The argument for a six-man rotation

With Spring Training right around the corner (pitchers and catchers report February 13th), the Yankees still have a lot of question marks regarding the starting rotation. It is by far the biggest weak spot on the team and it doesn’t look like it is going to get better anytime soon. For now, the rotation includes Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda as the first three starters, and Luis Severino is all but guaranteed the fourth spot. One problem that is being overlooked is the overall health of the rotation, with the majority of them having past health problems in recent seasons. I think utilizing a six-man rotation will be beneficial to everyone in the rotation as the Yankees continue to rebuild for the future.
Photo Credit: Kim Klement | USA TODAY Sports

With the amount of injuries to pitchers in today’s game I’m genuinely surprised that more teams in Major League Baseball don’t use a six-man rotation. It seems like once week during the season a pitcher goes down with an elbow injury, usually requiring Tommy John Surgery. Masahiro Tanaka narrowly avoided needing the surgery during the 2014 season and again in early 2015. A common thought is that that his arm was not used to the workload of the five-man rotation because, in Japan the six-man is much more prevalent. In Nippon Professional Baseball (Japan’s MLB), teams play six games a week, with every Monday off, totaling to 146 games a season. This is obviously very different from the MLB’s 162-game schedule where every team’s schedule and off days differ.

But despite the five man rotation last year, Tanaka flew under the radar last season as one of the league’s best pitchers. He posted a 3.07 ERA with a 14-4 record in 31 starts and 199.2 innings pitched. Tanaka even received a little Cy Young consideration. The six-man rotation is something that Tanaka is already used to from playing in Japan and it would be good for his long-term health.

CC Sabathia has had his fair share of injuries in recent seasons. The southpaw will be 37 in July and his age is starting to show. In both 2014 and 2015 CC ended the season needing surgery to clean out his knee. 

However, Sabathia was the definition of a workhorse in his early years with the Yankees. He pitched over 230 innings in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and 200+ innings in 2012 and ’13. Then in 2014, the injuries started to emerge and CC only pitched in eight total games all season. Going to a six-man rotation can help keep Sabathia fresh all season by giving his body more rest. He has lost a significant amount of velocity on his fastball, probably from wear and tear over the years, and now he finds himself having to throw a lot more pitches to compensate for it. The extra rest would be good for his arm and knee and hopefully make him more efficient in pitches thrown per inning.

Then there is also Michael Pineda, who had surgery in 2012 to repair a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. Pineda then suffered setback after setback before making a full recovery prior to the 2015 season. He struggled in both 2015 and 2016 but maybe pitching every six days instead of five could help improve his performance, giving him more time off between starts.

The argument against the six-man rotation is a simple one; the Yankees would have to sacrifice a roster spot to use in the rotation. And there would also be the task of finding an additional starting pitcher – meaning the Yankees would have to find a fifth and sixth starter – who is comfortable and efficient in the role. Before the new CBA was signed in December, the Major League Baseball Player’s Association turned down the idea of having 26-man rosters in the future. Adding another man to the roster would have made this argument a lot easier heading into 2017. I am a fan of the move and I do believe it will happen in the next CBA. If the rosters do get an additional player, I think a lot of teams will begin to utilize the six-man rotation to try to reduce the number of injuries in pitchers.

Going into 2016, a six-man rotation could be beneficial to Tanaka, Sabathia, and Pineda, along with the younger guys in the farm system. There would be a significant drop in innings pitched and pitches thrown, and each pitcher would obviously get more rest. If a six-man rotation is implemented each pitcher would have five less starts, roughly 500 pitches (assuming 100 pitches per outing) per season. By using a six-man rotation the Yankees can still compete, the extra rest would hopefully make pitchers sharper and more accurate with their pitches. The move could also help the bullpen, as the extra rest would allow for pitchers to go deeper into the games saving the bullpen for the later innings. As the weak spot of the team, the Yankees need the rotation to be as healthy and rested as possible for this season and seasons in the near future.

Article by: Paul Alvaro


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