of the reason he could get by with a nickname like "Baby-Faced Assassin" despite a strikeout rate that's a little more "Baby-Sleeps-Through-The-Night." 

It plummeted in his year in the rotation, down to 0.83, and after that he never really recovered the full measure of his assassininity, though he presumably remained just as baby-faced. It could be that he was done that year regardless of how he had been utilized, but there has to be some psychological damage when you allow 30 home runs in 169 innings after allowing 32 in your previous 381. 

Braden Looper saw the same collapse; as a reliever he allowed 1.16 ground balls for every fly; from 2007 to 2009 that number was 0.86, including a 0.77 in his first trip through the starting rotation.

Derek Lowe is a nice counterexample; his ground ball rate went up when he left the bullpen, though it was always pretty high. He took the opportunity, while he was moving into the rotation, to scrap his curveball in favor of first just throwing his sinker all the time and later moving to a slider; perhaps he and McClellan can hang out. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm wary of McClellan's continued ability to get ground balls with a fastball that's not going to be quite so fast. But at least the Cardinals aren't running the strangest relief conversion of the year—Phil Coke is still penciled in as the Tigers' new starter, despite spending his first three years in the Majors as a LOOGY with a GB/FB ratio of 0.61. 

 

 

It looks like Matt Carpenter is the official winner of the Spring Training Superstar Award for 2011, having earned a well-executed puff piece in which Tony La Russa sounds strangely like Michael Scott. 

Manager Tony La Russa, purposefully trying to get a rise out of this spring's breakout prospect, interrupted him. The skipper suggested he was doing the chin-ups wrong and that he needed to get higher over the bar. La Russa offered to show Carpenter how to do it.

Before he could reach up, the manager pretended to get an urgent phone call.

"I work hard to make him smile," La Russa said. "He's so focused on doing it, doing it, doing it. I mean, I really have to work to make him smile."

At which point Tony held up a WORLD'S BEST MANAGER mug and grinned into the camera for eight seconds.

When La Russa retires my lasting impression will be of an astoundingly intense manager whose idea of fun (and also managing) was imagining a subtle, constant wave of slights being committed against his team. But I like the extra shades his character takes on when you realize that this is what comes to mind when he's tasked with making somebody smile. 

Anyway, I'm glad it's Carpenter and not a slap-hitting utility infielder to be named later who's been anointed as the hero of Spring Training, but with David Freese on his own hot streak and Allen Craig still allowed to stand at third base he won't be awarded the all-important chance to unseat the incumbent in the hearts of people who look at the final spring stats around March 28. 

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