The Boston Red Sox have the deepest rotation in baseball. If the top eight starters from each team were rolled out, the Sox's eight would be the best in baseball. The five that currently sit in the rotation, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Brad Penny, are all proven starters, and it is arguable that these five, though they have not performed as well thus far this season, are the best five in baseball, on paper at least.
It is the next three that propels the Sox to the top spot when it comes to having the deepest rotation in baseball. Justin Masterson has already filled in the rotation when Matsuzaka went on the disabled list, although he is probably the eighth best starter in the organization. John Smoltz completed his third rehab start, going five innings of one-run ball with six strikeouts, and he cannot stay with Class-A Greenville much longer. Clay Buchholz meanwhile is dominating the hitters at the Triple-A level.
Fans across Red Sox Nation have speculated about the switch from a five-man to a six-man rotation. The Sox starters have disappointed thus far, although recent performances by Beckett, Lester and Penny have buoyed hopes for future success.
Most people then dismiss the idea of a six man rotation, saying that it would disrupt the order of the starters, particularly Beckett, who clearly would want the ball every five days. Beckett leads the American League in pitches per start while possessing the strength and stamina to be a workhorse to go deep into the rotation.
So, instead of a traditional six-man rotation, where each starter makes a start every six days, the Sox should implement a different kind, which we will call a “wheel rotation.”
With the wheel rotation, Beckett will make his scheduled starts every five games. He gets the usual amount of time off in between starts, including scheduled off-days. The other five starters then pitch in order around Beckett, but pitching every six games, instead of five. Here’s what I mean.
When the wheel rotation is implemented, the rotation would look like this:
Beckett – Game One (first game of the wheel rotation)
Lester – Game Two
Matsuzaka – Game Three
Wakefield – Game Four
Penny – Game Five
Beckett – Game Six
Smoltz – Game Seven (for discussion purposes, it could be Masterson, or Buchholz, etc.)
Lester – Game Eight
Matsuzaka – Game Nine
Wakefield – Game 10
Beckett – Game 11
Penny – Game 12
Smoltz – Game 13
What happens with the above schedule is that Beckett remains on his usual amount of rest while pitching once every five games. The five remaining starters pitch on an extra day of rest and have five games between each start, rather than four.
Both Smoltz and Wakefield are over 40 years of age, and they would benefit from the extra day of rest. Wakefield has been slowed by injuries in recent years, and Smoltz is returning from shoulder surgery.
Matsuzaka benefits most from the extra day of rest because teams in Japan also use a six-man rotation, and there is a day off every week. Lester is a younger, left-handed version of the type of pitcher that Beckett is, and he likely needs the least amount of rest. However, his statistics take a terrible plunge in the later innings of ballgames this year, and the extra day of rest could give him an extra boost.
This wheel rotation will fit nicely with the Red Sox structure of their pitching staff. If Beckett ever needs an extra day of rest, it will be easy to accommodate that. If Penny is traded or any other starter goes on the disabled list, it allows for one of the younger pitchers like Masterson or Buchholz to have more rest in between starts as they build up their arm strength for the rest of the season.
While a traditional six-man rotation has become almost taboo in baseball, this scenario gives the Sox a great way to utilize their talented arms and depth.