The Tigers have a pitching conundrum on their hands.
Two rotation spots remain for three players: Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis, and Nate Robertson. All three have had impressive moments in the spring, but all three carry scars of a couple seasons of ineffectiveness.
The question of which two to take has racked my brain the past two weeks, but I think Zac summed it up best a few days ago by saying:
"Questions abound even as questions are answered. The optimist in me says there is no wrong answer. The pessimist in me says there is no right answer."
I stumbled across an article by ESPN.com’s Nob Neyer about “rethinking the No. 5 starter.”
Rob’s main point is that a five man pitching rotation might not always fit every team’s personnel. Not every team can come up with five guys that they’re extremely comfortable with, so each team should come up with a plan for their individual pitching situation.
It got me thinking—maybe we’re all asking the wrong question with respect to Detroit’s situation. Maybe it shouldn't be "who's your five?"; maybe it should be "what's the best plan for our team given these six guys?"
No matter which two are chosen for the Tiger’s fourth and fifth slot in the rotation, I would be nervous about giving them the ball every fifth day.
Give each of the three the ball every eighth day.
Let’s talk about this for a minute. If I’m Jim Leyland, and I want to make a plan for the rotation, I’d start with the guys that I want to pitch the most. For the Tigers, that means starting with Justin Verlander.
Justin’s the workhorse of the staff, he signed the big contract, so pencil him in every fifth day.
Then move on to Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer. Pencil them in every fifth game (you can give their arms an extra day if there’s an off day). Jim Leyland has named Rick the starter for the home opener so we’ll start with him there and we’ll start with Max pitching game two of the season.
Now, fill in the remaining open games with a rotation Bonderman, Willis, and Robertson. Instead of the traditional 'every fifth game' approach, they’ll pitch every seventh or eighth game.
By the end of May with this rotation, Verlander and Scherzer would each pitch 11 times, Porcello 10 times (with a start on June 1), Bonderman and Willis each seven times, and Robertson six times.
So what will this accomplish?
First, it will keep “the three amigos” fresh—none of the three pitched more than 50 innings last year (they combined for fewer than 90 innings).
Second, it will keep all three stretched out and ready to start if needed.
What are the chances that all three (or all of the other starters) stay effective and injury-free all season? If a pitcher were to get hurt or it was decided that one was simply not effective, the rotation could easily be modified to the traditional five man rotation without needing to stretch a starting pitcher back out.
Third, it won’t affect the number of available bullpen pitchers. At any point in the rotation, at least one of the three would be rested and available to pitch an inning or two out of the bullpen (they throw bullpen sessions between starts anyway).
I’m confident this plan won’t get implemented though—it’s a wild idea, and baseball people hate wild ideas. Jim Leyland rates an 11 out of 10 on the ‘stuck in his ways scale’ so we shouldn’t expect anything drastic.
He’ll attempt to answer the question by naming five guys and relegating the sixth to the bullpen, but I can’t help but think he might be answering the wrong question.