The 6 Man Rotation: A Good Idea

The Boston Red Sox are in a very interesting situation right now. They have six (well, actually eight) starting pitchers all who should be pitching in the majors. Yet, no staff in baseball uses a six-man rotation; everyone uses five. There is the solution.

Look at the pitchers they have right now:

Josh Beckett – He is 7-3 with a 4.15 ERA and has 81 strikeouts in 82.1 innings. That doesn’t sound great, but then remember that since the beginning of May, he is 5-1 with a 2.52 ERA. Beckett started slowly, but has gone at least six innings in every outing in the last two months and is back to his dominant form.

Jon Lester – Lester is 5-5 with a 4.76 ERA. Like Beckett though, he is finding his form as he given up just 3 runs in his last 22 innings pitched and has a mind-boggling 34 strikeouts during that span.

Tim Wakefield – Maybe the Red Sox most consistent pitcher so far this season, Wakefield is second in the league in with 9 wins and possesses a 4.39 ERA. He’s tied with Beckett for the team-lead with 9 quality starts (tied for 9th in the American League)

Brad Penny – Technically the team’s number five starter, Penny has been more than the Sox could have imagined. He is 6-2 with a 4.94 ERA, but like the rest of the Sox staff, has pitched his best most recently. Since May, Penny has a 3.71 ERA and in his last two starts has pitched 11 innings without giving up an earned run. Penny is tied with Lester with 7 quality starts, good for a tie for 22nd in the league. Remembering that Penny is the Sox number five starter and his stats are incredible.

Daisuke Matsuzaka – Matsuzaka has been absolutely terrible. His stats look like a player ready to be sent back to Single A, but the Sox have invested so much money into him that they must give him at least another couple weeks before throwing him away. He is 1-4 with a 7.55 ERA and a WHIP of 2.10. Time will tell if he can turn it around, but the Sox are rightfully not quite ready to give up on Dice K.

John Smoltz – Now, John Smoltz enters the picture as he has finished recovering from a shoulder injury and after a couple of rehab outings is ready to pitch in the majors again. Yet, where is there a spot for him? Beckett, Lester, Wakefield, and Penny are all very good pitchers and aren’t going to be sent down to the minors. Matsuzakastill has his starting spot even with his horrible stats. Where does Smoltz fit in? He’s a former dominant pitcher who could easily return to his dominance.

Now, you say there is a simple solution. Just move either Matsuzaka or Smoltz to the bullpen and keep the five man rotation. Everything is solved.

Wait. Sox manager Terry Francona commented on moving Matuszaka to the ‘pen saying,

My first thought was that if we tell him that we’re putting him in long relief that’s probably not going to build his confidence a whole lot. You know, there’s a lot of things to think about. When you put a guy in the bullpen, who comes out of the bullpen? When you send a guy to the bullpen, how does he react to the bullpen? Also, Daisuke is typically our guy who takes the longest to warm up . . . he goes out there a good 45-50 minutes before the game and throws a lot, so is that going to work? If you put a guy in the bullpen and he hasn’t pitched a lot in three weeks and you need a starter is he capable of throwing a lot of pitches? I think there’s a lot of things to look at

Clearly, sending Dice-K to the bullpen is not an option. Smoltz has been training to get back in the majors as a starter for over a year now so a sudden change to the ‘pen is also not realistic. More than that, the Red Sox bullpen is LOADED. As Francona said, “who comes out of the bullpen?” There is no clear candidate from the Sox since there is not a bad pitcher out there. Look at this:

Justin Masterson:     2-2 3.81 ERA
Jonathan Papelbon: 0-1 1.86 ERA
Takashi Saito:             2-0 2.31 ERA
Daniel Bard:                0-0 3.29 ERA
Hideki Okajima:         3-0 2.40 ERA
Manny Delcarmen:  1-1 2.25 ERA
Ramon Ramirez:       4-2 1.97 ERA

That is the Red Sox bullpen right now. No one has an ERA above 4 andonlytwo guys are above 3, with Masterson above only because he began the year as a starter. Yes, the Red Sox already have one starter in the bullpen. Who exactly would be sent down from that group? It’s one of the most dominant bullpens ever (thus far) so why should Franconaeven consider messing with it.

So there is no room in the 5-man rotation or in the bullpen. Where does Smoltz go?

There is always the option for a trade, which will likely happen at some point this year, but it is only June. Teams don’t know what they’ll need yet or if they are a buyer or a seller. Plus, the Sox don’t know what injuries will pop up to their starters and if they’ll need Smoltz. These pitchers have all been so dominant that why would the Sox trade one away anyways?

Withall that being said, Boston’s best option remains to send down a position player and add Smoltz to the starting staff. It hasn’t been tried in a while, but the Red Sox should use a six-man rotation.

The benefits are that each pitcher gets an entire extra day of rest. It sounds like nothing, but getting an extra day every week throughout the course of the season means pitchers pitch much fewer innings and are much fresher for September and October. That’s when baseball really counts anyways so if the Sox have saved up their arms until then, they will be a force every night. It also allows Francona to skip a player’s start because of an offdayor deal with a doubleheader more easily. Having six starters gives a ton of flexibility. If there is an extra-inning game, it is easy to bring in a starter for emergency purposes, because there are five other guys to back him up in the rotation.

However, the problem is that it could throw guys off. Many players are used to a specific rhythm and suddenly pitching once every six days instead of every five could throw them off. It isn’t an exact science, but the pitchers have designed their bodies to throw once every five days. Maybe giving them an extra day off will actually hinder their performance. What about in the postseason when pitchers pitch on normal rest and sometimes on three days rest? Beckett or Lester could become so used to the extra day that they are horrible in the postseason on normal rest. Even more so, players may get unhappy at the fewer innings. Beckett and Lester count on their starts to get wins, strikeouts, and innings. They enjoy competing and also are looking at the Cy Young as the ultimate award. Going to a six man rotation hurts their chances considerably.

I don’t remember the last team to try a six-man rotation or if there ever was one, but if the players are up for it, I say go for it. The extra rest is huge over the course of a season and over the course of a player’s career. Maybe once a month assemble the rotation so a player goes on five-days rest, just to keep their arm in shape. Rotate a different player a month so everyone is ready for October.

Want to hear something even more remarkable about the Sox pitching staff?

 They have two young starting pitchers at Triple-A who are ready for the big leagues, but there is absolutely no room anywhere for them. Clay Buchholz has been unbelievable, with a 5-0 record, a 1.90 ERA, a 0.83 WHIP, and 65 strikeouts in 71 innings. Michael Bowden is 3-3 with a 2.48 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. Both players would be in the majors on any other ballclub, but on the Sox, they are not even close.

The six-man rotation is untested and unconventional. It defies what teams have done for years. It takes up an extra roster spot with a starting pitcher. Yet, it is the perfect way to keep pitchers fresh and make the Sox at their best come October.


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