Kyle McClellan has been logging important amounts of innings with the Cardinals since 2008, but the fire-haired righty will not be be reprising his varied roles going forward. The Cardinals decided to go ahead and release McClellan prior to his upcoming arbitration salary bump, and he’ll have to find a home elsewhere. McClellan gained favor with former manager/eternal sunglasses wearer Tony LaRussa despite possessing middling stuff, and as a result he wound up getting plenty of time on the mound when other teams might have gone another direction. That’s not to say that K-Mac’s time in St. Louis was all bad, but it was an astute realization by the front office that his contributions were no longer necessary.
Over the course of his four full seasons and injury-shortened 2012, McClellan logged 378 innings and even made 17 starts. In total, he was good for a 3.69 ERA, 6.1 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, and 4.40 FIP. As that FIP figure indicates, McClellan’s arsenal was one that worked almost solely due to his role as a reliever. Relievers can often turn smoke and mirrors into perceived success, as it’s not like they have to deal with a lineup multiple times or even face more than a hitter or two in today’s game. McClellan was often thrust into meaningful situations late in games when he would have been better used in multi-inning situations in the middle innings when necessary due to his endurance.
Since McClellan will be wearing some other team’s uniform before long and he was a Cardinal for a half-decade, I don’t want to be a big downer about the guy any more than I have to, though. In fact, McClellan’s efforts as an emergency starter for the 2011 World Series team was one worth applauding. McClellan certainly wasn’t great as a starter; in those 17 starts he pitched 104 2/3 innings of 4.21 ERA baseball. His strikeout rate plummeted all the way down to 4.6/9 and he was clearly headed back to the bullpen once the team had the personnel to make the move possible. That said, what were we expecting? The team had an unexpected need when Adam Wainwright went down for the season, and McClellan handled that need as deftly as he could. This is a total cliche, but McClellan kept the Cardinals in the game as best he could, and he was eager to try out a role he surely knew he might not be that well suited to succeed in.
From John Mozeliak’s point of view, this was a move that absolutely had to be made. The Cardinals are, more than ever, simply brimming with promising young arms. Aside from bullpen stalwarts like Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs, there are plenty of other guys working their way into the conversation as indispensable commodities. Edward Mujica is on board for at least one more season, and he never walks anyone. Ever. Trevor Rosenthal, Shelby Miller, and Lance Lynn are all power arms that will make a big impact out of the bullpen if they aren’t doing so in the rotation. Marc Rzepczynski is, um, left-handed.
With so many better options, a move had to be made. There was no sense in paying McClellan to stick around and do a job that a dozen other guys in the organization could do better. Now 28 and set to return healthy in 2013, I have no doubt that McClellan will catch on somewhere. He has enough of a track record–at least in terms of posting respectable ERAs–that some team is bound to take him on and give him a decent amount of innings right away. There was even one point where the Orioles were taking a look at trading for the 6’2″ ginger, and in retrospect the Cardinals should have gotten a deal done with so many other intriguing hurlers in the system. Then again, we’ll proudly tell you we don’t need hindsight to have made that call; the StanGraphs staff was totally calling for a trade to happen at the time. We’re awesome.
Kyle McClellan wasn’t a star or even a particularly pivotal cog for our favorite team, but he was on the roster and doing an assortment of things for long enough that we felt the need to say goodbye formally. So good luck, Kyle. We hope you have a few more seasons of good luck on batted balls ahead of you. We wish you well, but we’re totally cool with watching what remains of the bullpen slaying even the most formidable of hitters with fastballs that reach triple digits on the radar gun with alarming regularity.