Reese Kaplan -- Six Degrees of Preparation

In a piece penned earlier this year, former journeyman hurler C.J. Nitkowski (who spent times in both NY dugouts) penned an interesting piece on the pros and cons of teams moving to a six man rotation for their starting pitching.  With many teams struggling to find 3-4 decent pitchers, asking them to come up with 6 seems like a burden most simply can’t entertain.  With a stretch of 20 games in 20 days you'd think THEN the Mets might have looked to this change.  However, they are seeking to begin a 6 man rotation starting now, so it might be worth revisiting both sides of the aisle in this debate.

All Those In Favor…

Tommy John Surgery is very real and some might even say inevitable for pitchers as part of their expected development path on the road to big league riches.  On the Mets alone you have Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Bobby Parnell, Zack Wheeler, Josh Edgin, Steve Matz, Jenrry Mejia, Jeremy Hefner, and others just during the past few years who have undergone this procedure.  There are people who favor games like Death Pools already probably taking bets on the dates for Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard and others to join this outpatient club.   Some feel that putting fewer innings on pitchers’ arms and giving them extended rest between starts might actually reduce the likelihood of the types of ulnar nerve strains that lead to going under the knife.  Still, there are pitchers like Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan and even current starter Bartolo Colon who have thrown over 100,000 pitches in their careers with no ill effects. 

A six man rotation also keeps your pitchers fresher longer into the season.  Now for the Mets, a team for whom watching the playoffs meant buying a ticket or turning on the TV, that issue has not arisen in quite some time.  However, with the start in 2015 post season baseball looms as an actual possibility and during that time the manager gets to pick and choose who gets the ball (and how often).  Consequently, some feel that lightening the load on a Matt Harvey or Bartolo Colon now might make them more capable for a playoff battle. 

All Those Opposed…

Economically the prospect of paying six starters simply does not make sense IF the five preferred starters remain healthy.  Not only does it mean accommodating another 6-7 figure paycheck for that 6th starter, but it also means that your top starters (defined by either paycheck) are getting more expensive as they’re pitching less often.  The cost per inning goes up when you curtail the number of starts.

Similarly, if your top starters don’t happen to be making a lot of money (such as Matt Harvey or Jacob deGrom), then you’re still cheating yourself out of putting your best team on the field as often as possible by sacrificing 18% of their starts to lesser arms.  In a tight race to the postseason when just one or two wins could mean the difference between a Wildcard slot or staying home, do you want your arguable less effective pitchers in those games instead of the best you have to start as often as possible?

What will the overall impact be on the pitchers who receive that extra day of rest rather suddenly?  Pitchers have grown accustomed to an exercise routine with X number of days on and Y number of days off.  Now you throw a heretofore variable in the mix and no one knows mid-season what impact it might have.  Sinkerball pitchers, for example, tend to get more movement when they’re tired.  Flamethrowers might benefit from less strain on their arms.  It’s an unknown.

Another thing to consider is the Player’s Union and the impact on future free agent acquisitions.  Most starting pitchers have some accepted metrics of success – 35 starts, 200 IP, 20 wins, 200 Ks, etc.  If you reduce the availability to achieve these totals through the addition of another starter, won’t it have an economic impact on the Matt Harveys and Jacob deGroms of this world come contract negotiation time?  Would other pitchers want to volunteer to sign with the Mets knowing it could adversely impact their earning potential?

Historical Failure

The White Sox, Pirates and Braves are three other teams who have tried and abandoned the six-man rotation.  In each case it was done to preserve a key pitcher’s arm (Chris Sale, A.J. Burnett or Tommy Hanson).  Unfortunately, the results were not what was anticipated and the five-man rotation returned. 

Why Are the Mets Doing It?

Well, there’s the Matt Harvey innings limit to consider.  Jacob deGrom is also being watched closely.  Ditto rookie Noah Syndergaard.  There is the age of Bartolo Colon.   There are the annual injuries that have happened or will happen to Dillon Gee and Jon Niese.   However, the real reason may be posturing (particularly with starter number seven – Steve Matz – chomping at the bit in AAA).  Everyone in MLB knows the Mets are as pitching-strong as they are hitting-weak.  By allegedly using all of the pitching, it makes them look far less desperate to make a trade and thus increases the value of the would-be trade fodder such as Mssrs. Colon, Niese and Gee.    Having Dillon Gee pitch as a starter makes him a more valuable commodity than he would be if repurposed as a long reliever. 

What Do You All Think?

There are good arguments either way…but until David Wright, Travis d’Arnaud and Dilson Herrera return there’s little to trade but pitching.  At that time Daniel Murphy and Kevin Plawecki will join the pitchers on Sandy Alderson’s short list of players no longer destined to wear a Mets uniform.


Richard Jones said...

I think Sandy should pay me a consulting fee on this. I have been wanting a six man rotation for a while and voiced that here and elsewhere.
The way I see it they already had a six man rotation. Rotating the sixth to TJ surgery. If a six man rotation significantly cuts down TJ surgeries then the cost factor is null. Aren't the Mets currently paying Zach Wheeler? The Mets are in the perfect situation to to go forward with this. They have an abundant of quality arms that throw very hard and are high risk for TJ.
Next year they would have Harvey, Syndergaard, Wheeler, deGrom, Matz and the sixth starter. 4 of those five already had TJ. I don't think the record for pitchers going through it a second time is as high as the first so they can't afford any of those to go through it again. I like Syndergaard's mechanics but he is so strong and tendons usually don't match up with muscle strength.
Another lesson should be gleaned from Strausburg. He may be done as far as star status goes. Shoulders are a much more serious issue than elbows. The success record for coming back from shoulder surgery is not very good. Ask Johan Santana. I read an article about Yu Darvish before he got injured. He was advocating for a six man rotation. The article had data on the inflammation in the arm after pitching. There was a significant difference from the fourth day to the fifth day of rest.
In my opinion six healthy starters in a rotation is preferred over five starter in the rotation with one or more on the DL.

Mack's Mets © 2012