Will Pitch, Inning Count Obsessions in MLB Lead to Permanent 6-Man Rotations?
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Are six-man pitching rotations the new hotness in baseball?
Only a handful of teams are going with six starting pitchers instead of the usual five, so this can't really be called a trend yet. But it's notable that three clubs—the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves and Chicago White Sox—have decided such a move is necessary as they try to push through August while giving some tired arms a rest.
The Mets are the latest team to try a six-man rotation. As reported by MLB.com's Anthony DiComo, manager Terry Collins wants to make sure two of his starting pitchers coming off shoulder surgery—Johan Santana and Chris Young—get an extra day to recover between appearances.
Baseball teams seem to be more worried than ever about pitch counts and innings limits for their young arms. Stephen Strasburg's workload has been a prominent storyline all season, as the Nationals plan on shutting him down in September so his surgically repaired elbow isn't overworked. Is it inevitable that more teams will opt for a six-man starting staff?
Just prior to the Mets announcing their decision, the Braves revealed their own plans to use a six-man rotation, in order to accommodate the return of Tommy Hanson from the disabled list. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution's David O'Brien, this isn't just a case of the Braves having a surplus of arms.
Hanson is recovering from a lower back strain, so the Braves want to use him cautiously in his next couple of starts. But Tim Hudson is also dealing with bone spurs in his left ankle, which he plants on every time he throws. Additionally, Ben Sheets is pitching in the majors for the first time in two years after elbow surgery.
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
Earlier in August, the White Sox decided to expand their rotation. As CSNChicago's Dan Hayes explains, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana have both pitched the most innings of their young careers and are experiencing tired arms due to the increased workload.
However, each of these three teams insist that this is a temporary development, one that will be re-evaluated once September begins. Not every pitcher will receive extra rest as a result of the expanded rotations.
Keeping starting pitchers on their regular five-day routine is an important consideration for major league teams. Taking them off of their typical schedule could be disruptive, not to mention dangerous.
No team seems better suited to try a six-man rotation than the Washington Nationals. Not only do the Nats want to limit Strasburg's innings, but they also have the depth of starting pitching that would allow them to expand their rotation. By going with a six-man staff, the Nationals could extend Strasburg's season into October while limiting his workload.
Yet the Nationals have been insistent on keeping Strasburg on a regular rotation. His arm needs to become accustomed to bouncing back every five days as he pitches through his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery.
To skip a turn occasionally would provide extra rest but could also weaken his arm as he tries to establish the strength and stamina required to get through a major league season.
But the Nationals are the rare team that could actually field a rotation of six—perhaps even seven—starting pitchers. Most major league clubs have difficulty filling out a five-man starting rotation these days. Finding a consistent, reliable fifth starter can be a season-long endeavor. Those teams that can find five regular starters are the ones that tend to be the most successful.
Rick Yeatts/Getty Images
Going to a six-man rotation would also limit a team from using its best starting pitchers as often as possible. How successful would the Detroit Tigers be if they got fewer than 34 starts a season from Justin Verlander? The Tigers are a much better team because they pitch Verlander every five days.
Yet Verlander is also the rare pitcher who can throw 250 innings during a season and not appear to suffer at all from such a workload. Very few teams have that kind of arm on their roster. Using a six-man rotation would allow more pitching staffs to compensate for the lack of an ace who can provide 32 starts and more than 200 innings per season.
More pitchers seem to be getting hurt—and seriously so—than at any other time in the history of Major League Baseball. Obviously, something isn't being done right and needs to change to keep pitchers healthy and give teams a better return on their investment.
But is the answer to ask less from starting pitchers or to better prepare them for a heavy workload? There is still a major difference in philosophy between major league teams as to how pitchers should be handled.
Look at the Texas Rangers, who famously decided two years ago to emphasize conditioning over pitch counts. As detailed in this Sports Illustrated article, team president Nolan Ryan believed that current pitchers were being too pampered. In his view, this approach prevented them from building up the necessary stamina for a major league season and also deprived them of valuable experience in facing as many hitters as possible.
Bob Levey/Getty Images
Is Ryan's philosophy correct? The Rangers have had difficulty fielding a regular five-man rotation this season, due largely to injuries suffered by Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando and Colby Lewis.
Is this the result of overwork? Or has the job of pitching in the major leagues become too grueling for most arms to endure through a full season?
Permanently going to a six-man starting rotation is probably too drastic a move to consider for most major league teams. Though there is obviously room for innovative thinking and differing philosophies within the game, no team wants to try anything too radical.
If the Mets, Braves and White Sox have success with six-man rotations—even if it's on a temporary basis—it might inspire enough interest among some teams to try it for a longer period during a full season.
Ultimately, however, pitchers are not an abundant resource. There just aren't enough quality starters available for every team to try this. That's what will prevent the six-man rotation from becoming prevalent—let along permanent—throughout baseball.
Follow @iancass on Twitter
What is the duplicate article?
Why is this article offensive?
Where is this article plagiarized from?
Why is this article poorly edited?