Can Mark Mulder Return to MLB and Be Effective After Near-Six-Year Layoff?

Chris Stephens@@chris_stephens6Correspondent IIDecember 10, 2013

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK - AUGUST 23:  Mark Mulder #30 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium on August 23, 2006 in New York City.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Former Major League Baseball pitcher and current ESPN baseball analyst Mark Mulder announced he is attempting a return to baseball, according to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick.

Mulder retired in 2009 after having two surgeries on his left shoulder and realizing he couldn't pitch at a high level again:

But things changed in October when Mulder watched Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez on TV and found something in Rodriguez's delivery that he could emulate. Mulder spent the month of November working himself into shape at a Phoenix-area facility run by former big-league catcher Chad Moeller, and recently threw off the mound for three unspecified teams near his home in Scottsdale.

Mulder said scouts clocked him at 89-90 mph, according to Crasnick's story, which makes him very excited. "I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am," Mulder said. "To be honest with you, I never anticipated this five or six weeks ago. It was just a flat-out fluke that came from me trying to imitate Paco Rodriguez in my living room."

But the question is, can Mulder return to MLB and be effective after a near-six-year layoff?


Mulder's Career

During his career, Mulder went 103-60 with a 4.18 ERA and 834 strikeouts for the St. Louis Cardinals and Oakland Athletics.

His best year came in 2001 when he went 21-8 with a 3.45 ERA and 153 strikeouts. He also finished runner-up in the AL Cy Young race, losing to Roger Clemens.

He was a part of Oakland's "Big Three" alongside Barry Zito and Tim Hudson.

In 2004, fresh off a 17-8 season with a 4.43 ERA, the A's traded Mulder to St. Louis for Dan Haren, Daric Barton and Kiko Calero.

Mulder impressed during his first season in St. Louis, going 16-8 with a 3.64 ERA. The next season started out just as well, as Mulder won five of his first six decisions.

Then, the trouble started. He struggled the rest of the year1-6 with a 13.64 ERA in his final eight startsand had two separate stints on the disabled list. 

Another surgery in the offseason limited Mulder to three starts at the end of 2007 in which he gave up 15 earned runs in 11 innings. At the end of the 2008 season, the Cardinals bought out Mulder's contract, and he hasn't played a game since.


Bullpen Is Best Place

The biggest question is, would you use Mulder as a starter or reliever?

With obvious shoulder issues in the past, the best bet for Mulder would be as a reliever. That would put less strain on his arm and wouldn't force him to work as hard in any given day.

We've seen in the past that some of the best relievers—i.e., John Smoltz and Dennis Eckersleywere once starting pitchers.

But unlike both of those pitchers, Mulder's issue was in his shoulder, which isn't always the easiest fix. As Crasnick illustrated in 2010, it's proven less difficult to come back successfully from Tommy John surgery than from multiple shoulder surgeries. Smoltz dealt with Tommy John, while Eckersley was moved to the bullpen due to poor performance.

Both thrived in the bullpen, but neither had to deal with a near-six-year layoff like Mulder is doing.


Mixed Reaction and Final Thoughts

There is a mixture of reaction on Twitter concerning Mulder's comeback attempt:

It's hard to say whether Mulder will succeed. The only way we will find out is if a team gives him a shot to earn a roster spot in spring training. From there, he'll have a chance to prove that he can still pitch at a high level.

A lot of people will be rooting for him to succeed. But even if he doesn't, he's going to inspire people to remember to never let their dreams die.