Anarchists' Brunch: Rotation Deviation

Hello fitness friends! The Brunch is back! I'm sure you're delighted. I mean, everyone's delighted when I walk in a room.

We haven't even hit March and we're already talking about how drama- and narrative-free the Cubs are. There's really not much to discuss. The 25-man roster is basically set. You can't see any upsets there. I thought about getting a bit cranky about the showbiz and hoopla surrounding whatever "motto" Joe Maddon comes up with for the year. But if I'm going to rant and rave about some contrived collection of words that really are only meant to sell t-shirts to benefit a charity (and give Maddon a platform which he loves), then I'm probably going to have to make some changes in my life.

So let's talk about pitching rotations.

When the Cubs signed Yu "A Donut With No Holes Is A" Darvish, they were quick to point out that at points this season, the Cubs will go with a six-man rotation, with Mike Montgomery swinging in from the pen. We've seen this the past two years, to varying effect.

On the surface, you see the reasoning. The Cubs are basically planning for a seven-month season when most teams plan for a six-month one. The four starters that were here before Darvish arrived all had DL time last year, and pitching injuries are what baseball managers and GMs see when the shadows creep across the bedroom late at night before falling asleep. Less innings, less risk, better rest, fresher pitchers for October. You get it.

Of course, isn't it a bit strange that teams are trying to keep their starters fresh for October when they're likely to yank them after four or five innings anyway? Strange, that.

We know the Angels, in order to bend their routine to accommodate Shanei Otani and what he's used to, will be using a six-man rotation all year. In Japan, that's what they do, and they always have Mondays off. I'm sure the MLBPA would love to find a way to have a day off per week, and they're moving closer to that this year. There's an extra four days off for the player now, so we're close to it, with 25 days off over 27+ weeks.

And yet, you'd struggle to see your team go to a six-man rotation the whole time. Because it means your most important players, say your top two or three starters, are only affecting a game once a week. This is where it gets funny, at least a little, about what teams will and should pay Jake Arrieta, when he might only be leading your team to victory 30 times a year with the way things are going in a year or two.

It doesn't quite scan that on the other side of the ball or plate or whatever you want, teams are trying to find ways to get their best players involved more. That's why we've seen team's best hitters moved into the #2 and #3 spots in the lineup instead of the clean-up spot, sometimes even moving them into the lead-off spot, because teams know over a season they'll get more ABs that way and have more of a chance to affect games. Rizzo coming up one more time in the 8th or 9th can make a big difference, no?

And yet with pitchers it's the opposite. Teams are trying to find a way to have them involved less, with six-man rotations and 13-man pitching staffs. Obviously, the fragility of pitching arms is what lords over all, but I can't help but think some brave team is going to see this one day and go to the tandem-model. When even trying to protect relievers from having to do more than throw 40 pitches a week, you have to figure the wave is going to crest back the other way soon.

You already now about it likely, and many teams use it in the minors. One starter goes four or five innings, and then another backs him up for two or three innings. The next time through, they flip.

I'm not sure how you' do this at the major league level, but I know it's going to happen one day. Maybe you have six or seven guys who can take starters' loads, or just about. You run three and three and then flip, making sure no one throws more than seven innings in a week. You'd still end up with pitchers coming in at around 200 innings, but they'd be partaking in two games per week instead of one. With the same number of innings, do I want Jon Lester or Jose Quintana in 30 games or 50?

The more we talk about players as "assets" and "investments," the more you'd think the idea of "maximizing" your investment will be tossed around. Maybe pitchers now who have always been brought up as once-per-week starters could never adjust, even if they day in relief would be what their side-day is now.

Think about how that could alter bullpen usage, though. If every game, or most of them, has seven to eight innings covered by starters, then you don't need eight guys out there. Teams could have actual benches again, instead of four guys where one is a backup catcher that a manager is terrified of using. Teams might combat tandem starters by having something like one and a half lineups for games with their elongated benches. When the second starter comes in managers would have the flexibility to sub in three or four different players to get platoon advantages or better matchups. It would be kind of fascinating to watch.

I don't know who's going to be brave enough to try this one day. You'd think it would be something the Rockies, who have the most unique circumstances to deal with and have never rally gotten their pitching right, would try. In the end, your starters are better than your relievers, other than maybe one or two on your team. You want them taking more innings than your third-eighth relievers. Some team is going to get there.

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  • fb_avatar

    Interesting.

  • I posted this late on an earlier thread, but it seems more appropriate here:

    This is a macro view of a potential 6-man rotation.

    In 2017 the Cubs played 1447.1 regular season innings. For the last 5 post-seasons, the WS champion has had an average record of 11.1W / 5.6L over 153 innings. So in toto, the WS champ, in round numbers, is going to play 1600 innings over 7 months, or about 220 days.

    The Cubs have typically used a staff of 12 pitchers, 5 starters (2017 seasonal total of 9) and 7 relievers (2017 seasonal total of 23). In regular season 2017, the “5” starters (+4 of lesser quality) pitched 888.1 innings, or 5.48 innings/game and averaging 177.2 innings/starter. The “7” relievers pitched 559 innings, or 3.45 innings/game.

    If a 6 man staff (arguably each better than the “lesser 4” above) would average 5.48 innings/game, they would cover the same 888.1 innings as above. However, if by eliminating the “lesser 4” starters above and remaining healthier, they could raise their innings per game to 6.00, they would cover 972 innings, leaving 84 less innings for the relief corps. Again in 2017, CE,Jr pitched the most relief innings at 66.1, only “7” typical relievers would average 79.9 (although in reality the innings were spread across 23 different relievers). The point is that having a 6th starter would allow the team to carry only 6 relievers at a time, rather than 7.

    How realistic is 6.00 inn/start? Again, in 2017, Cub starters averaged 5.48 inn/start. Considering 2017, Lester(age 34), Hendricks(28), Q(29), Monty(28), Yu(31) & Chatwood (28) (road only) made 128 starts for a total of 738 innings, or 5.76 inn/start. Given their ages and likely improve/decline, I would expect some overall group improvement due to age. With greater health from a 6-man staff, I would also expect improvement. Enough to reach 6.00—I don’t know.

    But even more important, I would expect a much more rested pitching staff for the 150+ high leverage postseason innings.

    As they say, it's an empirical question.

  • Another response posted earlier, but appropriate here:

    Regarding relief pitching, esp. in high-leverage situations, there is an eye-opening article by Nate Silver (inventor of PECOTA) which describes a new relief pitcher statistic, the “Goose Egg” (after Gossage). He contends that the emphasis on “Saves” is actually costing teams wins, since in order to maximize saves, teams are not utilizing their best reliever optimally. In fact, currently only Cleveland’s use of Miller is optimal — perhaps the Cubs are also headed down this path. Silver’s contention is that modern pens are built around the Save, and that leads to a waste of resources.

    The article: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/goose-egg-new-save-stat-relief-pitchers/

    Quoting Silver, “The basic idea — aside from some additional provisions designed to handle inherited runners, which we’ll detail later — is that a pitcher gets a goose egg for a clutch, scoreless relief inning. Specifically, he gets credit for throwing a scoreless inning when it’s the seventh inning or later and the game is tied or his team leads by no more than two runs. A pitcher can get more than one goose egg in a game, so pitching three clutch scoreless innings counts three times as much as one inning does.”

    Silver further contends that “…a team shouldn’t be spending a lot for average relief pitching — the average relievers just aren’t that much better than the replacement-level guys. Pick up a few failed starters off the waiver wire, tell them to limit their repertoire to their two best pitches, and test them out in Triple-A or in low-leverage situations. You won’t necessarily have the next Gossage or Miller — those guys are scarcer and more valuable commodities — but you’ll probably find a couple of pretty good late-inning relievers without paying a lot to do it.”

    Historically, the season leaders for “Goose Eggs” are Gossage (’75 - 82), Hiller (’74 - 80), Stu Miller (’65 - 79), Perranoski (’69 - 79), and Marshall (’73 - 79), with totals of 60 fairly common. However, since 1990 the leaders are Jones (’92 - 67), Shields (’05 - 60), Thigpen (’90 - 56), Wetteland (’93 - 56) and Hoffman (’96 - 55). The leaderboard for the 2016 season (the most recent available for Silver's article) were Familia (42), Miller (42), Britton (40), Reed (39) and Thornburg (39). Note the MLB-leading decrease over time. Normally each team would have about 150 “Goose Egg” opportunities in a season, and that number has been increasing in the “Strikeout Era”.

    Of course, calculating a similar but more sophisticated statistic using Win Probability is possible by computer, But Silver claims that the Goose Egg is simple and highly correlated.

    In any case, I highly recommend reading the original article.

  • Someone is going to figure out that middle relief is more than just someplace to put your middling relievers. Games are on the line just as much in the 6th or 7th as in the 9th. And the ability to take over for a starter who, as we've seen, is almost universally going to fare worse the third time through an opponent's order, is likely the next "market inefficiency" a smart team will find a way to capitalize on.

    I'm hoping here that we see the Cubs become that team and ride it to another World Series or several.

  • In reply to MN Exile:

    Nate Silver & Cleveland already have (see above).

  • In reply to MN Exile:

    Nolan Ryan, or Steve Carlton, or Randy Johnson for that matter wouldn't have seen it that way. I think lefty had 23 complete games one year. This starters want to pitch until the 7th or 8th inning I guarantee it.

  • Once a starter gets accross the peak arm condition to beginning of a fatigued arm, it's diminishing returns for rest of the reason. For every pitcher it's a different number of pitches/innings. Some managers/pitching coaches have an eye and feel for it. Overuse injuries and dead arms effectively end top pitching performances. Physiology trumps determination.

  • This strikes me as very unlikely to happen. I think the Dodgers model last year is more likely (at least for the big market teams). Have a lot of starting pitchers and use the 10-day DL as a way to rest players and rotate starters. And then spend a lot on having a really good bullpen.

  • Completely off topic, but I’m loving Happ leading off and playing CF. Happ, Bryant, Rizzo, Contreras, Schwarber, Russell, Heyward, Baez. Just Fly the W before the first pitch!

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    I am sure Happ will get an opportunity to do that some. So will Almora.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    When constructing a Cubs lineup, we've become trained to pencil Javy into the 8-hole. I'm hoping he performs his way out of there. He's a free-swinger with a poor approach, and hitting in front of the pitcher, when the opposing pitcher can just throw junk without fear of walking him, is a worst-case scenario. Of course it is up to his performance to force a change.

    I'm cautiously optimistic Chili Davis's mental approach to coaching could have a big impact on Baez in particular. It could be my overwhelming desire to see him take that next step to become the offensive stud that I know is in there, but I have hope.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    “He’s (Baez) at that point now (that) to get those 500 to 600 plate appearances, (he needs to) organize (his) strike zone, accept walks and use the whole field,” manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday. “That would be the next level for him.”

    If he does what Joe wants, I could see Baez hitting 6th. Heck, maybe leadoff against certain lefties.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    A handful of Innings played this spring and Javy has two highlight plays on video.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    He just needs to stop pulling off, and hit the ball the other way. Can Chili Davis drive that into his head? When your down in the count, look to slap a single to right, or better yet take a walk

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Amen. I'd love to see Contreras leading off with Javy hitting clean up. Imagine Javy with Schwarber protecting him.

  • In reply to TTP:

    If other hitters step up w/RISP then maybe I could see Contreras up top... Until then he’s needed 4th/5th to protect/knock in Bryzzo. He’s been 1 of their few bright spots wRISP.

  • Last year, I think, Butler and Montgomery did a tandem start 2-3 times. Few like that Butler throws about 100 pitches per 5 innings. However, his innings per start and ERA were similar or a little better than most teams #4 or #5 starter. I'd love to just use the #5 spot as a tandem. Each guys pitches 4-5 innings per game. No middle relievers and possibly no closer if the pitch count is less than 80. Take the ball guys and give us a great game.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to TexasCubsFan:

    I think this is great idea if this tandem can average around 7 innings per turn w the majority of the turns 8+ w few complete games co-ops mixed in. I think this could give the bullpen a huge boost knowing its getting a full rest day at least once a week.

    Then when the schedule permits ( w all the extra off days it will be often) where said team does not need the 5th starter, the team uses the 10 day DL and puts both "starters" on the DL to rest while bringing up 2 fresh relievers for them pen.

    If this could actually produce positive results, this could really help the team in the long run. Perhaps even mixing a 10 day DL stay for one of the 4 starters once in awhile while the "co-op starters" take his turn in the rotation if needed.

  • Doing something similar to what you suggest, Sam, (more starters, but more innings pitched per start), makes sense for some teams. But I think teams are already doing a variation of this, by using the 10-day DL to rotate starters in and out of the roster. The Dodgers are leading the way here. I wonder what their innings/start was last year. I bet it was over 6.

  • Dodgers IP/start for 2017 was 5.46, compared to the Cubs 5.48. Virtually identical.

  • Schwarber tied for the lead in SBs in baseball right now. Got to make you smile. :-)

  • In reply to John57:

    Schwarber has physically morphed from Babe Ruth into Lou Gerhig.

  • In reply to John57:

    Is there any video of it on the web? I’d love to see him swipe 2nd & 3rd on Bum/Posey.

  • In reply to good4you:

    I'd love to see video of Schwarber describing his new-found speed:

    "Kyle realized that for Kyle to become more fleet of foot, Kyle needed to transform his body. Kyle did, and not Kyle isn't afraid to run against anybody."

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John57:

    Doesn't make me smile at all. Schwarber has lost way to much weight and way to quickly. He looks terrible! It's not healthy or natural to do that to your body. I just talked to a friend that just got back from Arz and he said that he was shocked by the loss of power that Schwarber has shown in BP. He predicted that Schwarbs will be back in Iowa by May.

  • In reply to Greg Simmons:

    I’ll bet on Schwarber not going down to Iowa at all unless it’s a rehab from another injury... ;o)

  • In reply to Greg Simmons:

    I'll play Oddball to your Moriarty:

    "Why don't you knock it off with the negative waves? Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?"

  • In reply to Greg Simmons:

    I can see why it doesn't make you smile, Schwarber is even better and he is going to pound your Cardinals. That makes me smile too. :-)

  • In reply to Greg Simmons:

    His 400 Ft bombs off a batting tee would suggest otherwise. You forgot to mention your friend is blind and walks with a seeing dog.

  • The Nationals led the majors in 2017 in IP/start with 6.01, followed by Giants, Indians, Red Sox and D'Backs. The Cubs were 15th overall at 5.48. Within the Division, the rankings were: Cards (6) 5.67, Pirates (12) 5.52, Cubs (15) 5.48, Brewers (21) 5.39 & Reds (30) 5.06. With a standard 7-man relief corps, the expected IP/reliever would be about 80 IP. In real-life, those 80 IP would be spread among several relievers--in 2017 the Cubs used 23 different relievers. However, to reduce the relief staff to "6", rather than "7" at a time, the starters would need to increase their work load by .5 innings / start. Note that the range from the Nationals to the Reds was almost exactly a full inning per start.

    Have your eyes glazed over yet? Sorry....

  • In reply to wthomson:

    I'm not shocked that a Dusty managed team led the mlb in IP/start.

  • With teams taking advantage of the rules in place that reward rebuilding (tanking) teams, it would be great to see at least two of them try a tandem rotation or 6-man rotation. I'm looking forward to seeing how the Angels 6-man rotation pans out.

  • The possibility of having a smaller pitching corps with a 6-man rotation is possible if a team could also develop 3, 2-inning relief pitchers. That would only happen if the one batter specialists are eliminated. The key is that all 6 pitchers need to average 6 innings each game. It could look like this:
    Relief Pitcher A pitches 2 innings with Pitchers 1 & 4.
    Relief Pitcher B pitches 2 innings with Pitchers 2 & 5.
    Relief Pitcher C pitches 2 innings with Pitchers 3 & 6.
    Then, you have 2 "closers" alternating days. That gives a bullpen of 11 pitchers.

  • In reply to TexasCubsFan:

    Silly.

  • Hate this idea. Why screw up the rest of the rotation

  • Let's have the starters go longer (joe is always double switching pinch hitting and etc.) especially hendricks.

    Have a 6th starter start 10-15 games that puts the starters at 28-30 starts. That's almost 180
    to 200 innings per starter.

    That scenario is in a perfect world but that is what i would shoot for.

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