Another look at whether the five-man rotation makes sense.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to answer a question. Fifty years ago, it was routine for teams to carry only four starters, and for those four starters to complete a good chunk of their games. Pitching on three days’ rest was common, and pitchers regularly posted pitch counts that would get a manager fired today if he let it happen once. What happened?
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
Does the five-man rotation decrease the risk of pitcher injury?
Last time we met, we contemplated the curious case of the fifth starter. He is, somewhat by definition, worse than the other four guys who might otherwise be starting tonight’s game. Yet there he is, standing out there for the next 3 1/3 innings until he inevitably gets chased after giving up his sixth run. Why not just skip this exercise in futility and let the other (better) guys pitch the game? Last week, we saw that pitchers didn’t suffer much from going on three days’ rest. It was a high pitch count in his last outing that was a problem. If pitchers have, historically, performed just as well on three days’ rest as four, why is baseball so afraid to go back to the four-man rotation?
Lately, I’ve been wondering about the development of the modern pitching staff. I’ve looked at how we got to the point where no one completes a game anymore and why pitch counts have fallen over the years. Here’s another. What happened to the four-man starting rotation? It used to be that a team had four starters, each of whom pitched on three days’ rest…or so the story goes. There were always days off and travel days, and then there were doubleheaders, so there were swingmen who picked up the occasional start. While we can’t yet be sure what happened, we at least have an idea of when it happened. Here’s a chart showing the percentage of starts featuring a pitcher who was on three days of rest (or fewer) from 1950 to 2012.
How has the Rockies' four-man rotation experiment panned out so far?
In June, you'll recall, the Colorado Rockies announced that they would be going to a four-man rotation, with each pitcher limited to 75 pitches. Josh Outman was the first pitcher to start in the new format, and the consequences of the Rockies’ shift were immediate: lots of people became aware that Josh Outman was pitching for the Rockies now. In the Seth Smith trade? You don’t say!
It’s still too soon to say what the four-man rotation—with 75-pitch limits on the starters—has wrought, and will wrou... uhh... whatever the heck the infinitive of wrought is. Work? It seems to be work. Wrought seems to be the past tense of work. Forget it.
The Rockies have tried to make a four-man rotation work before.
While looking toward the future with our comprehensive slate of current content, we'd also like to recognize our rich past by drawing upon our extensive (and mostly free) online archive of work dating back to 1997. In an effort to highlight the best of what's gone before, we'll be bringing you a weekly blast from BP's past, introducing or re-introducing you to some of the most informative and entertaining authors who have passed through our virtual halls. If you have fond recollections of a BP piece that you'd like to nominate for re-exposure to a wider audience, send us your suggestion.
This season isn't the first time the Rockies have experimented with a four-man rotation: they tried it in 2004, too. It didn't make much sense then, either, as Rany opined in the piece reprinted below, was which was originally published on May 3, 2004
Josh Outman didn't get to finish his fifth inning, despite being up by eight. Will this be the sort of conflict that dooms the Rockies' four-man rotation?
You don't care whether Josh Outman gets credited with a victory, but Josh Outman cares whether he gets credited with a victory. On Saturday, with his pitch count well past the limit his manager has set for his new four-man starting rotation, Outman was pulled from his start. He was leading by eight runs, with two outs in the fifth inning and, therefore, an out short of getting credit for the win. He became the first starter since at least 2000 (as far as I went back) to leave a game with two outs in the fifth inning while leading by at least eight runs.
"I felt we had to do something non-conventional," said Tracy of his beleaguered pitching staff that includes a reliever Josh Roenicke who has thrown more innings than one of the team's starters. "I was given the opportunity to tweak this. We are going to see what transpires as we move forward."
Does a recent rash of experimentation with six-man rotations make sense, and is it likely to be emulated in future seasons?
People love to label phases and eras, so few periods in baseball have gone without names. The 2010 season will be known as the Year of the Pitcher, if last year’s coverage is any indication, just as the Dead-Ball Era lives on nearly a century later. If the first half of the 2011 season comes away with a nickname, history will have to choose between three compelling options: the Year of the Pitcher II, the Summer of Geriatric Managers, and the Invasion of the Six-Man Rotations. Sequels suck and demographics matter, leaving the latter as the most logical choice. The Yankees have thought about going to a six-man rotation, and the Athletics will use one—at least for a week—and when the rich and smart kids are thinking about making a particular move, then it’s time to talk about it.
The most effective means of using starting pitchers has always been a hot topic in the sabermetric community, and it’s inextricably tied to workloads, which in turn inevitably leads back to a discussion of optimal rotation size. In Baseball Between The Numbers, Prospectus alum Keith Woolner wrote about the advantages in going to a four-man rotation—citing, among other reasons, fewer starts going to poor fifth starters and an extra roster spot (Rany Jazayerli hit on similar points during his series in 2002). Another sabermetric publication, The Book (by Tom Tango, Andrew Dolphin, and Mitchel Lichtman), also addressed the topic. Within, the trio suggests that the optimal rest period is five days, while the worst is three days—concluding that four days of rest, the amount currently employed by most teams, is a good compromise.
Lima Time as a standard for evaluation, reinforcing the Red Sox, the Tigers slip by an Inge, and more.
Using a pitcher's rate of SNLVAR, Kazmir's season has been a disaster of massive proportions, one that rates about 4.8 on the Keough scale, something that for the moment suits my purposes for describing starting pitcher inadequacy, using Matt Keough's appalling 1982 season as a baseline for starting pitcher-related terrors visited upon a team's unhappy fans over a full season. This isn't really especially fair of me, in that Keough doesn't hold the single-season low for a starter with 30 starts in a campaign, but 1982 was a horrifying disappointment, and the man was beaten with a regularity that made me think that he was the drum, and the entire American League was Keith Moon.
The Transaction Analysis you have been waiting for. Saunders. Izturis. Guzman. Cormier. Hernandez. Reyes. The names are all here, and only Christina can sort out the right from wrong, and the stupid from the just obtuse.