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Checking In On 2024’s Reliever-To-Rotation Experiments

Checking In On 2024’s Reliever-To-Rotation Experiments

The 2023-24 offseason saw several teams go outside the box to add to their rotation mix by announcing plans to convert an established reliever into (or back into) a starting pitcher. It’s not a new concept by any means, of course, but it’s always notable when a player who’s found some success in one pitching role is shifted to the other — be it one-inning relievers stretching out to join a rotation or struggling starters shifting to the ’pen and hoping to find new life as their stuff plays up.

In some instances — e.g. Jordan Hicks, Reynaldo Lopez — the pitchers in question signed lucrative multi-year deals as part of this planned pivot. For others, this role change comes amid their original six seasons of club control and could greatly impact their earnings in arbitration and/or in free agency down the road.

Now that we’re about a quarter of the way through the year, it seems like a good time to check in on how some of these role changes are playing out. Readers should note that this rundown will focus on pitchers who pitched exclusively or near-exclusively out of the bullpen last season. Pitchers like Boston’s Garrett Whitlock (who started 10 games last year and nine in 2022) or Tampa Bay’s Zack Littell (who moved to the rotation last summer and finished out the ’23 campaign as a starter) aren’t the focus here so much as arms who were more strictly confined to short relief recently.

Since so many of these transitions are going to bring about clear workload concerns, we’ll check back in periodically throughout the season. For now, here’s how things are going through about 25% of the schedule.

Jordan Hicks, RHP, Giants

Hicks’ transition from flamethrowing late-inning reliever to … well, flamethrowing starting pitcher has gone seamlessly thus far. It’s only nine starts and 48 innings, but the 28-year-old boasts a 2.44 ERA in his move to the rotation. A career-low 19.9% strikeout rate is a red flag, but Hicks’ 8.2% walk rate is lower than the league average and a career-best mark as well. His 56.2% grounder rate isn’t quite as high as the 60% mark he carried into the season but is still more than 10 percentage points above average.

As one would expect, Hicks’ blazing sinker has lost quite a bit of velocity now that he’s not throwing one max-effort inning at a time. His sinker sat at 100.2 mph last year but is clocking in at 96 mph in 2024. Even with four fewer miles per hour on his primary offering, however, Hicks has more than enough velocity to keep…

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