How Top Major League Relievers Were Used in the Minors
Following up last week's post about the origins of major league relievers, here is how each of these guys was used in the minors. Win Shares are 2008 totals.
Mariano Rivera, 17 WS: Used mostly as a starter in the minors, went 22-17, 2.65 in 81 games, 67 starts, 380 innings. Began career with 10 starts with the Yankees in 1995, posted 5.51 ERA, converted to relief in 1996 and pitched great, began closing in 1997. 83% of minor league appearances were in starting role.
Joakim Soria, 15 WS: Used as a reliever in the minors, 11 games, 16.2 innings, 2.78 ERA with 17/2 K/BB, no saves. He was used as a reliever in the Mexican League, but was used as a starter in winter ball. Was considered for starting role after being picked in the 2006 Rule 5 due to his diverse arsenal, but has relieved exclusively in the majors.
Brad Lidge, 13 WS: Used as a starter at Notre Dame, then used as a starter in the minors although pitching time was limited by a series of injuries. Went 10-10, 3.05 in the minors with 54 games in the minors, 44 starts, 225 innings. Used almost entirely as a reliever (one start, 472 relief outings) in the majors. In the beginning this was primarily due to concerns about his health, but once he settled into the closer role the die was cast. 81% of minor league appearances were as a starter.
Joe Nathan, 13 WS: Used as a starter in the minors and effective initially, reached the majors as a starter in 1999 and 2000. However, control problems and injuries caused shift to relief in 2003. In the minors: 27-41, 4.93 in 126 games, 93 starts, 562 innings. He's been much more effective since moving to the pen. Minor League start percentage: 74%.
Jonathan Papelbon, 13 WS: Used as a reliever at Mississippi State, but converted to starting in the minors. Moved back to pen after reaching the majors, though he did start three games in 2005 and there was talk about making him a starter again a couple of years ago. In the minors: 19-13, 3.05 in 58 games, 48 starts, 277 innings. Minor League start percentage: 83%.
Francisco Rodriguez, 12 WS: Starter in the low minors, converted to relief when he reached Double-A in 2002. In the minors: 16-18, 3.72 ERA in 96 games, 42 starts, 318 innings. Minor League start percentage: 44%.
Jose Arredondo, 12 WS: Starter in the low minors, but struggled in that role after reaching Double-A. Converted to relief in 2007 in Double-A. In the minors: 15-15, 4.03 in 122 games, 39 starts. Minor League start percentage: 32%.
Brian Fuentes, 11 WS: Used as a starter for the most part, all the way through Double-A in 2000. Converted to relief in Triple-A in 2001, and aside from five rehab starts in 2004 (one inning each), has remained in the pen. In the minors, 29-35, 4.01, 184 games, 92 starts, start percentage 50%.
Bobby Jenks, 11 WS: Used as a starter in the low minors, with poor results due to control problems until he began to break through (as a starter) in Double-A in 2003. Converted to relief after being traded to White Sox. In the minors, 19-31, 4.77, 117 games, 79 starts, start percentage 68%.
J.P. Howell, 11 WS: Used mostly as a starter at the University of Texas. Used almost exclusively as starter in the minors, was rushed to the majors in 2005 and used as a starter for three years with poor results. Converted to relief in 2008 and has been brilliant since. In the minors, 26-16, 3.20, 63 games, 61 starts, start percentage: 97%.
Jose Valverde, 11 WS: Used as a reliever almost entirely at all levels. In the minors: 9-15, 4.12, 55 saves, 202 games, 1 start in the minors, start percentage less than 1%.
Brad Ziegler, 10 WS: Used as a starter at Southwest Missouri State and in the minors, including Double-A in 2006 with some success. Converted to bullpen in 2007 and effectiveness improved. In the minors: 47-20, 3.65, 147 games, 73 starts, start percentage 50%.
Carlos Marmol, 10 WS: Used mostly as a starter in the minors, and was used in that role in the majors in 2006 with weak results. Converted to bullpen in 2007 after control problems as a starter. In the minors: 33-22, 3.45, 90 games, 78 starts, start percentage 87%.
Chad Qualls, 10 WS: Used as a starter at all levels of the minors until reaching Triple-A in 2004. Converted to bullpen at that level and has been in the pen ever since. In the minors: 32-36, 4.26, 115 games, 97 starts, start percentage 84%.
Francisco Cordero, 10 WS: Used as a starter in short-season ball, but converted to relief in 1997 after injuries in '96. Saved 35 games in the Midwest League in '97 with a 0.99 ERA. In the minors: 15-16, 3.27, 79 saves, 164 games, 22 starts, start percentage 13%.
Grant Balfour, 10 WS: Used as a starter in the low minors, pitched well, moved to swingman role in 2000 then closer role in 2001 in Double-A. Used entirely in relief except for two rehab starts since 2004. In the minors: 38-26, 3.25, 261 games, 62 starts, start percentage 24%.
Hong-chi Kuo, 10 WS: Used as a starter in the low minors but had problems staying healthy, saw mixed use in Triple-A in '06. In the minors: 6-7, 2.87, 73 games, 31 starts, start percentage 42%.
Joba Chamberlain, 10 WS: Used as a starter at the University of Nebraska, and again in the low minors. Late-season relief outings in '07 in the majors were brilliant; saw mixed use in '08 but now a starter again. In the minors: 9-2, 2.45 in 18 games, 15 starts, start percentage 83%.
Kevin Gregg, 10 WS: Used as a starter in the minors, did some relief work in Double-A in '01 then back to the rotation in Triple-A, didn't move to full-time bullpen work until reaching the majors. In the minors: 58-65, 4.59, 238 games, 162 starts, start percentage 68%.
Kerry Wood, 10 WS: Used almost entirely as a starter in the minors, and of course in the majors as well until health problems forced a move to the pen in '07. In the minors: 25-13, 3.46, 74 games, 69 starts, start percentage 93%.
Scott Downs, 10 WS: Used as a starter most of the time in the minors, made 19 starts in the majors in 2000 and 12 more in 2004; converted to bullpen in 2005. In the minors: 46-32, 3.48, 139 games, 111 starts, start percentage 80%.
Of the 21 relievers in this list, 14 spent 50% or more of their minor league time as starters. Only two, Jose Valverde and Joakim Soria, were used as exclusive relievers from the very beginning of their careers. Francisco Cordero started in rookie ball but began closing in A-ball after arm problems. The others moved to the pen either in the majors or high minors. I think Papelbon was the only one used as a closer or reliever in college or high school, and he started mostly in the minors anyhow.