Buy ‘Em or Deny ‘Em: Is Lance McCullers Destined For The Bullpen?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

No one is going to argue that Lance McCullers isn’t an intriguing young pitcher with significant upside.  He will pitch the entire 2017 campaign as a 23-year old and showed an impressive skill set over 81.0 innings in the Majors last season, leading to a 3.22 ERA:

  • 11.78 K/9
  • 57.3% groundball rate
  • 13.0% SwStr%

That screams of a star, but he also owned a 1.54 WHIP thanks to a 5.00 BB/9.  With a minor league career 4.5 BB/9, the struggles shouldn’t be shocking and helps lead to the theory that maybe he’ll ultimately transition to the bullpen.

Of course he’s still young and needs time to develop his control, though he’s not an overly tall pitcher (6’1”) so we can’t use that as a reason for the struggles.  Control also isn’t the only reason to think that he’ll have to transition out of a starters role.

Look at his pitch breakdown from 2016 in the Majors:

  • Fastball – 43.0%
  • Curveball – 49.5%
  • Changeup – 7.5%

So he threw his curveball more than his fastball?!  Primarily a two-pitch pitcher, the more batters see him you would think the more adjustments they will make and the worse the performance will be.  Barring incorporating another pitch into the arsenal you have to wonder if he has enough variation to keep batters off balance 3+ times over the course of a game.

The thought of McCullers being a future reliever isn’t a new one.  Prior to his impressive 2015 rookie campaign (including a 3.08 BB/9 over 125.2 IP), Rich Wilson of Prospect 361 had this to say about him:

“The body, arsenal, and delivery all point to McCullers being a reliever and possibly a shut-down closer.  The fastball/slider combination is impressive and can get big league batters out today.  The change-up has a long way to go to be serviceable and I worry that his all-out delivery will not allow him to have the stamia to make it as a starter.”

Maybe the control isn’t quite as bad as his 2016 mark, but it also isn’t as good as he showed in ’15.  His repertoire and size is still an issue, so the thoughts of him being transitioned into the bullpen should once again be there.  He has the upside of a lights out closer, but investing in him as a starting pitcher heading into ’17 wouldn’t be wise.

According to early NFBC drafts he’s being selected (183.94) before several pitchers we’d rather own, and these are just a few examples:

  • Carlos Rodon – 199.44
  • Robbie Ray – 219.88
  • Matt Shoemaker – 235.60

In other words, I won’t be owning McCullers in ’17 and wouldn’t recommend you do either.  There’s a good chance he struggles and ultimately transitions to the bullpen before the year is out.

Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, Prospect 361, STATS

*** Order Rotoprofessor’s 2017 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide for Just $7.00 By Clicking Here!!   Not only will you get all the help you need to dominate your fantasy draft, but you will also be entered to win a Noah Syndergaard autographed baseball, complete with “Thor” inscription! ***

Make sure to check out our other Early 2017 Rankings:

Standard League
OBP League
First Base01/16/1703/07/17
Second Base03/22/1703/09/17
Third Base02/06/1703/12/17
Outfield#1-20 |03/16/17

#21-40 |03/16/17
Starting Pitcher#1-20 |02/27/17

#21-40 |03/02/17
Relief Pitcher01/02/17--


  1. Rodney says:

    Apologies if you’ve already covered this, but how do you feel about Shoemaker this season?

    Also looking forward to (read: hoping for) an in-depth article on Stephen Piscotty.

  2. bbboston says:

    You should invest the $6 on Rotoprofessor’s draft guide…it’s really great. That said, he has Shoemaker in the top 30…so pretty darn positively. Eno Sarris, of Rotographs, also likes Shoemaker.

    I suspect many experts are hitting Shoemaker’s ranking due to the head injury, but not those two.

  3. Rotoprofessor says:

    bbboston – Thanks for the support 🙂

    Rodney – Yea, I’m a big fan of Shoemaker and we’ll get a writeup on him soon. As for Piscotty, make sure to check the site this afternoon 😉

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