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A 6 Man Yankee Rotation? Sort Of

In recent years, many people have suggested that the Yankees use a six-man rotation to give the starters more rest between starts and keep them fresh throughout the season and (hopefully!) the postseason. This argument makes a lot of sense for this particular Yankees rotation because they have pitchers who are either 1. young and should not throw too many innings, 2. older and at risk for injury, or 3. had serious injuries in the past few seasons. Using a six-man rotation may help keep the starters healthy and better prepared for October. Here is a look at each of the Yankees current starters and why each could benefit from extra rest.

Luis Severino

Severino was a revelation last season and established himself not only as the Yankees ace, but as one of the top pitchers in all of baseball. Because he was so effective, he threw many innings. Including the postseason, Severino threw 209 ⅓ innings which was 48 more innings than his previous high of 161 ⅔ innings in 2015. Severino is still just 23 years old, and there are always risks when young pitchers 1. throw over 200 innings in a season, and 2. increase their innings year-to-year by a large margin. Even though Severino showed few signs of fatigue last year, it would be in his best long-term interest to limit his innings this year.

Masahiro Tanaka

Tanaka’s injury history is well-documented and he continues to pitch with a partially torn UCL. Additionally, Tanaka has said that he pitches better with more rest and claims that the extra rest helps reduce inflammation. This preference may be one of comfort because pitchers in Japan only pitch once per week. Interestingly, Tanaka’s career splits overall do not show improved performance with extra rest. Regardless, his preference for the extra day and the high injury potential make him a good candidate for receiving extra rest when possible.

Sonny Gray

In the past two seasons, Gray has spent time on the DL with forearm, trapezius, and lat injuries. All of these injuries have been on his right (throwing) side which is even more concerning. An extra day of rest between starts may help keep Gray healthy throughout the season.

CC Sabathia

This one is pretty simple – CC is 37 years old and his knees will always be a concern. When he went on the DL last year, he worried that he may have to retire. Luckily for all of us that was not the case, but it is paramount to keep the big guy healthy for as many innings as he’s still effective.

Jordan Montgomery

This reasoning is the same as the reasoning for Severino. Montgomery threw a career high 163 ⅓ innings last year after a previous high of 139 ⅓ innings in 2016. That increase is not as drastic as Severino’s, but it may still be risky to ask Montgomery to throw 200+ innings this season.

How Would It Work?

The common argument against using a six-man rotation is that you either lose the last bench spot or spot in the bullpen. Nowadays, teams are valuing specialization (e.g. relievers) even more so those last few rosters spots are precious. Oddly enough, the CBA offers a possible recourse. How? Beginning this season, teams will have four additional off-days during the season, upping the total from 19 to 23. What this schedule quirk does is it allows for more natural extra rest opportunities without needing an additional starter. For example, if there is an off-day after a three game series before another three game series, every pitcher who pitched in the first series will get an extra day of rest if the rotation stays on turn. With the extra off-days, there are more occurrences like this during the season. When there is a stretch of six or more games in a row, then you need to call up an extra pitcher for that game to give the other starters the extra day of rest. The tables below show this idea in practice:


Alright! Let’s take a look at how this idea could play out across the full season. Below is a monthly schedule for the Yankees with a logical option for who would pitch each day to maximize everyone having an extra rest day and minimize the use of a 6th starter.

In the first table, the off-days allow for the rotation to stay on turn and give all starters the extra (5th) rest day. In the second table, I changed one off-day to a game day, and this situation is where the 6th starter is needed. You can see how calling up the 6th starter for the game highlighted in yellow allows the rest of the rotation to have an extra rest day.

For the Yankees to use this system, we have to make a few assumptions. First, you need six starters. Right now, the Yankees only have five starters with MLB experience (those highlighted above). They have been connected to numerous pitchers via trade or free agency, so let’s assume they acquire one. With the offseason being so slow moving, it is still possible that the Yankees trade/sign another starter. Never doubt #ninjacash! Second, to call up a 6th starter on a semi-regular basis, you need someone to send down for at least one day. That person is usually the last guy in the bullpen. It is much easier to shuttle players with minor league options which removes Chasen Shreve as a possibility. Instead, assume that someone like Ben Heller is in the bullpen. Third, the 6th starter must also have minor league options so he can be sent down and called up throughout the season without passing through waivers. Based on the Yankees rotation, Jordan Montgomery makes the most sense. He has minor league options remaining and would be the “worst” in a rotation of Severino, Tanaka, Gray, CC, and Corbin/Fulmer/Archer.

March

All Images from mlb.com

Because of the CBA change, the season starts a few days earlier than usual. I assumed that Severino will be the opening day starter followed by Tanaka because he’s been with the Yankees for a while. I also decided not to have CC pitch in the opening series for two reasons: with his knee it is better to avoid the turf of Rogers Centre and I wanted to have him pitch the home opener for sentimental purposes. Let’s move on to April!

April

Summary: This month works out pretty nicely. Jordan Montgomery makes his first start the third time through the rotation on April 15. Because you cannot call up someone until 10 days after sending him down, Montgomery is unavailable for the start on April 24. This start could either be taken by a 7th starter (Luis Cessa, Domingo German, Chance Adams) or the Yankees could choose to have pitchers start on normal four day rest. The question mark silhouette represents the mystery pitcher that I am assuming the Yankees get.  The table below shows how many starts each pitcher will make and on how many days rest (including March).

As you can see, nobody makes a start on normal rest and the vast majority of starts are with exactly one extra day. I put Montgomery’s and the 7th starter’s rest as N/A because they can pitch on any day in the minors to line themselves up for the starts with the big league team.

May

Summary: The 7th starter takes another turn on May 6 because Monty is ineligible to come back yet. However, it may make sense to have Sonny Gray take that start because there is an off-day immediately after. The off-day functions like a 6th starter and would have the rest of the staff on “normal” 5 day rest. On May 13th, Gray would go on normal 4 day rest. There are two off-days bookending the Nationals series so using a 6th starter would leave guys pitching on 7 days rest which sounds excessive. The table gives a more detailed breakdown.

The way the off-days are structured in May makes for some tough decisions. My goal is to minimize the amount of times pitchers only have 4 days of rest, which meant that the majority of starts this month come on 6 days of rest.

June

Summary: There are five off-days in June which makes it easy to give pitchers extra rest and there are only two starts which need to be taken by a “6th” starter to ensure everyone gets the extra day. Here is the table breakdown.

June is another month in which pitchers have 6 days of rest more often than not, but this plan ensures that nobody needs to start on 4 days rest at all this month.

July

Summary: The all-star break certainly helps to reset the rotation. Gray’s first start in July would be on 4 days of rest because doing so ensures that a 7th starter will not be needed the entire month.  I also have the mystery pitcher and CC with one start on 4 days of rest. This is the last start before the all-star break so they could recover over the break.  For these purposes, I assumed that no Yankee starter will pitch in the All-Star game (although I hope several make the team!) so that their first turn after the break is on whatever rest they like – and I categorized it as 5 days in the table.

August

Summary: The long stretch of games in the beginning of August necessitates the use of both Montgomery and the 7th starter. On August 19th, I chose Montgomery instead of Severino on 4 days because I want to limit Severino’s innings wherever possible. Unfortunately, the bookended Marlins series leads to a few starts on 7 days rest which may be excessive.

As you can see, Gray, Mystery Pitcher, and Sabathia each have one start on 7 days rest, but doing so keeps anyone from having to pitch on 4 days of rest. On to the last month of the season!

September

Summary: The Yankees end the season with 13 straight games which is tied for their longest stretch of the season. It is especially interesting with the last series against Boston – if the playoff field is set before this series, the Yankees could start whoever they want to line up for the postseason. If not, they may prefer to pitch their top three starters against Boston to close out the season. I was optimistic and went with the first option and kept everyone on the regular rest schedule as much as possible. To the table!

The mystery pitcher makes one start on 4 days rest and everyone makes one start on 6 days rest. But, the vast majority of starts are with 5 days rest, which is the goal. The next table shows the entire season breakdown for each pitcher.

If you only use 5 pitchers during the regular season, each pitcher would start 32-33 games. Thus, this plan saves Severino 3 starts during the season which could mean pitching 20 fewer innings! Likewise, the other main starters in the rotation would each have 3-4 fewer starts throughout the course of the season. This number may seem small, but those innings saved combined with extra rest may pay dividends in terms of both freshness and health at the end of the season. The “extra” starters (Montgomery & 7th starter) would be called upon 17 total times during the season, or just over 10% of the starts. The 7th starter would be needed for 7 starts because of the schedule and the 10-day rule, which is more than I anticipated when starting this exercise, and the Yankees may be reluctant to ask a 7th starter (Adams, German, Acevedo, Cessa etc.) for so many planned starts. Overall, though, this plan would save each starting pitcher 3-4 starts and ~20 innings as well as give them more time to recover between starts.

Potential Problems

There are three potential issues that I can see with this plan. First, one or more pitchers may get injured during the season. Last year alone, CC, Tanaka, and Sonny Gray all spent time on the DL. If a pitcher gets hurt, the logical step would be to insert Montgomery into his spot in the rotation and use five starters for the time being. Another potential issue is that not all pitchers like extra rest. Last year, Severino was scheduled to have a start pushed back in September so that he did not face the Twins a few weeks before a likely Wild Card game start. However, he claimed he did not want to change his routine and asked to start on his normal day. Without buy-in from all members of the staff, it will be difficult to use this plan. Pitchers are creatures of habit and some of them may strongly prefer to pitch with four days rest like they have throughout their professional careers. Lastly, the Yankees may not want to delve so deep into their pitching depth for planned starts. My plan calls for a 7th starter to make at least seven starts during the season which may be too high a number for the Yankees coaching staff.

Conclusion

On a recent episode of the R2C2 podcast, CC said that he is all for extra rest between starts to keep him healthy (he also called YSIII a “little ass park” – gotta love the big guy!). There are several reasons to consider giving each starter in the Yankees rotation extra rest, and thanks to extra off-days during the season it is easier than ever to do so. The Yankees plan to play well into October this season, and keeping their starters fresh and healthy will be crucial for a successful postseason run.

 

You can reach Rohan on twitter at rohanarcot20

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