Six-Man Rotation

Fredi Gonzalez has thrown around the idea of going to a six-man rotation for part of the Braves upcoming 20 game stretch. After a day off Thursday, the team does not have another day off until August 30.  If this change were to happen, it wouldn’t come into effect until Tommy Hanson returns from the DL. Hanson is eligible to return August 15.

First, I wanted to briefly touch on some of the thoughts and theories of going to a six-man rotation. While many of these may not fully apply because it is only a short-term plan, it is interesting to get a general idea of the pros and cons. There are two types of six man rotations. One where a team has a standard rotation where one starter follows the next in a continuous cycle and the other where they use the sixth guy as a plug-in and keep the top starter(s) on a conventional four-day rest schedule. In the Braves case, they would be using the former. There is continuing debate whether six-man rotations are effective or optimal in some situations. Here is a good read from Sports Illustrated’s Joe Sheehan and his case against them. There are also various findings and a section of  “The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball” that discuss the “recovery period” through large sampled studies using advanced metrics. Here is what their study concluded,

“Pitchers perform best with five days of rest, and worst with three days of rest. To manage our entire starting rotation effectively, four days of rest seems to be the optimal point. The current MLB pattern and scheduling the starting rotation works.”

You can see why there is a strong push against this type of rotation, a team shouldn’t give their sixth starter the same amount of starts as their best pitcher. It just doesn’t makes sense. As Sheehan puts it, “this is a horrible way to run a business, taking opportunities from your best and giving them to your worst.” Complied with the findings from “The Book”, that a pitcher actually performs better with four days of rest, there is no reason to change what is optimal.

Jeff Shultz, of the AJC, wrote a great article which introduced the discussion of a short-term six-man rotation. Gonzalez later revealed he is considering it, so it definitely warrants discussion. I wanted to talk about a couple of points Schultz made in the article before I get to my own.

“Tim Hudson has bone spurs in his ankle. He already has received two cortisone injections. The rest would help.” I agree here than an aging pitcher can always use extra rest, especially Hudson who has dealt with some nagging injuries in 2012. The Braves need Hudson healthy down the stretch.

“Ben Sheets has started four games after not pitching in two years. Wear and fatigue could be issues.” Sheets has been injured every year since 2003. Again, giving him an extra day in between starts probably can’t hurt. I’m not overly worried with the fatigue because he won’t all of a sudden be throwing 200 innings again. I’m just not sure if an extra day between starts for a couple of weeks would prevent an injury if one were to happen.

Paul Maholm would be taken out of his every-fifth-day rhythm. If you consider that potentially catastrophic, raise your hand. (Anybody?)” See above. Catastrophic, no. Some effect, maybe.

Mike Minor has long surpassed his career single-season high with 116 2/3 innings (he threw 82.2 last year). Another off day should be welcomed.” Minor threw 156 innings (AA/AAA/MLB) in 2010 and 183.1 innings in 2011 (AAA/MLB). Not sure why he only quoted MLB innings here because innings thrown in the Minors still count. As for 2012, he has currently thrown 122.2 innings and ZIPS projects him to throw 55 more for the rest of the season (178.7 total). As you can see that is less than last year. I see this as a non-issue.

“Medlen isn’t going to complain.” He never does.

“Hanson is in no position to complain.” Agree.

I agree with most of the points Schultz makes. There are definitely a lot of pros that push up against the theory of six-man rotations being less effective. The main reason I would be in agreement with a six-man rotation is the fact that the Braves really don’t have a true number one pitcher. All their pitchers are very similar and there is not much separation between one and six. They do not have a Cain or Greinke (ugh) or any number one starter that they would be skipping or taking away starts from. I also believe that the extra rest that Hudson and Hanson would cancel out any minimal drop off in production that “The Book” would suggest. Maybe the Braves would consider a plug-in sixth man around Hudson and maybe Hanson. I don’t believe the Braves will jumble up the rotation that much however. Further, in the case of another injury they would not have to stretch out Medlen again, assuming he would be the one rejoin the bullpen. He has been great as a starter thus far.

Another problem than can be found with going to a six man rotation is the lack of another arm in the bullpen or player off the bench. Using nearly a quarter of your roster to a starting rotation is not all that wise. I would keep the bullpen as is and send down a bench player. This player would most likely be Tyler Pastonicky (or Hinske, but that would never happen). It would leave the Braves without a true back-up shortstop, but Prado could fill the role if needed. This is not ideal, but it is better than losing arms to come in at the end of games.

As you can see this isn’t just adding another guy to the rotation. There are a lot of little factors that go this decision that could potentially change ones stance on the situation. Taking everything into account, I think it would be a good short-term play for the next 20 games (15 if Hanson comes back on schedule.)  While I normally wouldn’t support a six-man rotation, for two weeks I think it can be beneficial to the team.

Be sure to follow on Twitter: @decisions_brave

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