If we weren’t already doing it this way, is this the way we would start? Before taking over as General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Paul DePodesta explained in a presentation (which, sadly, was taken down once he became GM) that like with many other endeavors, continually asking that question could help a team win. DePo credited “management efficiency” guru Peter Drucker with the question, and I think applying it to the D-backs’ rotation situation brings us to a smart — if radical — idea.

The idea? Do away with the starting pitcher as we know him, entirely. I understand that the change I’m espousing today would be difficult to implement, especially mid-season. There’s an intermediate step the D-backs could take right now, however: replacing just two spots in the rotation with teams. But first, let me try to win you over to my premise.

In baseball right now, there are two kinds of pitchers: starters and relievers. Starters tend to be better. They tend to have at least three pitches they can throw with confidence, even if they have difficulty throwing strikes with one of them. And if everything goes to plan, they tend to throw 180-220 innings in a season. Relievers, on the other hand, tend to rely primarily on two pitches, and they may pitch to strikeouts a bit more frequently. From matchup guys to multi-inning guys, they tend to throw between 50 and 80 innings in a season.

Are there really no pitchers in the middle, pitchers that could excel in 100-120 innings of work, even if they’d become exposed at 180 innings? I think there are some pitchers who would struggle in 6-7 inning starts because of a limited repertoire or because they rely on deception, but who could get more outs per season than they would if used as a classic reliever (about one inning every two or three games). I think there are some pitchers that are underutilized as regular relievers, but overutilized as full starters, and I think Josh Collmenter is one of those pitchers. I also think that diminishing the workload of most starting pitchers would get rid of more bad innings than good, and that if relievers are relievers because they shouldn’t see the same hitter twice, they can still face 9 hitters.

The Proposal

What if, instead of pitching either 5-8 innings every fifth game or 1-2 innings every second or third, all pitchers on a staff threw about 3 innings every third game? Picture an eleven-man staff (you could still have a closer if you really wanted). For Game 1, pitchers 1, 2, and 3 each pitch about three innings. Game 2, pitchers 4-6 would go. Game 3 would feature pitchers 7-9, and if any of those games went to extra innings or were especially stressful, or if any pitcher really struggled on his appointed day, you could go to the next guy right away. You could steer your best pitchers toward your opponent’s best hitters by deploying them first: the “starting” pitcher would tend to face the top of the order twice, more often than not.

Adopting this approach would mean that ten pitchers would get approximately 140 innings each, per season, a manageable number. Pitchers would pitch frequently, but they’d occasionally get three days rest (because of off days, or if a team got through three games in a row with just three pitchers). They’d also tend not to pitch much more than once through the batting order, and they’d only pitch against the same team in consecutive appearances very rarely.

I think the benefits of this approach outweigh the drawbacks, and I think the benefits outnumber the drawbacks.

The Benefits

1. The starting pitchers would be in a better position to succeed. Pitchers face a “Times Through the Order Penalty” (TTOP) that is significant, if not enormous. All other things being equal (i.e., if competition was the same), a pitcher would simply do better in innings 1-3 of two starts than in innings 1-6 of one start. We can speculate as to why: for a hitter to hit certain pitches that may move in unique ways, it’s helpful for a hitter to have seen (or been recently reminded of) what they look like. This passes the smell test for me. In the Science of Hitting, Ted Williams explained that he very rarely swung at the first pitch in a game (game, not at bat). Sure, he swung once in a blue moon — but that was to keep pitchers honest (seeing the first pitch is less helpful if it’s not a “real” pitch). The called strike was worth it, in his eyes, just to have that intelligence.  Stands to reason more intelligence would be worth something, at least to some hitters.

2. The starting pitchers would be less likely to fail. Pitchers generally have more good innings than bad, and so by having pitchers pitch until they fail, they’ll going to fail a higher proportion of the time. I hate suspending reality to go with pure numbers in a persuasion piece like this, but indulge me just for this paragraph. I call this “the Strasburg Effect,” after Strasburg’s 2012, when he pitched with a hard limit of 6 innings per start after surgery. Red Sox manager John Farrell‘s rule is that, no matter how early, a pitcher is done if he’s had to pitch out of three jams in one start.  I think we also know from experience that if a pitcher really runs into trouble in the fifth or sixth innings, he’s likely to get replaced in most games regardless of how well he did before that. But if you treat each inning as having a 2/3 chance of being good and a 1/3 chance of being bad, a pitcher who gets removed early more frequently for failing will have fewer chances for good innings. This is not a very important point, and it’s very minor, but it’s real.

3. The starting pitchers might pitch better. Forget the TTOP for a second. One reason why pitchers get pigeon-holed as relievers is that they don’t have a useful third pitch. If you’re a “starter” because you’ve got three or four, often you don’t emphasize one or two of your pitches in early plate appearances, so you have something new to show hitters the next time around. If you’re really only facing the order once, though, pitchers can use their full repertoire right away, and that’s worth something — there are plenty of stories of Eric Gagne types who dominated as relievers with a starter’s repertoire. And what about velocity? If you’re only pitching in shorter stints, you might pitch harder, like we’re seeing with Randall Delgado‘s velocity spike since moving over to the bullpen, where he’s had success. And while a pitcher’s comfort level is hard to quantify, allowing oneself to let loose could also lead to a benefit; supposedly Trevor Cahill has stopped worrying and just pitched since moving over to the bullpen, and that’s worked out well, too.

4. The team could get more out of its best relievers. Again, if relief pitchers are relief pitchers for repertoire reasons, that should only affect the number of times they can successfully pitch through a batting order. Well, the average number of batters faced in an inning is about four, and a batting order has nine players in it; there’s really no reason why a relief pitcher couldn’t pitch two innings instead of one, especially if he was pitching less frequently. And as for the TTOP — there is a smallish spike the second time through the order, but another spike from the second time to the third. None of the pitchers in a starter-by-committee rotation would pitch a third time through the order, and so even if a relief pitcher might sometimes pitch to some hitters twice, there isn’t much to worry about. Simply put, most relief pitchers are underutilized, and utilizing the good ones more fully is a significant benefit.

5. Relief pitchers may benefit from pitching less frequently and at more predictable times. This is another thing that’s hard to quantify, but I could see how there would be a benefit to this, and I can’t see how it would be a drawback. Instead of trying to convince you, I’ll let Bryan Price of the Reds do that. Price plans to go “against the current thinking” by playing matchups much less with his bullpen arms, in part because playing matchups inevitably means getting relievers to warm up more than necessary. Excessive warmups have a cost, according to Price, a former pitcher and former pitching coach. Well, in the starter-by-committee system, that problem of taxing relievers unnecessarily is solved: everyone knows who the next pitcher out will be, or, at the very least, matchups will be used a lot less.

6. There are more pitchers who might only excel in these circumstances. Grant, for a moment, that a pitcher like Bronson Arroyo has real value. He may not be above average, but he excels in some ways because he’s above replacement level, and he doesn’t cause other pitching staff problems by being alternatively great or mediocre, or by really struggling with pitch counts. I think there are some analogous pitchers that would excel similarly in starter-by-committee. It may be for mostly TTOP reasons, but I’d put Josh Collmenter in this category. It’s tough to fully use a pitcher like Collmenter in the normal starter/reliever setup, and I think there are others out there (Delgado), or in-between prospects (Carlos Martinez and Marcus Stroman), who will just have more value to a starter-by-committee staff.

7. Pitchers can be fixed more easily in side sessions. Starting pitchers have side sessions in which they can fix things if they’re broken (mechanics, feel, etc.). Relievers don’t. The fact that it’s hard for relievers to fix themselves outside of game settings is one big reason why young bullpens can be more effective than veteran bullpens just by virtue of being young. The key is flexibility, and I think teams leave a lot of potential success untapped by not having the flexibility to take a relief pitcher aside (and out of the bullpen for a few days) and have a coach help them fix what’s broken. In starter-by-committee, this is no longer a problem. It’s one of the big reasons why you’d have ten or eleven pitchers, instead of nine; you can simply pull one pitcher out for a turn to help fix him, and the rest of the staff can close ranks. Think of the enormous change for David Hernandez last season after he was finally optioned to get fixed. In starter-by-committee, Hernandez could have been pulled for a little while to get fixed. And veteran relievers can’t be optioned for fixing the way Hernandez was last season. Do not underestimate this benefit to starter-by-committee.

8. Smaller pitching staffs means better pitching staffs. This one is pretty simple. If you’d normally go with a twelve- or thirteen-man pitching staff and you can instead go with an eleven man staff, you’re not going to drop your best pitcher; you’re going to drop your worst one. Going from some innings to no innings for your worst one or two pitchers is a pretty immense benefit, is it not? That should be pretty self-explanatory.

9. Smaller pitching staffs means more position players. An extra position player means more available pinch hitters, and more flexibility. Having an extra Eric Chavez type can be pretty damned helpful. The number of times one might use a very light hitting backup infielder decreases, which means a sizable upgrade at the plate, if just occasionally. Or the extra bench player could mean more pinch running appearances. There are only benefits to having an extra position player on the roster, no drawbacks.

10. Fewer plate appearances for pitchers means more plate appearances for professional hitters. It’s a good thing a starter-by-committee team would have an extra bench player, because they’ll probably have more occasions to use them. Let’s say you’re the home team, and it’s the bottom of the second inning. Your team has had trouble scoring runs. There are runners on first and third with one out, and the pitcher’s spot in the order comes up. A team with a regular staff will let the pitcher hit, and he’ll have to swing away, as a bunt means the runner from third probably can’t run on contact. At the same time, a ground ball could turn into a double play. It would be nice, in that situation, to plug in a pinch hitter who has a better shot of hitting a deep fly ball, or getting a hit, or running fast enough to make a ground ball a fielder’s choice instead of a double play. Starter-by-committee means that professional hitters can be used to pinch hit for the pitcher in high-leverage plate appearances, even if they come early in the game. Like the previous benefit, it’s a significant upgrade that comes up only infrequently (you can’t pull a pitcher ahead of schedule all the time). But this benefit is magnified because of the high-leverage aspect of the appearance — and being 25% more likely to score a run in a particular situation, maybe once a week, can be worth an extra win per season. In addition to high-leverage appearances, a team would also get the happy coincidence at least occasionally that a pitcher’s spot comes up in the bottom of the third or top of the fourth, etc., a time when a new pitcher is about to come in anyway. The team would have the extra position player for the extra pinch hitting appearance, which is a real advantage.

11. Starter-by-committee costs less money. Josh Collmenter is making $925k this season in what was going to be his first year of arbitration eligibility. He’ll play for $1.825M next season, and the team has an option for the same amount the year after that. The following season (2017), Collmenter could be controlled with a $2M or $2.25M option in what would have been a free agent season. That’s ridiculously cheap, and buying more players like him would also be cheap. The fact that young starters might also get lower arbitration salaries also inures to the team’s benefit (if the arb system is struggling with the value of saves, it’ll struggle with the value of starter-by-committee types, but in the opposite direction). And bench position players are often cheaper than veteran relievers. In short, starter-by-committee would depress the salaries of young players, and at the same time allow the team to sign undervalued pitchers in free agency. If all teams used starter-by-committee, these financial benefits would diminish. The first team to go starter-by-committee will save tons of money on pitchers, money which can be used on position players. And that might be the biggest benefit of all.

That’s a lot of benefits. I think they outweigh the drawbacks, but there are drawbacks, too. Let’s look at them, and you can decide for yourself if starter-by-committee makes sense to you.

The Drawbacks

1. Some pitchers could be underutilized. No one would ever put Clayton Kershaw in a starter-by-committee situation. The list of pitchers on that list is not short. But to me, that dividing line might be right around Wade Miley. Who is more likely to have success: Miley during his third time through the batting order, or the other pitcher who would replace him? I think it’s a close call with Miley (and we’ll return to that below). But the point is: it’s a drawback that some elite pitchers wouldn’t fit into a starter-by-committee staff, because the 40-50 innings they’d miss that way would be better than the innings thrown by replacements. There’s a way to make starter-by-committee work with just one full starter, but not with two. And if you think of an elite prospect like Archie Bradley, you wouldn’t want to cap his potential (although a starter-by-committee backdrop would be a potentially effective backdrop for increasing innings workload season to season).

2. Pitchers are not trained to pitch every three days. In a starter-by-committee staff similar to the one I’m proposing, pitchers would throw with two days rest most of the time (and three days rest the rest of the time). Starters typically pitch on four days rest. Yes, there’d be less of a reason to throw side sessions (although if one is ever needed, the pitcher can get temporarily pulled from the committee). But it’s just not for me to say how big a transition this would be. It’s not really much different from, say, what Randall Delgado is expected to be ready to do right now, except that appearances become more foreseeable. But I do understand that transitioning to starter-by-committee is a significant adjustment, one that could even affect performance. I don’t think this concern means flushing the entire proposal, but I want to be up front that I don’t know how to quantify this.

3. It could be tougher to recruit good pitchers in free agency. This is another one that I find hard to quantify. If you were Matt Garza this last offseason, would pitching for a starter-by-committee team be attractive? Maybe not so much. You certainly wouldn’t sign at a discount to do that, and no team, even with a lot of homegrown talent, can afford to pay enough Matt Garzas to fill out an entire staff. But quality and dollars go hand in hand, and even if the starter-by-committee team ends up getting lesser talents, it’ll pay lesser money (and can spend the money on other parts of the team). I think pitchers will start to see their peripherals look better in starter-by-committee, and a team with such a staff may end up signing a lot of “pillow” contracts with pitchers coming back from injury. There also may be two or three relief pitchers every offseason that are looking to become starters, and see pitching for a starter-by-committee team as a step in that direction. A starter-by-committee team doesn’t need a dozen free agent pitchers to buy in every year — they just need a handful. And the pitchers best-suited for a starter-by-committee approach could only get paid like true relief pitchers by other teams.

4. Harder to play matchups in late innings. I think matchups are overrated in general (for the Bryan Price reasons above), and many managers who think they’re doing them well are not matching guys up as productively as they think. But pinch hits in late innings are important. Benefit #10 above refers to pinch hitting appearances in the early and middle innings, and there will be more pinch hitters at those times. But there may be fewer pinch hitting appearances in late innings for a team that switches to starter-by-committee, because if you wouldn’t be able to use four pitchers in every game, and because the pitcher’s spot may come up in the top of the eighth after the current pitcher has pitched just one inning. I think this drawback is definitely smaller than Benefit #10, but it still exists. As a partial fix, a team could still use a closer in a more traditional relief role, someone who only pitches in short stints as part of another pitcher’s shift, but who might end up pitching in back to back days. I think closers are used strangely, but a competent reliever in a flexible role like that would help with late-game batting situations.

Another issue: getting a team to buy in. Even if a GM were to want to try this novel approach, he’d need the support of his manager and a significant number of other people. The system would need to be implemented in the minors. But those aren’t drawbacks; they’re impediments. We started this exercise with one question: if we weren’t already doing it this way, is this the way we would start? The benefits and drawbacks of starter by committee should be evaluated independently of those start-up issues. It might be that starter-by-committee is better, but only slightly better, and not enough to justify all of those start-up costs. It’s just that that is a separate question.

How the D-backs can Implement Starter-by-Committee

I’m not suggesting that the D-backs do a total tear down right now; that’s just not realistic, although I would love it if the D-backs tried something like this down the road. As a mid-market team, the D-backs can’t play the same game as the Red Sox and Yankees and Dodgers and consistently win. They don’t need to play Athletics baseball, either, although a bigger dose of that wouldn’t hurt. But they do need to stop trying to swim upstream, and to start trying to get more edges wherever they can be found. It may be that Kevin Towers is not the guy to do this, considering he’s how we ended up in this mess. But, at the same time, he’s done innovative things before, if on a smaller scale.

The D-backs have an enormous opportunity right now to make a half-measure. Making two rotation spots “starter-by-committee” spots would reap many of the benefits of Benefits 1, 3, 4, and 6, while tapping into Benefits 10 and 11, as well. The team has Collmenter and Delgado, two pitchers who seem perfect for this kind of role. It has already pulled Trevor Cahill from the rotation, who will be underutilized if used as a normal reliever. And while I don’t know exactly what to make of Michael Bolsinger right now, I’ll throw him in the same category, too. What if these four pitchers split two starts per turn? The result would be something like:

Game 1: Bronson Arroyo (Cahill, Bolsinger available for short relief)

Game 2: Brandon McCarthy (Delgado, Collmenter available for short relief)

Game 3: Trevor Cahill (4 inning cap), Mike Bolsinger (4 inning cap) (Delgado, Collmenter available for short relief)

Game 4: Wade Miley

Game 5: Randall Delgado (4 inning cap), Josh Collmenter (4 inning cap) (Cahill, Bolsinger available for short relief)

Two doesn’t go into five, and so in devoting two turns in the rotation to split starters, they’ll only be one start in between on one end, and two on the other. Right now, the rotation is lined up Arroyo/McCarthy/Miley/Bolsinger/Collmenter, and of the three pitchers that would remain as “true” starters, Wade Miley is probably the best bet to stay in the middle of the two committee days, as the least likely to require a bail-out from long relievers (even if he did, short relievers would not be as needed for Games 3 and 5 above, so that would end up being fine).

Game 2 would normally be the side-session day for Collmenter and Delgado; same goes for Game 5 for Cahill and Bolsinger. If they’re not used after one day rest, they could be used after two days rest. After that, the opportunity would be gone. I think history has taught us, though, that a pitcher like Collmenter might do best by pitching in two appearances than in pitching the same number of innings in just one — and as someone pointed out on Twitter after I wrote that, giving opposing hitters a different “look” might be maximally effective if Collmenter is a change of pace from a pitcher who’s just pitched before him, in addition to forming a contrast with the pitcher who relieves him.

I like this approach, and I think it’s a reasonable shift, given the circumstances. If Mike Bolsinger doesn’t cut it, there are other pitchers in Reno who could get plugged in for a similar role (if not Charles Brewer, even Will Harris might work out, considering he’s not vulnerable to lefties). What do you think?

14 Responses to Why a Starter-by-Committee Approach May Work for the D-backs

  1. Matt L. Crowley says:

    All excellent points. I would argue that a player like Kershaw actually COULD be utilized in this system as well. If the assumption is that Kershaw’s arm can hande 200+ innings, why can’t he just assume more shifts in the shared rotation? Do we know right now that he can’t handle the same overall inning load, dispersed between multiple appearances per rotation (as opposed to the single appearance per rotation he sees now)? I don’t think we do. And the only way to find out is for someone to test this out.

    The Orioles are another perfect test-case, in my opinion. They have several “failed starters” (Britton, Matusz, Hunter) who are excelling in the bullpen right now, but could probably take on more innings. And they have several “real” starters (Gonzalez, Chen) who really shouldn’t be seeing the lineup more than twice (at most!). If they took your suggested strategy, I find it really hard to imagine them getting less utility out of their pitchers, especially considering they really don’t have a true ace, and maybe only Tillman would fall on the positive side of the “Miley-line”.

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      Matt, thanks, and thanks for reading — I really appreciate you chiming in. This subject has been a pet issue for me for a long time.

      On Kershaw types getting folded in here, I’m just not sure. I did try to keep the implementation challenges out of the main part of the analysis, but I confess that’s partly why I came out that way. I agree, and I think if teams adopted this approach, that would start to happen with the pitchers who come up — they’d pitch 5 innings per start, maybe. I agree with you completely, I’m just not sure anyone would ever be willing to take the leap necessary to test it out. Fortunately, starter-by-committee can handle one “full” starter (but not two). But it comes at a cost of a roster spot (you’d still really need 10 guys in the starter mill), so it would cost you Benefit #9.

      As for the Orioles — brilliant. Great idea. The more I think about it, the greater the fit seems. And Buck Showalter might be one of the few old school managers that would at least consider it.

  2. Jeff Wiser says:

    Very well done, Ryan! For some reason, this reminds me of how hockey teams employ “lines” and that it’s most productive for even the best players to see the ice perhaps more regularly for short-ish stints rather than fewer long ones. There is surely something to be said for having your guys pitching effectively with high frequency.

    Given all of the replacement level pitchers in the majors and in AAA for the D’backs, this makes total sense. While the talent level the team has available on the mound is a problem in of itself, limiting exposure could surely help mitigate the damage. As it turns out, the kind of pitchers they have aren’t well suited for the standard pitching rotation, but what you’re alluding to here could be very useful given what Arizona has at its disposal.

    I’m still not sure if it’s the ideal set-up long term, but I fully acknowledge that it might be. Great job with this!

  3. Kevin says:

    Didn’t Colorado try something like this a couple years ago, and didn’t it back fire terribly?

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      Yes– they tried a 4 man rotation, limiting their starters to 70 pitches. I’d argue they didn’t go far enough. But ultimately, it’s just like when Boston tried closer by committee: if you don’t have the talent to back it up, it might not work.

  4. Kevin says:

    Here’s a link to an article on Colorado’s “Four Man Rotation,” very similar to what you wrote about.


  5. by jiminy says:

    I’ve seen this tossed around before and always thought it sounded sensible — but I really like how you laid out all the pro’s and cons.

    I think the transition if anything might be easier than you think. Why not just start by yanking pitchers earlier and using more long-relief types, gradually?

    As you say, a lot of relievers are failed or recently injured starters who are being stashed in the bullpen as swingman/long-relief guys. If you didn’t reduce the pitching staff numbers right away, you could transition to more long-relief and fewer short-relief types in the bullpen, and then start using them earlier and earlier. Sort of Colorado-ish, but nothing formal. Just tell all your starters to pull out all the stops, you’re going to yank them early, and tell all your not-quite starters don’t worry, you’ll all get plenty of innings — then start swapping then in for each other after five, then four innings, or at the first sign of trouble. I think they’d grow to like it, if the alternative was rotting in the pen. You pitch three or four innings well, then get swapped for another guy, knowing you’ll do the same in a few days yourself. What’s not to like? And if you hit trouble after three, or even two innings, they don’t leave you in to work it out, or to save the bullpen, they say, this isn’t your day, go get ’em in two days. Your ERA would probably benefit because there would never be a long leash, ever. You’d never be left out there to mop up innings and let your ERA take a hit for the team.

    Young or un-established guys would like it just fine, as it gets them major league innings a lot faster. The people who would probably dislike it most are established, successful starters, or quality prospects with dreams of Cy Young awards. But I don’t think you’d have to do this with say Arroyo just because you were doing it with everyone else. And the ambitious youngsters may even get paid more sooner, as their stats would be artificially inflated and they’d get offers from other teams as starters.

    I’m a Twins fan, I just came here because it was a good read. But they do this all the time to break in young pitchers. Johan Santana, for example, rotted in the bullpen for two years before finally being given a shot to start. It drove bloggers so crazy there was a “free Johan Santana” movement. Of course some could argue that it worked just fine — especially for him. It cost the team some service time, but it kept him successful at every stage and he cleaned up in free agency. Other players given a shot at they rotation right away tend to struggle for a while. Okay this is not at all stats based, sorry, perhaps not the right argument to make here without all the proper caveats, so let me just say, this would need to be tested statistically etc. But I would not be surprised to find that the facts bear out that a young pitcher in his first year in the starting rotation tends to hit some road bumps. And limiting his innings probably eases the transition to the major leagues.

    So for any young team with decent prospects in the minors, giving a whole bunch of them a shot at once with fewer innings could well work better, and maybe even keep them happier, than making them wait their turn for years for a chance at the starting rotation, which very likely would be too hard for them at first.

    The total wild card to me is if they’d get even better once they were put on a regular schedule this way, or whether that’s not actually necessary and you could mix and match as desired. If knowing the day you’ll pitch is important, a gradual transition is harder. If it’s not, it’s easy. And even set slots don’t insure you won’t have to pitch in relief in between, so maybe it’s not so black and white.

    I think it would be cool to see this tried, even casually and ad hoc. I hope someone does it. Probably easiest for an AL team, at first, because until you reduce the pitching staff, all those pinch hitting opportunities would go underutilized. With a DH, you don’t have to worry about all the pitcher at bats, and you can just start converting short relievers and failed starters to long-relief/swingmen, and see what happens.

  6. by jiminy says:

    Just read that Colorado article — thanks!

    They want to try a four day rotation with two four inning guys, and keep a few short relievers.

    They sometimes use the short reliever between long men, i.e. if the first starter is in trouble, you play matchups with your ace closer for two batter to get out of a jam, then give starter number two his shot with a clean slate.

    Most important, though, is that their main rationale was not even on your list of eleven advantages!

    Their primary hope in making this switch is to limit injuries. They think pitching long games, or pitching 200 innings in a year, contributes to their bad injury history with starters. If never doing either really cuts down injuries, as most people think it would, that could make the whole thing worthwhile on its own!

  7. […] Inside The Zona says a starter-by-committee approach could work for the D’Backs. […]

  8. Matthew says:

    As a Cardinal fan, I thought very long and hard about this in the offseason. We came into camp with 8-10 legitimate Major League starting candidates, 4 of them solidified in the rotation(Wainwright, Lynn, Miller, Wacha), 1 trying to stay healthy(Garcia), 2 preparing in case he couldn’t(Kelly, Martinez), 2 with the ability to start, but enough success in the bullpen that they would only be candidates in worst case scenarios(Rosenthal, Siegrist) and 1 destined to be the 6th starter in Memphis(Lyons).

    I proposed, for many of the reasons you listed, an 8-man tandem. The only thing I would add to your article is the innings-count flexibility the tandem rotation provides is great.

    I believe Wainwright could still pitch 200+ innings in such a system. Pitching every 4th day instead of every 5th day, a starter would get 40 appearances(41 for #1-#2). If Wainwright were to throw 5 innings every 4th day and 6 on the occasion that an off day meant 4 days rest, or the occasion that his pitch count is at 50 after the 5th, you’re only losing 10-20 innings. Even the lost innings can have a benefit when the postseason comes, as Wainwright had a very heavy workload last season.

    Wainwright is a guy you want throwing 200+ innings. When I think of the rest of the rotation, this is what looks to the naked eye to be ideal:

    Wainwright: 220
    Lynn: 200
    Miller: 180
    Wacha: 180
    Garcia: 160
    Kelly: 160
    Martinez: 120
    Rosenthal: 120

    All you do to get the desired result is look at it on an 8-game schedule.

    Game 1: Wainwright 6/Rosenthal 3
    Game 2: Lynn 5/Martinez 3/Siegrist 1
    Game 3: Miller 5/Kelly 4
    Game 4: Wacha 4/Garcia 4/Motte 1
    Game 5: Wainwright 5/Rosenthal 3/Siegrist 1
    Game 6: Lynn 5/Martinez 3/Motte 1
    Game 7: Kelly 4/Miller 4/Siegrist 1
    Game 8: Wacha 5/Garcia 4

    This also makes for a 10-man pitching staff, but you’d definitely make it 11 in case of injury, extra innings, etc. The great thing here is that you have the flexibility to “promote” guys by giving them extra innings here and there if they succeed or taking them away when they fail.

    Another benefit is the way you could play matchups. Say I’m going into a 3-game set against the Reds in 2013. The first 4 hitters are Choo-Phillips-Votto-Bruce, likely. I’m opening(not “starting”) Siegrist Game 1, Choate(my 11th man) Game 2, and Siegrist again Game 3. Why the first inning? Bringing in a LOOGY in the 8th/9th to face Choo gives Price the option of pinch-hitting. Choo’s abysmal vs LHP, not a great defender, and this is probably his last PA of the day anyway- it makes sense to counter my move and take Choo out. Now I’m facing R-R-L-L to open instead of L-R-L-L, a big difference. But in the 1st, to take Choo out means losing him for the entire game, likely 3-4 more PA that would be against my RH “starters”. Being able to deploy this tactic may save me a run or two over the course of the season.

  9. rxbrgr says:

    How would current starting pitchers react to being unable in most cases to record the Win stat. While of course that stat is proven to carry any real value, it does bring the pitcher value on the market. A team can get a lot more free agency buzz for the fans to get excited about and buy tickets when they sign a 14-game winner rather than a 3-game winner.

  10. Taeniatherum says:

    Fun, creative idea but really only suited to teams that are more interested in creativity than winning. I love this type of thought experiment but it’s hard to imagine a big league franchise going all in (and you can’t go halfway). To wit:
    1) You mentioned this but it’s important: You are essentially turning your back forever on the true ace pitcher, whether in FA or even your own system. Why confine a future stud like Bradley to this model? Perhaps you trade him to get back a bunch of players who fit it better? The GM who did so would have solid brass balls.
    2) One of the biggest differences between starters and relievers is L/R splits. Managers often load their lineup with LH batters vs. RH starters (and vice versa) and the starter has to face them 18-20 times. Conversely, relievers often only face same-handed batters, disguising this flaw. One possible advantage of your system would be switching from LHP to RHP to LHP approximately each time through the lineup. However if one of your pitchers has the classic reliever’s flaw of bad L/R splits, there’s the potential for a big burst of scoring against him.
    3) How would it play at the box office? Some fans would be intrigued, some would see it as too gimmicky. I’m intrigued but at the same time I’m also a guy who plans his outings by who’s starting that day (I live in Reno and am planning much of this year around Bradley). The bottom line is it would have to work (i.e result in wins, playoff appearances, rings). Would it?
    3a) There’s absolutely no way of knowing if it could. Again, the entire FO would need solid brass balls as it would be an experiment that would require several years to even see if it worked. And then several more to change the whole organization back if it doesn’t. That’s a long time for a fan base (and ownership) to watch an experiment.
    4) You mention the D-Backs as team that could try this but mainly b/c they stink this April (and have been mediocre for several years). Is that enough to shift gears completely and build around the strengths of the mediocre players currently on the roster? The lower-risk, more-likely-reward move is to get a new GM who’s a better talent evaluator.
    4a) If not the D-Backs, then who? Tampa, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Atlanta all made the playoffs last year with lower salaries than Arizona’s (Atlanta’s was about the same). You can hardly find teams more frugal than Tampa and Oakland and they’ve been doing just fine within the conventional system by doing a stellar job of talent evaluation and development.
    5) Drawback #2 is huge. Defying convention when it comes to people’s bodies is pretty bold. You honestly can’t know if it would ruin a bunch of kids’ careers. How would that affect a team’s ability to sign draft picks?
    6) I still love the idea, however flawed, so here’s a suggestion to incorporate it into the conventional system. Instead of 5 starters and 7 relievers You have 4 and 8. Three of those relievers are guys like you propose that combine to be a 5th starter, throwing 40-50 pitches every 5th-6th day and complementing each other. You still have a closer and 4 other set-up guys who are good for 2-4 solid outs about every other day. Plus, your 3-headed 5th starter would be available for duty in between “starts” because of their lighter work load. Say the first or second guy is really hot and gets through 5 or 6 innings instead of just 3. The third guy is going to pitch only an inning or not at all and be available the next day or day after, potentially for long work. It also gives the manager the flexibility to demote one of the four starters to the 3-headed 5th starter spot and promote one of the 3 heads to be a regular starter, based on performance. Indeed, it could be a good way to break in young pitchers like Bradley when they are first adjusting to big-league batters.
    Thanks for the thought-provoking idea!

  11. […] almost two weeks ago, Bolsinger, Collmenter, Trevor Cahill and Randall Delgado could be used well splitting starts in tandem. Baseball is an art, but it’s part science, […]

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