Ok, you’ve read the headline and either a) determined I’m insane and decided not to read; or b) determined I’m insane and decided to read just so you can leave an angry comment. For those of you who’ve chosen option “b”, before you leave your angry comment please hear me out.
The six-man rotation is the “flavor of the day.” in MLB. It gives your starters extra rest. If you use your off-days creatively, it’s really a five-man rotation with a swing man as the schedule requires. And with the nearly universal move to 13-man bullpens, and the use of the “AAA shuttle” to expand that bullpen even further, it seems to make sense.
What I propose is that teams should move in the exact opposite direction, and with their well-documented rotation woes, the Orioles are the perfect guinea pig for this experiment.
*Note: For the following example I am going to use the Orioles depth chart as it appears on MLB.com. I am not here to argue the relative merits of any of the pitchers. Also, I’m going to assume Britton is healthy. I’m just trying to illustrate how the “Three-Man Rotation” would work.
The critical number is 1460 IP. Some teams have more, some have less. The average is a little bit lower but, as with all of the assumptions here, let’s be conservative. How do we get to 1460?
The 3 “Traditional Starters”
They go out there every fifth day and pitch until they’re ineffective. Just like normal.
They make 30 starts apiece (90 total) and average 5 IP per start (like I said, I’m being conservative). That’s 450 IP for the three of them.
The 4 “Tandem Starters”
The tandem starters are also on an every fifth day schedule. Their job is to get through the line-up once or, if possible, through three innings. No need to save yourselves, or any secondary pitches, boys. Just get us to the 3rd (and then, for the second guy, to the 6th). AND, on these pitchers’ “throw days”, they would be available for an inning or two.
So let’s say the tandems each make 30 starts (60 total) at 5 IP per start. That’s 300 IP. AND let’s assume each of the four make 20 relief appearances of a single inning. That’s 80 more innings. So, 380 IP and our total, when added to the “traditional starters.” is up to 830 IP covered.
The Six-Man Bullpen
The bullpen has to cover 630 innings. Divided by the seven guys out there it’s 90 innings apiece which is, well, pretty good.
So Why Wouldn’t This Work?
Well, yes, of course. Pitchers get hurt. No matter how you lay out your rotation and bullpen this is going to be an issue. I’d argue that one of the things this approach offers is four MLB pitchers who are already “stretched out” (the tandem starters) and ready to step in and give you a few “traditional” starts if you need them to.
Potential to burn out the bullpen.
Yes, if a tandem only gets through two innings one day you could have a problem. This is what modern roster management, which the Orioles have done very well over the last few years, is for. Teams don’t have 13-man staffs. Through the creative use of minor league options and the 10-day DL they have 16 or 17-man staffs.
Yes, yes it is. It would open management to a lot of criticism if it all fell apart. Some players might rebel against non-traditional roles like “tandem starter.” How is that any different than considering a six-man rotation?
This would be different. It would require a lot of astute juggling. But given the state of the Orioles staff – the questionable rotation, the quality back of the bullpen, and the interchangeable parts in the middle- why wouldn’t you at least consider it?
all photos: Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Photo