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Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Old school? Or innovative? Rays eyeing four-man rotation for full season

Starters are pitching less innings than ever. This makes a lot of sense to me.

The Rays are planning more than just an early-season experiment with a four-man rotation.

Manager Kevin Cash said today they are looking to stick with that plan for the full season – using four starters on a regular basis and filling in on the fifth day with the multi-inning relievers they will have in their bullpen.

The four starters to begin the season are set to be Chris Archer, Blake Snell, Nathan Eovaldi and Jake Faria.

Jim Furtado Posted: March 07, 2018 at 10:17 PM | 27 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: rays

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   1. PreservedFish Posted: March 07, 2018 at 10:22 PM (#5635183)
Cool. Go for it.
   2. Lance Reddick! Lance him! Posted: March 07, 2018 at 10:33 PM (#5635188)
It's not a four-man rotation if every fifth day is a bullpen game.
   3. PreservedFish Posted: March 07, 2018 at 10:42 PM (#5635192)
Oh. Yeah.

Well, even if it's a continuation of all of the trends that we all hate, I'm still interested to see how it works out.

How many innings do they expect to get out of the 5th starter on the bullpen day? 4?
   4. The Ghost of Logan Schafer Posted: March 07, 2018 at 11:09 PM (#5635198)
I'm hoping the Brewers piggyback Suter and Guerra as the 5th starter. 3 nice innings from each.
   5. Walt Davis Posted: March 07, 2018 at 11:55 PM (#5635204)
This sounds like a terrible idea, the worst of both worlds.

This clearly doesn't increase the number of innings pitched by your top 4 starters in their 128 starts a year while you're adding about 160 innings to your bullpen. That's more than two 21st century relief slots and you've only opened up one roster spot.

The Rays were about league average last year with 545 relief innings. This would bring them over 700 and to roughly a 50/50 split between starters and relievers. Assuming they reserve the top 5 slots of standard 1-inning relievers to pitch the typical 340-350 innings of hopefully mostly higher-leverage outings -- i.e. to cover the last 3 innings in the roughly 2/3 of their games where you need decent relief -- that would leave 4 slots covering 350-370 innings (instead of 3 slots covering 200).

Now obviously teams can do all sort of AAA/waiver shuttle stuff but ... there's no evidence relievers can sustain 90+ IP seasons. From 1990-2017 we've only seen 159 such seasons (95% relief so no more than 2-3 starts). Only 52 of those have come after 1999, only 9 in the 2010s. 7 guys in the 200os topped 100, nobody topped 110. The only guy with more than 2 such seasons in the 2000s is Salomon Torres (2004-6). But the Rays are gonna find 4 of these guys?

I'm sure I could have done a better job but I've tried some similar (but not identical) things in DMB and ... it's a pain, you get yourself into all sorts of bullpen management difficulties. So you have 3 guys go 2 innings and 3 guys go one inning each in game 5. You know that most of the time you're gonna need at least 3 relievers in game 6 but, if it's lower-leverage you don't want to use your best guys so you re-use at least a couple of the one-inning guys from game 5. Now in game 7, you've got 1-2 totally fresh relievers and 5 guys who could really use a day off. The fresh guys are pitching regardless of leverage. Now you want to use some of your g5 "starting 3" in g8 but at most for one inning because you're expecting them to go 2 in g10. But you don't want to skip them because you need to keep them on their 90-inning schedule otherwise your good guys will get over-worked.

In short, I found plenty of "g5" days when one of the guys I wanted to use for 2 innings was too tired because I'd had to use him in earlier games. I found plenty of other days when good relievers were pitching meaningless innings either to keep them sharp or because everybody else was tired. Similarly there were regular days when set-up guys were worn out so I had to use lesser guys which lost games ... and meant the lesser guys might not be fresh for g5.

And of course the whole thing gets blown up every time the SP after g5 gets hurt or knocked out early but I guess that's what AAA starters are for.

Anyway, lots of options become possible if you can stretch 4 RPs per team out to 90 innings without losing effectiveness. I can't say it's impossible but I think I can say it's never been done before, at least not for more than a season or two.

And the current system seems nearly ideal as long as you're willing to carry 13 pitchers. You have 5 very effective relievers covering 330-350 innings which are all your high leverage relief innings and some medium leverage innings. Most of the time, at least 3 of those 5 are reasonably fresh. You then have 3 replacement-level, cheap relief slots to soak up lower-leverage innings. Sure, in theory, if you can shift 150 innings from a replacement-level #5 starter to 2 replacement-level relievers you might come better off and probably don't lose anything ... except the roster spot. But I doubt you gain anything -- there's a reliever boost but that reliever boost is primarily from 1-inning usage.

I understand it's not crazy. In one sense all you're asking is for your current #5 SP and your AAAA guy to go from 5 innings, 4-5 days rest, 5 innings, .... to 2 innings, 2 days rest, 1 inning, 1-2 days rest, 2 innings, ... which is twice the appearances but 60% of the innings. That seems doable. But history suggests it's harder than it looks.
   6. ptodd Posted: March 08, 2018 at 12:36 AM (#5635208)
Most teams 5th starter is replacement level so of you have enough BP arms and use the AAA-MLB shuttle it makes sense
   7. Howie Menckel Posted: March 08, 2018 at 01:18 AM (#5635211)
I don't think it's a good idea, but I think they are drawing dead with any other choice.

so I'm saying there's a chance. there are numerous potentially good options - many of which will fail - that mediocre franchises refuse to try.
   8. Walt Davis Posted: March 08, 2018 at 02:48 AM (#5635215)
#6 ... nope, it simply doesn't work. You lose a roster spot, can't keep the shuttle going that actively. No matter how you slice it, you're increasing BP innings by 30% in an era where you've already got an 8-man pen. As I've noted, the last 3 spots in the pen are already pretty much replacement level and you're only asking for about 200 innings out of those last 3 slots. Adding two more slots (and dropping a starter spot) and asking for 360 innings out of your last 5 is not going to help anything and it's going to cost a roster spot.

I'm sure we could all concoct scenarios where it would work. I can see there must be a breaking point something like

1. We'll start the season with our intended 5-man rotation.
2. When the first starter hits the DL, we'll call up SP #6 to take the spot.
3. But if 2 guys hit the DL, then we're gonna try this rather than dip down to SP #7.

Maybe it's not at #7, maybe it's at #8 or maybe for really terrible teams it's #6. Sure, at some point that Xth starter is so horrible you're better off losing a roster spot to the extra reliever.
   9. TomH Posted: March 08, 2018 at 07:58 AM (#5635244)
Maybe their plan is to try this during the early season with more off days, and then re-assess. You have the advantage of keeping guys on a 5-day schedule. You hardly ever need a 5th SP every so often, so instead you are using whoever is fresh. Check out their schedule. Wouldn't you rather have your #5 SP pitch a few short starts and some bullpen than have him start 6-7 times in 36 games???

Thu, Mar 29 1 (maybe only have him go 5 IP)
Fri, Mar 30 2
Sat, Mar 31 3
Sun, Apr 1 4
Mon, Apr 2 1 (short rest)

Wed, Apr 4 2
Thu, Apr 5 3

Sat, Apr 7 4
Sun, Apr 8 1
Mon, Apr 9 2
Tue, Apr 10 3
Wed, Apr 11 4

Fri, Apr 13 1
Sat, Apr 14 2
Sun, Apr 15 3
Mon, Apr 16 4
Tue, Apr 17 bullpen game
Wed, Apr 18 1

Fri, Apr 20 2
Sat, Apr 21 3
Sun, Apr 22 4

Tue, Apr 24 1
Wed, Apr 25 2
Thu, Apr 26 3
Fri, Apr 27 4
Sat, Apr 28 bullpen game
Sun, Apr 29 1
Mon, Apr 30 2
Tue, May 1 3
Wed, May 2 4

Fri, May 4 1
Sat, May 5 2
Sun, May 6 3

Tue, May 8 4
Wed, May 9 1
   10. Nasty Nate Posted: March 08, 2018 at 09:21 AM (#5635281)
It's not a four-man rotation if every fifth day is a bullpen game.
I'm still curious, but it would be a much more interesting story if they actually were doing a four-man rotation. Before i read the story, i was picturing a 39-start, 195-inning season.
   11. Zonk is a Doorknob Whisperer Posted: March 08, 2018 at 09:32 AM (#5635287)
#6 ... nope, it simply doesn't work. You lose a roster spot, can't keep the shuttle going that actively. No matter how you slice it, you're increasing BP innings by 30% in an era where you've already got an 8-man pen. As I've noted, the last 3 spots in the pen are already pretty much replacement level and you're only asking for about 200 innings out of those last 3 slots. Adding two more slots (and dropping a starter spot) and asking for 360 innings out of your last 5 is not going to help anything and it's going to cost a roster spot.


Right - the shuttle needs some "injuries" to be able to run that smoothly... A "bullpen day" isn't a season long solution because you're basically stuck with "relievers" who are still going to need an extended rest window before/after. That "window" being say, ~2 days doesn't really buy you much that just making one of them the 5th starter wouldn't.

What's the shuttle rule? 10 days? Or is it more? You might be able to pick some spots - i.e., use Tom H's schedule above - where it works... but it just seems like all you're doing is costing yourself with a short bullpen on the "SP" days.

One thing that might make more sense -- if you had two guys like say, Mike Montgomery (like say, Monty and Brad Peacock?) - you could make them "co-5th starters" but still available for an inning or so around their "shared" starts (probably works best if you have a lefty and righty). You'd still want to play it by ear, though - how rested is the remainder of the bullpen, etc.
   12. PreservedFish Posted: March 08, 2018 at 09:40 AM (#5635293)
I'm not familiar with all of the Rays' pitchers, but several of those named as "bullpen day" candidates are actually starters. If you start Anthony Banda, who's really not a bad prospect (considered a future #3/4 starter), and he throws 4 shutout innings, are you really gonna take him out? The Rays would need a lot of weird discipline to stick with this plan.
   13. Rally Posted: March 08, 2018 at 10:19 AM (#5635316)
If you start Anthony Banda, who's really not a bad prospect (considered a future #3/4 starter), and he throws 4 shutout innings, are you really gonna take him out? The Rays would need a lot of weird discipline to stick with this plan.


Last year they had 4 games where the starting pitcher did not allow a run, but still left the game before completing 5 innings.
   14. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 08, 2018 at 11:27 AM (#5635382)
The four starters to begin the season are set to be Chris Archer, Blake Snell, Nathan Eovaldi and Jake Faria.

Is this really a better plan then just sticking Andriese in the #5 spot? The guy has been perfectly cromulent in his career: 4.35 ERA, 4.22 FIP. Zips and Steamer both project him to 125 IP worth about 1.5 wins.

That's a perfectly good #5 starter.
   15. Zonk is a Doorknob Whisperer Posted: March 08, 2018 at 12:03 PM (#5635424)
If the Rays are rebuilding, and it sure seems like they are, it's doubly stupid not to run all of your AAAA chaff through the #5 spot - and for that matter, do some bulk scrap heap buys too just in case someone proves useful enough to be flipped for a lottery ticket.
   16. PreservedFish Posted: March 08, 2018 at 12:09 PM (#5635433)
Well, there's value to experimenting now with a strategy that might be worthwhile when they're a good team.
   17. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 08, 2018 at 12:12 PM (#5635435)
Well, there's value to experimenting now with a strategy that might be worthwhile when they're a good team.

Good players beat good strategy in baseball. I'd run Banda and Andries out there (and if they fail, the rest of my AAA rotation) and see if I can find a good SP.
   18. BDC Posted: March 08, 2018 at 12:42 PM (#5635464)
What was the last team truly to use a four-man rotation? This is not an easy item to search for, because true 4-man rotations where all four stayed healthy all season were barely ever achieved: really only by a few of the 1960s Dodgers 1970s Orioles teams. (One problem is in finding four pitchers who deserve to stay in rotation for 162 games, even for really strong clubs.)

I think one candidate would be the 1982 Blue Jays, where Stieb, Clancy, and Leal truly stayed on an every-fourth-game rotation all season, and the fourth spot was held by random applicants. (Bizarrely, the Opening Day starter for the '82 Jays was somebody named Mark Bomback, who dutifully pitched every fourth game till the middle of May and then disappeared from the major leagues forever.)

This question has little to do with the Rays' idea, which is a 4-man but 5-game rotation. It's just something that the recurring suggestion of a "4-man rotation" brings to mind.
   19. jacksone (AKA It's OK...) Posted: March 08, 2018 at 12:47 PM (#5635474)
Blake Snell, Nathan Eovaldi and Jake Faria.


Archer is a very good bet to go for 200 innings, but how many innings can the Rays realistically get out of the other 3? 350?
   20. Zonk is a Doorknob Whisperer Posted: March 08, 2018 at 12:51 PM (#5635478)
I seem to very vaguely recall Earl Weaver tried to go back to a 4-man rotation during his sad-sack return engagement to the O's dugout, but a check of the 85/86 Orioles pages tells me my recollection is incorrect.

I do recall Rick Sutcliffe making a big stink about 5 man rotations in 1984 - and without looking too deeply at it, I think the Cubs tried to stick with a 4 man as much as possible once the various trades settled the rotation by July.
   21. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 08, 2018 at 01:00 PM (#5635490)
What was the last team truly to use a four-man rotation? This is not an easy item to search for, because true 4-man rotations where all four stayed healthy all season were barely ever achieved: really only by a few of the 1960s Dodgers 1970s Orioles teams. (One problem is in finding four pitchers who deserve to stay in rotation for 162 games, even for really strong clubs.)

A lot of teams also used 4.5 man rotations, using off days to skip the 5th SP as often as possible. This was easier BITD when there were more off-days due to train travel.

Even the strict 4/4.5 man rotation was pretty much a 1960's phenomenon. Before then, there was lots of mix and matching with all the off days and double headers.

The early 50's Yankee dynasty is known for strong pitching, and a big-3 of Reynolods, Raschi, Lopat, but their usage pattern is all over the place.

1949 Pretty close to a 4 man, but only Raschi gets the full boat 37 GS, Lopat, reynolds, and Byrnes are all at 30-31, but then 5 others had 11,8,3,3, and 2 GS.

1950 Reynolds, Raschi, Lopat and Byrnes are all between 29-32 GS. Ford and Sanford get 12 each, and 3 others get 4,3,1

1951 all hell breaks loose. Raschi gets 34, Lopat 31, Reynolds only 26, plus 14 G in relief (6 Svs), Morgan 16, and 10 others get starts: 11,8,6,4,4,3,3,3,3, and 2 GS.

1952 Raschi is high with only 31, Reynolds gets 29 +6 SVs, Lopat 19, sain 16 +7 SVs, Morgan 12, Miller 13, Kyzaga 12, and 7 others go 6,5,4,2,2,2,1

1953 Ford is back from the Army, but only gets 30 GS to lead the team. Raschi 26, Lopat 24, McDonald 18, Reynolds 15 +13 SVs, Sain 19 +7 SVs,and 7 others with 6,4,3,3,1,1,1.


   22. Nasty Nate Posted: March 08, 2018 at 01:06 PM (#5635500)
I think in the mid-80's, it wasn't uncommon for teams to at least do part of the season using a 4-man rotation. E.G., It looks like in 1986, the Reds and the Braves both had 4-man rotations for the first few months of the year.
   23. Batman Posted: March 08, 2018 at 01:32 PM (#5635516)
The 1993 Braves had a 4.5 man rotation, skipping fifth starter Pete Smith and then Kent Mercker whenever possible. Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, and Avery started 142 games, with Smith starting 14 and Mercker starting six. The big four started 57 of the last 63 games.
   24. PASTE, Now with Extra Pitch and Extra Stamina Posted: March 08, 2018 at 01:33 PM (#5635517)
The idea of a 4 man rotation, the only way it makes any sense, is if your 5th starter would be so useless that it works out better to accept the other 4 starters working at about 20-25% less effectiveness.

There has never been any evidence that pitching on three days' rest rather than four makes a starter more likely to get injured--but there is evidence it makes him less effective. That's the tradeoff a smart team has to consider. And the... let's call it overhead cost is enormous. It's a major change to make to an organization when every professional starting pitcher in the world is accustomed to working on at least four days of rest.

I think probably more teams that have... well, let's be specific. I think the Royals last year, for instance, would have won more games had they given Santana and Berrios 40 starts each and just worked their other three starters around them, because the bottom of their rotation was so godawful it was effectively a bullpen day every time their fourth or fifth guy went. If your team has one great pitcher and a bunch of mediocrities, or two good pitchers and a bunch of mediocrities, they'll win more games if you pitch the good pitcher(s) more, even at reduced effectiveness. But that situation is not that common.

The tl;dr summary of the above is: it's best not to give starts to pitchers not of MLB starter caliber whenever it can be avoided.
   25. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 08, 2018 at 01:44 PM (#5635525)
The idea of a 4 man rotation, the only way it makes any sense, is if your 5th starter would be so useless that it works out better to accept the other 4 starters working at about 20-25% less effectiveness.

Right, but a 4.5 man rotation gets you half the benefit, at no disruption to regular rest/throw day schedule.

It actually probably gets you more than half the benefit, because you can choose your 5th SP situationally based on the opponent, rather than running one guy out there every time.
   26. BDC Posted: March 08, 2018 at 01:44 PM (#5635526)
Yes, snapper, those Stengel teams had some wild pitching usage. But maybe not too much wilder than the average club, given that the Yankees at least had several guys who stayed healthy and reliable throughout.

Another pattern was the contemporary Phillies of the Whiz-Kid and following years. They sent Robin Roberts out every fourth game like a metronome, for years. Nobody else could keep up that pace, so they improvised a great deal around Roberts. Strict four-game rotation over 154 would be 38.5 starts a season, and Roberts averaged 38 starts/season over a 7-year span 1950-56, as well as making about 4 relief appearances every year. That's pretty remarkable given the vagaries of doubleheaders in that era.

And now I am completely off the 2018 Rays topic, sorry :)
   27. Lance Reddick! Lance him! Posted: March 08, 2018 at 02:27 PM (#5635547)
There has never been any evidence that pitching on three days' rest rather than four makes a starter more likely to get injured--but there is evidence it makes him less effective.

There's zero evidence that the five-and-fly era requires a fourth day of rest.

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