The New York Yankees might well consider moving to a six-man rotation for the 2018 season. There are a lot of ifs, and, and buts attached to executing the plan, but it makes complete sense in the short term. And if it happens, it’s about time.
New York Yankees fans will probably not recall a piece written by MLB.com’s Terrence Moore titled, “Six-man rotation becoming a dangerous trend” in which he expresses the fear that cancer is spreading throughout baseball and it needs to be halted in its tracks.
Notably, the story was published, not yesterday, but in 2012 when the then-manager of the Atlanta Braves, Fredi Gonzalez, announced with firmness his team would be adopting a six-man rotation as soon as one of their injured pitchers returned to the team.
The trend Moore and others feared never took hold, lasting about as long as Gonzalez did with the Braves. But according to a report in the New York Daily News, at least one of their potential starters in 2018 wouldn’t mind at all if the Yankees went to a six-man rotation. More on that later.
Yankees double-down on latest trend
The Yankees always seem to be on the precipice of carrying a trend in baseball to the extreme and making it work to their advantage. The championship earned by the Kansas City Royals in 2015 sent out smoke signals that a new wave accenting a team’s bullpen was upon us.
Two years later, Brian Cashman doubled down on “the trend” at the trade deadline last season, loading up with David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle and adding to a relief corps which already included Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, Chad Green, and the $86 million man, Aroldis Chapman.
But a new wrinkle is being thrown into the equation that could change everything. Much of it is dependent on what happens with Shohei Ohtani and whether or not the Yankees bring him into the fold as a dual-edged All-Star caliber player.
The other wild card in this scenario is CC Sabathia, who indicated to Mike Mazzeo in Wednesday’s New York Daily News that while his agent has yet to speak to Brian Cashman regarding a return to the Yankees on a one-year, he is hopeful and looks forward to re-joining the teams that almost made it.
Moreover, Sabathia has no objection if the Yankees decide to go to a six-man rotation, saying, “At this point, with my age, yeah, I don’t care. That is what it is. The more rest for me, the better.”
Here’s the point, though. Sabathia could have said, the more rest for everybody, the better. Luis Severino is a horse, much like Sabathia, but he was running on fumes by the end of the season and on into the playoffs. Jordan Montgomery caught a second wind at the end, but it was forced, and hopefully, the consequences do not show up in 2018.
And here’s the kicker. Japanese ballclubs also have, primarily, a five-man starting rotation. But on Mondays, there are no games scheduled — ever. The result being starters in Japan get a built-in “extra day” between starts.
Obviously, we don’t have that here, but the Yankees have been ignoring the fact by gently forcing Masahiro Tanaka to accommodate himself to our style of play. Tanaka, operating within Japan’s cultural mode of accepting authority, has complied. The results for Tanaka have been mixed, and no definitive difference between 5-day rest and 6-day rests is glaring in anything I could find when the Yankees schedule has allowed the extra day.
With the addition of Ohtani, and let’s face it, folks, he’s going to be playing at Yankee Stadium, the need for a six-man rotation accelerates, especially if he’s going to be the two-way player the Yankees dream of him being.
Yankees: Thinking smart again
Here’s the thing. If the Yankees are going to barrel through the 2018 season as expected, the primary focus of the front office needs to be preserving the starting rotation, so they have only their best to offer in the playoffs.
Overall, the difference, minus personal stats, for a starter like Luis Severino between 30 and 35 starts is minimal when you consider the upside of his innings total for the regular season is decreasing by a minimum of 30 innings.
Thirty innings may not seem like a lot until you add in all of Spring Training and the countless bullpen sessions someone like Severino and the others have thrown over the course of a seven-month marathon, only to be greeted by the need to raise it all to the highest limits in the playoffs.
Bill James weighs in
Much like the Braves experiment with the six-man rotation, it’s been back to “normal” quickly and no “trend” ever fully developed. Bill James reminds us, too, the “normal” starting staff of most teams used to be four, and before that, even a three-man rotation. That all changed in the mid-1970’s and beyond. James argues there were three stages which brought us to where we are now:
“1) Switch from the four-man to a five-man rotation (1974 to 1985), 2) Imposition of starting pitcher limits (1986 to 1991), and 3) Pitch limits walked backward (1990 to 2008).”
These elements are still present in baseball today. And some, like the almighty pitch count, has reached the stage of being a mortal sin if not adhered to.
But the idea of a forward-looking team like the Yankees testing the waters to re-introduce an old idea to baseball in a new form and for new reasons is not only intriguing but welcome in an age in baseball where definitive change is fleeting and masked in the form of teams trying to make us believe in “change” and something is real, when it is not.
CC Sabathia has weighed in with a positive note, but more discussion with the Yankee’s organization is needed. It would be helpful, for instance, to hear from the Yankees pitching coach, Larry Rothschild. Plus the elephant in the room, the new Yankees manager replacing Joe Girardi.
At least, the discussion about the Yankees using a six-man rotation in 2018 is brewing. Hopefully, it stays in the spotlight where it belongs. Because over the long haul of a season, you want your best at the end when it counts.