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2015 Yankees Could Be Perfect Fit for 6-Man Rotation Experiment

Jason Catania@@JayCat11MLB Lead WriterJanuary 21, 2015

CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova could be half of a potential six-man Yankees rotation in 2015.
CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova could be half of a potential six-man Yankees rotation in 2015.Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

The six-man rotation is sort of like the Bigfoot or Loch Ness Monster of Major League Baseball. It's talked about but doesn't really exist.

But unlike Sasquatch or Nessy, a baseball team putting together a batch of six starting pitchers actually could come to fruition. While it flies in the face of convention—five-man rotations have become an ingrained part of the sport's accepted modus operandi—a six-man rotation would require a club to have the arms necessary and the daring to make such a decision.

Like, maybe, the New York Yankees.

It might seem crazy, but in some respects, the Yankees might be the ideal candidate to explore the option of using six starters instead of the typical five in 2015if not on a full-time basis then at least as needed.

There has been all kinds of discussion and research about the possibility that switching to a six-man rotation might help keep pitchers healthier due to an extra day of rest between starts, especially in light of the Tommy John surgery "epidemic" the sport experienced in 2014.

In fact, Japan's professional league could provide a template, as David Lennon of Newsday wrote last July:

Maybe NBP (Nippon Professional Baseball), with its six-man rotations allowing for additional rest, is the better model for keeping pitchers healthy over the course of a six-month season.

And if that sounds too radical, the question you then have to ask is this: What makes five starters right and six wrong? Or three? Or four?

That debate has been going on since the sport was invented, but it again has become timely this season because of the stunning rate of pitchers lost to Tommy John surgery during the past year or so.

After all, preventing pitchers from coming down with significant, arm-related ailments—the kinds that often wind up requiring some sort of surgical procedure—undoubtedly is something the Yankees could use this year after what happened in 2014.

Remember last year? Four of New York's five projected starters—namely, CC Sabathia (knee surgery), Masahiro Tanaka (partially torn elbow ligament), Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) and Michael Pineda (shoulder)—lost serious time to injury, spending months on the disabled list. Others, like fill-in David Phelps, got hurt, too, which forced New York to trade for Brandon McCarthy and turn to unknown rookie Shane Greene.

In the cases of Sabathia, Tanaka and Nova, their injuries essentially ended their seasons early.

And now, the one starting pitcher who actually managed to stay healthy all year—Hiroki Kuroda—is back in Japan after seven seasons in MLB, the last three of which were spent as arguably the Yankees' most consistent starter.

So, is a six-man rotation really such a bad idea for the Yankees, particularly with all of the injury-prone arms on the staff?

"I think the six-man rotation is physically easier simply because of that extra day of rest," Daisuke Matsuzaka, who has pitched in both NPB and MLB and required TJ surgery in 2011 while a member of the Boston Red Sox, told Lennon. "But having that extra day also allows you to pitch more [in that start], to have a larger pitch count than you do over here, because you're more rested."

Even sans Kuroda, the club has enough starters to consider deploying a six-man rotation, at least until there's more certainty surrounding the recoveries of Sabathia, Tanaka and Nova.

In place of Kuroda, there's now newcomer Nathan Eovaldi, the hard-throwing right-hander acquired from the Miami Marlins in December who is a sturdy 6'2", 215-pounder ready to pile up innings in his age-25 campaign.

And in addition to Sabathia, Tanaka and Pineda, there's also Chris Capuano, a 10-year veteran swingman who was re-signed after a solid stint in the Bronx in 2014, as well as Adam Warren, who excelled as a reliever last season but who could hold his own were he to transition back to starting on something of a temporary basis at age 27.

That makes six potential starters right there, without even counting Nova, who is expected to be out until May or June, according to Bryan Hoch of MLB.com. At that point, New York could recalibrate the rotation and/or shift an arm back to relief, depending on the status and health of the starters.

The consistent, durable Hiroki Kuroda won't be around anymore for the Yankees.
The consistent, durable Hiroki Kuroda won't be around anymore for the Yankees.Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

While they haven't gone after any big-money or big-name starting pitchers this offseason, the Yankees have built an incredibly deep, strong and, especially, versatile bullpen. That's something that makes this idea more feasible, too.

As Keith Law of ESPN writes:

The Yankees are overhauling their bullpen the right way. They've only spent money on one outside reliever, Andrew Miller, a high-risk guy due to lack of track record but who was among the best in baseball in 2014, and are building the rest of their bullpen with cheaper guys to create more depth from the right and left sides.

Recently acquired via trade, Nathan Eovaldi threw 199.2 innings in 2014.
Recently acquired via trade, Nathan Eovaldi threw 199.2 innings in 2014.Alex Brandon/Associated Press

The relief corps consists of right-handers Dellin Betances, David Carpenter and Esmil Rogers to go with lefties Andrew Miller, Justin Wilson, Chasen Shreve and, soon enough, Jacob Lindgren, who made it all the way to Double-A—and struck out 48 in 25 innings along the way—after being the team's top pick last June.

That's a group that could handle picking up the mid- and late-inning slack, even with one fewer arm allocated to the bullpen in lieu of the rotation.

Even still, the prospect of the Yankees actually carrying out this six-man strategy is unlikely given baseball's conventional wisdom and the inevitable that's-not-how-it's-always-been-done backlash.

Hey, it's understandable to an extent: Everyone loves to laugh at the folks trying to find Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

But the Yankees are the rare team that possesses the personnel in the form—and number—of pitchers to entertain this idea. Which might not be such a bad one, considering how the five-man rotation worked out for them last year.

Statistics are accurate through the 2014 season and courtesy of MLB.com, Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11.

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