The Merits of a Six-Man Rotation: Why The Phillies Should Consider it for the Short-Term

Posted by Laurie Dougherty

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It is mid-August and the Philadelphia Phillies have had an amazing season thus far. They have arguably the best rotation in baseball. Following the games of August 17, 2011, the Phillies have an 8 ½ game lead on the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. Talk has surfaced in the media about the idea of using a 6-man rotation in the short-term to give the starters extra rest heading into the playoffs. I am going to explore the merits and downsides of such an approach and why I think it would make sense for the Phillies to do this in the short-term.

PROS:

  1. Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are first and second, respectively, in innings pitched in the NL, with Cole Hamels sixth. It’s pretty much a lock that the Phillies will be playing in October. Right now, Cole Hamels is going to miss a start because of shoulder inflammation anyway. Giving the starters some extra rest before the playoffs would be a good thing.
  2. Starters would be able to go deeper because they’ll have an extra day rest. This is not as much of an issue for the Phillies because Halladay, Lee and Hamels typically go deep into their starts anyway. But for Roy Oswalt, who is trying to build himself back up after being on the disabled list for over a month, and Vance Worley, who is probably looking to secure a spot in the rotation for 2012, the chance to pitch 7, 8 or even 9 innings would be good for them.
  3. It preserves the team’s investment in their starters. The Phillies have a lot of money invested in Halladay and Lee alone and Hamels will be looking to cash in during the offseason as well considering the season he is having. Plus, with the increased number of pitchers facing Tommy John surgery, doesn’t it make sense to try and stretch out your rotation if you can so that they can pitch an extra year or maybe even two?
  4. The team actually has 6 decent starting pitchers! As much as he has been maligned, Kyle Kendrick has been a serviceable starter and has actually pitched some good games this year for the Fightin’ Phils. Go to the Phillies website and check out his lines for the following games: 5/7 vs Atlanta, 6/9 vs Chicago Cubs (cut short by rain delay), 6/15 vs Florida, 7/17 vs NY Mets and perhaps his best game, 8/2 vs Colorado. The likelihood is he will not be on the postseason roster so why not give him some extra work now?

CONS:

  1. It will disrupt the “routine” of the veterans like Halladay and Lee. As we have seen since he arrived, Roy Halladay is a creature of habit and has a very strict routine that he follows before and after his starts. However, because baseball can get “rained out” sometimes, it may give pitchers an extra day of rest anyway. It happened earlier this week for Halladay! He went out on Tuesday night instead of Sunday and although it ended up being a loss, he pitched a complete game gem with 14 strikeouts. It is ludicrous to me to suggest that Halladay could not “adjust” to an extra day of rest for 2 or maybe even 3 cycles of the rotation.
  2. The bullpen will be left short. Another issue that is not really an issue for the Phillies because they have a strong bullpen, even without Jose Contreras. While Kendrick would be shifted out of the “long man” role, the Phillies just called up reliever Michael Schwimer to take the place of Placido Polanco on the roster. Additionally, on September 1st, rosters expand to 40 men so the Phillies will likely have Dave Bush (who they just signed to a minor league deal), Drew Carpenter, Scott Mathieson, Drew Naylor and Mike Zagurski available to them in case Kendrick, Worley, or Oswalt falter in one of their starts. If Cole is going to miss more than one start, Bush might be an option to take his place rather than Kendrick.
  3. You want your aces to pitch as much as possible. While this is true, as mentioned above, the Phillies have a large lead in the NL East. If Atlanta closes the gap and makes things interesting over the next few weeks, having Kendrick out there for a start when it should be Halladay’s turn could make a difference, no question. But after watching Halladay labor in game 5 of last year’s NLCS against the Giants, I would rather see my aces be fresh for the playoffs. Perhaps if the lead over the Braves was 5 games or less, I would feel differently.

The Chicago White Sox have used a 6-man rotation this year because of  Jake Peavy’s fragility. It has worked for them and right now they are only 3 ½ games out of the division lead in the AL Central.  As I mentioned at the beginning, I don’t see this as a long-term strategy for the Phillies, just a short-term measure to keep the arms of our “horses” fresh. The shoulder inflammation Hamels is experiencing is concerning to me but if he needs to miss more than one start, calling up Dave Bush, who they just signed, is  an option. That’s why I strongly feel the Phillies should transition to a 6-man rotation for the next few weeks. I think if our starters are fresh and sharp, it could mean another World Series parade down Broad Street this year!

REFERENCES: 

Browning, W. “Six-man rotation good for Major Leagues: Fan’s take.” Yahoo sports, 6/1/2011 http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=ycn-8569491

Cafardo, N. “Using six starters definitely puts a different spin on rotation.” Boston.com, 6/1/2011. http://articles.boston.com/2011-06-01/sports/29609150_1_josh-beckett-set-up-men-alfredo-aceves

Lavoie, L. “Is The Six-Man Rotation the future of baseball?” Gossip sports, 6/11/2011http://gossipsports.com/is-the-six-man-rotation-the-future-of-baseball/

McCormick, J. “The Phillies Six-Man Solution.” Philadelphia Sports Daily, 8/17/2011http://phillysportsdaily.com/phillies/2011/08/17/the-phillies’-six-man-solution/

Neyer, R. “Is The Six-Man Rotation Here to Stay?” Baseball Nation, 8/2/2011http://mlb.sbnation.com/2011/8/2/2310881/six-man-rotation-analysis-news

Strauss, B. “Is the Six-Man Rotation Here to Stay?” NYTimes.com, 7/15/2011 http://bats.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/15/is-the-six-man-rotation-here-to-stay/

Statistics on Kyle Kendrick taken from http://philadelphia.phillies.mlb.com/team/player.jsp?player_id=452718