Baseball is changing. Advanced stats reveal liabilities of traditional roster management. First there was the development of the closer. Then the setup man. Then lefty specialists. Some teams toyed with a “starter” last year, starting the game with a favorable matchup before removing the reliever from the bullpen (who was acting as a starter) for the traditional starter from the rotation.
Yeah, lines are getting fuzzy.
Roles are changing, as is the workload expected. Few starters face a lineup a third time through the order. Sabermetrics back up this innovation. So bullpens are depended upon more than ever.
I wonder what the next innovation will be.
Meanwhile, I’m a Saint Louis Cardinals fan. With Spring Break only weeks away, sports talk radio in Saint Louis continues to point out that the Redbirds are particularly strong with rotation options.
So when I think about what’s next, I wonder —
What about a 10 man rotation?
Hear me out…
Suppose you aligned your five “best” starters (the “Traditional Rotation”) with a rotation of “Next Five” best starters — starter prospects, fading elite starter veterans, and/or stretched out bullpen guys capable of pitching multiple innings.
Using the Cardinals as an example, here’s how that would look:
For 2019, the following 10 arms are on the Cardinals roster and ready to rock and roll:
Miles Mikolas, Jake Flaherty, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright, Alex Reyes, Dakota Hudson, John Gant, Austin Gomber, and Daniel Poncedeleon.
First, you rank your staff 1-10 on their performance. “Ace” first, ranked through tenth best. For argument’s sake, we’ll rank the Cardinals this way:
- Miles Mikolas
- Jake Flaherty
- Carlos Martinez
- Michael Wacha
- Adam Wainwright
- Austin Gomber
- Dakota Hudson
- John Gant
- Alex Reyes
- Daniel Poncedeleon
Next up, you pair your Traditional Rotation with the Next Five, pairing them to create your every-five-day rotation:
The rotation works thusly:
- Every pitcher handles no more than four innings unless they haven’t seen the order through two complete rotations — this still allows for the accumulation of quality starts, a stat pitchers don’t want to surrender.
- No pitcher attempts to see the lineup a third time unless they have a no-hitter going. Maybe a shutout. But it’s a rarity, per statistical support.
- The first time through the rotation, your Traditional Rotation starter starts. The next time through, your Next Five starter starts. The other pitcher from each pair handles innings five thru eight. This gives each of your ten pitchers a chance to “start” in the traditional sense, so that when the time comes they are marketable as such.
- If a pitcher or pitchers only makes it through two or three innings, and even if BOTH of your “starters” only make it through a couple innings each, you still have the capacity to carry three additional pitchers in your bullpen (In the Cardinals case you would choose from Brebbia, Hicks, Miller, Cecil, Shreve, Leone, etc.)
PICK A CARD, ANY CARD…
So a Cardinals staff would have a 10-man rotation with three additional arms (I’d pick Miller, Hicks, and Brebbia, with Helsley hot on the heels of seeing Big League time).
- You’d get each pitcher at peak performance. Analytics has revealed that pitching statistics spike a third time through the lineup. This eliminates this possibility. A lot of starters don’t make it out of the fifth inning anyway.
- You take advantage of your homegrown arms, a unique attribute for the Cardinals and an edge over your competition.
- By maintaining three additional relievers, you’re covered in the event that there’s a game where neither starter is crushing it.
- As is often utilized by many clubs, contract options and shuttles between AAA and the majors can be utilized to ensure you always have the arms you need on any given day.
- You preserve arms by giving them reduced innings. Maybe Adam Wainwright pitches two or three more seasons if this is your arrangement rather than one more season as a “traditional” starter.
- Pairings between Traditional Rotation starters and Next Up guys can be designed with best matchups in mind. Imagine a hitter facing finesse-righty Adam Wainwright for three innings and then having to adjust to changeup slinging lefty Austin Gomber. Or what would a Flaherty/Reyes pair at full strength look like? Yikes.
- Proud pitchers would hate it. They’d want to carry games beyond four innings for sure. But the game is moving toward specialization, so they’d have to adjust in kind.
- Your AAA rotation would have to be strengthened from lower levels, having been pillaged to acheive this 10-man arrangement in the bigs
I’m sure there are other disadvantages slipping my mind.
My point is this — the game is changing. The Cardinals have a unique advantage presently with a TON of arms available to them at relatively low cost. And if they were to add an arm (Keuchel, anyone?) one of your Next Five guys pushes to the bullpen, making it even more insane. There’s a pride issue to overcome for your Traditional Rotation guys, and because of this, it’s probably a four or five-year project to convince people to buy in. But why not explore it in some form?
Maximize your advantage. Get peak performance from every pitcher. Have a lights-out eighth and ninth inning. It won’t always work, I’m sure.
But I’d love to see a full season of a ten man rotation, compare the stats after the fact, and then discount it as a decent option.