Why a Four-Man Pirates Rotation Could Work

Gerrit Cole

The Pirates don’t just have to worry about Cole’s Super 2 status but also his innings count. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The Pirates’ rotation situation will probably work itself out. The discussion about Gerrit Cole potentially returning to Triple-A so the Pirates will have six starters available is just this week’s version of Pittsburgh’s least exciting game show: What Should The Pirates Do With Their Rotation?

In previous episodes, the correct answer was: Someone Gets Hurt. Wandy Rodriguez and Jeanmar Gomez leave a game after one inning or fewer. A.J. Burnett pulls up while running in the outfield. Jeff Karstens suffered a Karstens. Injuries happen to pitchers.

What we don’t know exactly is why pitchers get injured so often or if the rate of injuries can be reduced. In 2002, Rany Jazayerli studied the differences between four-man and five-man rotations, which became popular in the 1970s. One of his conclusions: “pitching in a four-man rotation is less damaging than pitching in a five-man rotation,” even though the difference between the two was not statistically significant.

[Full disclosure: I wrote about the subject of four-man rotations last year for Pittsburgh Sports Report. The Pirates had a 3.50 season ERA when I wrote the piece and a 4.23 ERA after that. I have made every attempt to not plagiarise myself.]

The Pirates find themselves with a problem, albeit a good one. Rodriguez, Gomez and Burnett are all set to return to the active roster soon, and the Pirates need to activate James McDonald from his rehab or pack his bags for another team. At the same time, Jeff Locke and Francisco Liriano are pitching like All-Stars while Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole each started his Major League season with three good starts. It’s possible someone will get hurt or start struggling to make the decision easier, but what if that does not happen? The Pirates are now considering the idea of demoting Gerrit Cole to be able to keep everyone in the organization.

Any decision will either maintain a five-man rotation or (God forbid) create a six-man rotation, which would serve no purpose other than keeping everyone smiling and giving fewer starts to the better pitchers. Instead, the Pirates should consider a four-man piggyback rotation. It would not only maintain all the best pitchers on the Major League team but also utilize those pitchers in an optimal fashion.

The Four-Starter Plan

Let’s lay out the plan, which I’ll call the Four-Starter Piggyback since every starter has a “piggyback” partner except Rodriguez:

  • Rotation Spot 1: Jeff Locke, Gerrit Cole
  • Rotation Spot 2: Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton
  • Rotation Spot 3: A.J. Burnett, Jeanmar Gomez
  • Rotation Spot 4: Wandy Rodriguez
  • Long Reliever: Vin Mazzaro
  • Swingman: James McDonald
  • Lefty Reliever: Justin Wilson
  • Setup Man: Mark Melancon
  • Relief Ace: Jason Grilli

The Four-Starter Piggyback would option Tony Watson, and demote Bryan Morris (who has already been optioned this year), Ryan Reid and Duke Welker, but would maintain every pitcher that does not have options. The pitcher who starts the game could aim to throw about 75 pitches or five innings while his partner prepares to throw about 50 pitches or three to four innings.

Is it at all possible that the many pitching injuries the Pirates have suffered have at least something to do with subscribing to a rotation plan out of habit? Every team in baseball now uses a five-man rotation, even though it is not proven that throwing 100 pitches every five days leads to better performance or overall health than 80 pitches every four days. Pitchers actually throw a little better on three days’ rest as opposed to four days, Jazayerli found. Trying something new could be helpful not just for run prevention but also keeping players on the mound.

Who Would it Help?

I’ll rank the starting pitchers that would benefit most from a Four-Starter Piggyback, from one to seven:

Charlie Morton

The Pirates must keep Charlie Morton from high-stress, high-pitch-count outings following his elbow surgery.

1. Charlie Morton would get the best results for two reasons.

He is coming off reconstructive elbow surgery, putting him at a more prominent injury risk. The Pirates need to monitor Morton’s innings in his starts carefully to ensure his health through next season, his last under Pittsburgh control. Morton will not hit a 160-inning limit that Stephen Strasburg hit last year following Tommy John Surgery, but a normal workload of 100 pitches every five days may not suit him with the elbow scar still fresh.

A new role in which Morton only pitches through the opposing lineup twice (4-6 innings) would best utilize his skillset. In 2012, Morton had the 10th biggest difference between his xFIP in the first three innings (3.64) and later innings (4.71). And look at his numbers in 2011:

  • 1st time through lineup – .706 OPS, 42 K, 28 BB
  • 2nd time through lineup – .662 OPS, 43 K, 25 BB
  • 3rd time through lineup – .897 OPS, 21 K, 24 BB

One should not construct a rotation around Charlie Morton, but he can be very effective under a Four-Starter Piggyback Plan.

2. Gerrit Cole‘s situation is similar to Morton’s. First, hitters are starting to crack Cole later in games (1st time – .630 OPS, 2nd time – .264 OPS, 3rd time – 1.032 OPS). It’s small sample but becoming significant. Second, the Pirates are going to want to monitor his innings. Here are Cole’s innings pitched going back to college:

  • 2009 – 85.0 innings
  • 2010 – 123.0 innings
  • 2011 – 114.1 innings
  • 2012 – 132.0 innings

Cole is currently pitching incredibly efficiently in the Majors, as his 13.6 pitches per inning would be second-best among starters if he had enough innings, and he is doing it with fastballs instead of potentially more stressful offspeed pitches.

Be that as it may, Cole has pitched 86.1 innings this year, on pace for more than 170 by the end of the regular season, and Major League innings will be tougher to work through than Minor League ones. If the Pirates want to win in September and possibly onward, Cole needs to be healthy and not pitching on fumes. Limiting his innings would be a lot easier if he is pitching four innings every four days instead of six innings every five.

Pirates GM Neal Huntington told Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: “Part of our development plan is to build guys accordingly so that when they get to the big leagues they are hopefully in a position to log the innings without the media attention that some have gotten. We’ll let you know if he ever gets to his workload.”

The Washington Nationals did not get creative with Strasburg. Instead, their ace was shut down after Sept. 7 and the Nationals were dramatically eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. The Pirates cannot let the same fate befall their top draft pick.

3. Francisco Liriano is more effective his first time through the lineup as well. Over his career, opposing batters hit .217/.304/.339 (26% K rate) against Liriano their first time facing him in a game but .262/.337/.398 (22% K rate) their second and third times. Even though his numbers are actually pretty good the third time through the lineup the last few years, this year’s results are pretty stark, even though it is a small sample of nine starts.

  • 1st time through lineup – .423 OPS, 27 K, 10 BB – 3rd among MLB starters
  • 2nd time through lineup – .606 OPS, 17 K, 7 BB – 45th among MLB starters
  • 3rd time through lineup – .790 OPS, 16 K, 5 BB – 102nd among MLB starters

Plus, Liriano has been inefficient as a starter so far, exiting during or directly after the 6th inning in the majority of his starts.

A.J. Burnett Pirates

Burnett has started on three days’ rest before, though never with the Pirates. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

4. A.J. Burnett is another pitcher that decreases in relative effectiveness as the game goes on. Look at his numbers since the start of 2010 among 232 Major League starters. This is probably the best list of bullet points I have, as it has the largest sample size.

  • 1st time through lineup – .682 OPS (93rd), 254 K, 88 BB
  • 2nd time through lineup – .723 OPS – (103rd), 202 K, 80 BB
  • 3rd time through lineup – .852 OPS – (182nd), 118 K, 74 BB

Beyond that, Burnett has experience pitching every fourth day a few times for the Blue Jays and Yankees and did so effectively.

“When I did it in Toronto, I loved it. Even in the playoffs, I loved it,” Burnett told me last year. “Some guys don’t like it. Some guys want the days of rest and there’s days I wouldn’t want to do it. Just depends.”

It is also a good time to re-start Burnett’s schedule. Coming off an injury, he is not back in the habit and throwing schedule of pitching every fifth day, so it would be easier to get him on a plan of starting one day, resting the next, throwing the next, resting the next and starting the next.

5. Jeanmar Gomez has not been given the workload of a swingman replacement starter rather than a full-time rotation pitcher, never throwing more than 79 pitches in any of his 12 outings. He has produced good results under unique circumstances, posting a 3.07 ERA. However, he is due to regress because his BABIP is low, he strikes out too few hitters and walks too many to be considered a true control pitcher. His SIERA is 4.50, denoting a below-average pitcher and perhaps the least effective of all seven guys, but Gomez is someone who can still be effective if used correctly like in combination with Burnett.

6. With seven starters for eight spots, one pitcher has to go without a dance partner, and I would choose Wandy Rodriguez.

  • 1st time through lineup – .683 OPS (94th), 212 K, 81 BB
  • 2nd time through lineup – .758 OPS (144th), 173 K, 71 BB
  • 3rd time through lineup – .685 OPS (32nd), 133 K, 46 BB
Wandy Rodriguez pitching

Wandy Rodriguez could handle himself in a four-man rotation without a partner. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Even with left forearm tightness causing Rodriguez to miss a few weeks, he has been incredibly durable: started 30+ games and pitched 190+ innings each of the last four seasons to earn a workhorse reputation. As with Burnett, the Pirates can reset Rodriguez’s schedule right now prior to his return to the rotation.

7. The only pitcher that does not fit very well into this plan is Jeff Locke. His results this season have been a 2.01 ERA, best in the National League. He has also been one of the NL’s more efficient starters at 15.5 pitches per inning. Why mess with a good thing? And indeed, it would probably be best to not change anything around Locke.

Two counterpoints: He has been making the bullpen labor a bit. Locke pitched seven innings his last two times out, but did so only twice in his first 13 starts. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has also kept him below 104 pitches in every start, only hitting double-digits three times.

In addition, Locke will continue to pitch well but not likely at NL-best levels. I’ll shorten my normal speech into a trio of stats: a .706 OPS-against with the bases empty vs. a .329 OPS-against with runners in scoring position, a 4.40 SIERA, and a league-high 85.6% strand rate. If you believe Locke’s results will go south, take the victory you have had with Locke in a five-man rotation and see if you can continue to get decent results in a four-man rotation.

Why the Pirates Should Go for a Big Change

The same idea as Locke goes for the Pirates as a whole. One might wonder why the Pirates would mess with the tremendous results they have received in a normal five-man rotation. Since Pittsburgh’s 3.24 staff ERA and 3.37 starters ERA are both hovering among the best in the NL, why should the team do something so radical during the middle of the season?

Number one, the past is the past. The Pirates have prevented runs well, but other stats about the pitching staff are less optimistic about the future: 3.87 xFIP (8th in the 15-team NL), 20.1% strikeout percentage (7th), 9.0% walk percentage (15th) and 3.97 SIERA (8th). The biggest reason the Pirates have been successful is defense (best in NL at turning balls in play into outs) and lucky sequencing (No. 11 OPS-against with bases empty, No. 1 OPS-against with runners in scoring position). Don’t confuse past success as a bellwether of future success. We have better numbers to predict the future, and those numbers see an average staff instead of an NL-best staff.

Bryan Morris Pirates

Despite Morris’ 2.43 ERA, FanGraphs’ fielding independent-based WAR has him as the bullpen’s least valuable pitcher. (Photo by: David Hague)

What the Pirates need is depth to stave off the regression monsters for another half-season, and they have already used the second-most pitchers in baseball this season, behind only the record-setting Toronto Blue Jays. They can’t afford to let any of their Major League-caliber pitchers go to waste.

This plan prevents any pitcher from having to go onto waivers, as odd men out Tony Watson and Bryan Morris have options to return to the Minor Leagues and Morris is in the middle of an option year. Gomez and Vin Mazzaro do not have options, but both have performed very well to earn a spot on a tight roster. Tim wrote that James McDonald could work well out of the bullpen needing only a fastball-curveball combo, and I agree, as McDonald’s numbers have been good his first time facing a lineup: .234 BA, .711 OPS, 2.2 K/BB ratio. The plan does not hinge on McDonald, though, and could work just as well using a pitcher that has started and relieved before like Morris.

Three Other Benefits

  • The three primary relief pitchers for the Pirates become Mark Melancon, Jason Grilli and Justin Wilson, the three best relievers the Pirates have had this season. Each would be capable of closing out the 9th inning when needed after getting four innings from each of the “starters.” More appearances from those three pitchers and fewer from effective-but-not-dominant relievers like Watson, Reid and Morris would prevent runs.
  • When the pitch count target becomes 80 pitches instead of 100, starters can still go six innings or more. Locke, Liriano, Burnett and Rodriguez have all gone six frames on fewer than 85 pitches at some point this year. When starts like that happen, great! A Four-Starter Piggyback encourages flexibility. If a starter doesn’t pitch one day or only goes two innings, he could be ready again on the next day he throws. The goal is to use all 12 pitchers effectively and keep them healthy.
  • If someone important gets hurt and the Pirates need to trade for a starter, they can find better value than other teams. Astros pitcher Bud Norris posted a 3.37 xFIP last year in the first three innings and 4.56 xFIP after that. Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello has held opposing hitters to a fantastic .646 OPS his first time through a lineup over his career but a poor .830 OPS after that. When you are looking for value where other teams are not, you can acquire talent that will give you good bang for your trade buck.

As I said at the start, the “problem” of having too many starting pitchers usually works itself out via injuries or poor play. But there should be a Plan B in place like a Four-Starter Piggyback. It’s radical, at least in today’s risk-averse game. If the Pirates believe it can work, though, and all the pitchers get on board with the belief that the team can win with it, there could be many benefits. Such a system could add two extra wins over a whole season, according to Baseball Prospectus’ Russell A. Carleton, or one win over a half-season. Where the Pirates sit in the playoff race, every win is important.

There is no bible that says every team must carry five starting pitchers and seven relievers, or that such a format is the best way to use a pitching staff. It simply became the staff of choice over the last few decades. Even if the Pirates don’t use a four-man rotation or a piggyback system, the front office should examine closely the strengths and injury risks of each of its starting pitchers to find the optimal plan.

Lightning Round: What Should The Pirates Do With Their Rotation? Open up to new ideas. Trust your professional pitchers to accept different roles. Be careful with the health of these important players.

James Santelli

Author: James Santelli

James covers the Pirates beat for Pirates Prospects. He is a Broadcast Journalism student at USC and has written for such outlets as NBCOlympics.com, Pittsburgh Magazine and the official websites of the Los Angeles Clippers and Pittsburgh Penguins. James previously covered the Pirates for Pittsburgh Sports Report. He also broadcasts play-by-play for the USC Trojans baseball team and was awarded the 2013 Chick Hearn Memorial Scholarship and Allan Malamud Scholarship. James dispenses puns at his Twitter account (@JamesSantelli) where he promises to write in first-person. Google

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  • leadoff

    ……NO. I don’t like the 2 bullpen’s per game idea.
    Bullpen 1 and Bullpen 2, that is what pitching half a game amounts to.
    These are not machines, but each one has to do what he is expected to do, you can’t manufacture a way to get them to the finish line. Creativity is great, but not in this case, if it were, every team would do it every year, but they don’t and I have to believe they have their share of creative idea’s also. The Rockies come to mind. You also have to have a pitching staff buy into an idea like this, good luck with that.
    I do believe that Cole is a special case and I don’t know how the Pirates are going to have him in September no matter what they do, he has to pitch now either in the Bigs or Minors and he is going to rack up the innings. I suppose the only thing they could do is just reduce his innings per game, something that is difficult to do in the majors.

    • Cato the Elder

      “Creativity is great, but not in this case, if it were, every team would do it every year…”

      1) Baseball has been around for more than 100 years and new, creative ideas are being developed all the time. Think of all of the new defensive alignments that have cropped up recently. Moreover, the conventional bullpen construction as we now know it (dedidcated closer, set-up man, LOOGY, etc) is a relatively recent development. None of it is set in stone So the fact that other teams aren’t doing it doesn’t necessarily mean it is not a good idea, or that it wouldn’t work. Therefore, the only real issue you bring up is getting the pitching staff to buy into it and I just place far less importance on highly skilled, highly paid professionals ability to moderately adjust their responsibilities.

      2) The Pirates situation is unique. This arrangement wouldn’t work for most teams because most teams need more quality starting pitching, not less. The fact that the Pirates have 7 quality starting pitchers is highly unusual and therefore this is a setup most teams could not pursue even if they wanted. The truth is this arrangement wouldn’t last forever anyway because the chances all 7 pitcher would stay healthy and continue there quality performance for the rest of the season is almost 0. So you would roll this setup out for as long as it was useful, keep all of your pitchers in the system and stretched out, and adjust your rotation as the situation dictates.

      I fail to see the problem, other than you seem convinced that they pitchers wouldn’t like it. Why would they care? – and even if they did, why would I or anyone else care?

  • Cato the Elder

    I love this idea and would love to see the Pirates get creative with their pitcher usage. The only point I would quibble with is that Jeff Locke wouldn’t benefit from this setup, or that he would benefit least. I was surprised to see to see that according to Jeff Zimmerman’s work on pitchers and injury risk Locke has the highest, by far, Pitcher Abuse INdex (PAIN) score of any pitcher under 25.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy/mash-report-62413/

    Make what you will of that information, I am not sure that changing the rotation would necessarily improve the underlying metrics, (namely the marked drop in zone%) that are driving the Locke’s high PAIN value, but it seems like it might help. And in any case, this type of 4 man, piggyback rotation would be far more adaptable in case of an injury to Locke or any other starter for that matter. I think it’s a great idea and a great write up.

    • stickyweb

      Just checked out that link Old Cato, and it pretty much says Locke is pitching with a broken leg, torn rotator cuff and a blister on his middle finger. He’s so far ahead of everybody else, he’s lapping people.

  • steelpro

    I don’t like it. Not even a little a bit. The strength of this team has been the bullpen. The Bucs have 6 guys in the pen that Hurdle has enough faith to use in the late innings. Watson has 2 multi-inning saves. Mazarro got a hold while pitching through the 8th the other night. Morris has been a setup option at times. This plan shrinks the options down considerably. If you can guarantee they never trail by a run or are tied late and never go to extras then I guess it could work.

    • Cato the Elder

      The strength of the bull pen has been Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli. They would still be available to be utilized in high leverage situations at the end of games. Mazzarro, Watson, Wilson et al are all nice pieces, getting some value out of them is great, but maximizing their value should not be the focus.

      • steelpro

        This isn’t about maximizing value. It is about having the right options available at the right times. Melancon and Grilli can’t take all high leverage situations. They haven’t been able to do it in the current 5 starter model and this model wouldn’t create any less high leverage situations. This is just so extremely limiting it makes little sense. If the game doesn’t follow the script you envision every game the plan would fall apart.

        • Cato the Elder

          What’s a situation where this the plan would fall apart? There are going to be bad games in any set up, conventional 5 man rotation or otherwise. At least in this model, if one of the starters struggles, you have a 50/50 chance that you have a second starter ready to go to pick up the slack. If it is the second starter, you still have a swingman and a long reliever to pick up the extra inning or two.

          I honestly don’t see the scenario where this rotation would put you behind the 8-ball, but a normal 5 man rotation would be better poised to adapt.

    • stickyweb

      Hurdle obviously doesn’t have faith in 6 pitchers in the late innings or he wouldn’t have thrown both Melancon and Grilli in a 4 run game recently, with MM having pitched in 3 of 4 before that. Sure Vin and Morris might accidently pitch in the 8th when we have a lead, but it’s much more likely Hurdle forgot what inning it was than that he has faith in them to “hold” or “set up”.

  • johnj618

    But, this looks like it eliminates the bullpen completely. If starter A goes 5 innings, then starter B goes 4, the game is over. The only time you would need the bullpen is on the guy without a partners day. With the bullpen as a strength, the goal should just be to get the ball to them with a lead. I trust an inning apiece from Morris, Wilson, Melancon and Grilli more than I do 4 from Gomez or Morton.

    • Cato the Elder

      The whole point is that starter A would usually go 3-4 innings and starter B would go 3-4 innings. That leaves you with anywhere from 1-3 innings from your bullpen for every game 9 inning game, which looks a lot like normal bullpen usage to me.

      • steelpro

        Unless you run into a situation you need to pinch hit earlier than you may have liked. Or you need to match up a lefty (your only left I might add) in a key situation in the 6th. Or you have a game that goes beyond 9 innings. And what kind of options do you have to get those 1 -3 innings if Melancon, Grilli, and/or Wilson have worked multiple games in a row and are unavailable? Too many baseball games go off script for this to work.

        • Cato the Elder

          Extra inning games would have to be worked by the swing man and/or long reliever, and you may have to send Wilson out for multiple innings sometimes (something he is more than capable of). The chance of all three of Melancon, Grilli and Wilson all having been worked in multiple game in a row is very, very small in this type of set-up, bu if that were the case, you make the appropriate roster move and call up an extra arm. Or you ask the next days starters to go an extra inning a piece (4-5) and hopefully rest your pen. This type of thing happens all the time in regular rotations. These aren’t unique problems or answers. This ‘script’ is very adaptable, more adaptable than a normal rotation, if you ask me.

          • steelpro

            Regular rotations are much more adaptable to this sort of thing because you have enough bullpen arms to allow for it. Tell me about this “appropriate roster move for an extra arm” you would make if it was deemed necessary. One of the main reason for doing this was to maintain guys that have no options. So you are stuck optioning Locke or Cole or DFAing a player that this whole plan was created to keep.

            • Cato the Elder

              You send one of your bench bats with options down, whether it be Presley (1) or T. Sanchez (3), McHenry (1) or even Mercer (1), and call up Watson (2) or Reid (3) to add to the bullpen or Cumpton (3) to make a spot start .

              Or like I said, you turn to the next day’s starter(s) and say “I need 4 or 5 good innings out of you. Go get’em, Tiger!” and hope for the best: no bull pen required. These are not all that uncommon of maneuvers after an extra long game.

              I still disagree that this is less adaptable than a regular rotation, but even if it was, the loss of value in the case of an unusually long game, would be made up in my estimation by the value gained by providing all the pitchers with better mach-ups and not having to give up quality players for nothing.

              • steelpro

                This doesn’t create better matchups. What this would do is paint you into situations where you have to leave Jeanmar Gomez or Charlie Morton in to pitch to a tough lefty in a key spot in the 6th inning because Watson was sent to AAA just to avoid losing someone that couldn’t stick in a 5 man rotation.

                • Cato the Elder

                  The reason that Gomez or Morton (or any other starter for that matter) is lifted against a “tough lefty” in the 6th inning or later is because said starter has pitched 5 innings or more (and has been through the order at least once, if not twice). This is precisely why a 4man rotation would create better match-ups. That “tough lefty” in the 6th is the same “tough lefty from the 1rst inning. Morton and Gomez are more than capable of facing them when they are fresh,and haven’t pitched to the batter once or twice already. That’s why you don’t fret about the “tough lefty match-up in the the 2nd inning, but you do in the 6th.

  • JRIcentral

    I have always liked the idea of having a piggyback strategy with certain pitchers that tend to lose it as the game goes on (either due to injury, youth, or other). And I’m surprised that managers don’t use that strategy more.
    What I do not like is a 4-men rotation, as I think it will eventually take its toll as well with the innings piled up.
    I would have Morton/Cole as the piggyback combo (taking turns as a starter each). But would have AJ, Wandy, Liriano and Locke have their regular starts.
    I’m ok with the4-men rotation only when there are off days to keep the 5-days rest!

    • Cato the Elder

      If a starter throws 3.5 innings every four days (3 innings one start, 4 innings the next start) that starter would have thrown 14 innings every 20 days. If that same starter throws 6 innings every 5 days that starter will have thrown 24 innings every 20 days. Therefore, the 4 day piggyback rotation would limit the IP of the starting pitchers not pile them up. The only question then would be is there something magical about 5 days rest compared to 4. Honestly, I don’t know, but if I had to guess, I would say the extra 4 days of rest would be offset by the extra 10 innings pitched.

      • stickyweb

        Good points Old Cato, but your math is off. 3.5 innings every 4 days is 17.5 every 20. Also, I don’t like your 3.5 inning estimate.
        I think more appropriate figures would be starters going 4.5 every 4 days (4 one start, 5 next start) because target pitch counts in the story is 80. That looks more like 4.5 innings (17.8 pitches/inning) to me than 3.5 (22.8 per). But your argument still holds, just not as dramatically. Starters would pitch 22.5 innings every 20 days instead of 24 innings. Certainly not over working them.

        • Cato the Elder

          D’oh! You are right; my maths were bad. You also make a good point about the innings re pitch counts. I was picking 3.5 to leave a normal bullpen setup/closer situation in the 8th and 9th, but your correct, if the script played out the 2 starters would be combining for a complete game. The more I think about it though, it like this even better, because now you have 2 chances to use your bullpen in high leverage and/or matchup scenarios. If starter A gets into trouble in the 4th or 5th and lets a couple of runners on, you can go to Wilson, Melancon, or Grilli to get you out of the jam. Thus, letting starter B begin anew the next inning. Then starter B closes out your game, or you can still turn to your bullpen again if he gets in trouble or you want/need a reliever to close it out.

          Truth is this will never happen. 1) because our 7 starters aren’t all going to be healthy at the same time long enough for this to truly play out. 2) I can’t imagine a scenario where Clint Hurdle would embrace such an unconventional approach.

  • buc em all

    This won’t happen thank god

    • stickyweb

      You’re right this won’t happen, but don’t thank God, thank closed minds.

  • http://@gwbicster gwbicster

    I enjoyed the article. I think it has a lot of merit. I believe the Rockies tried this (unsuccesfully) last year. It will, of course, never happen.

    I like Morton following Liriano and seeing almost all RH bats, which he is much better against. I like this as a creative way to limit Cole’s innings. I would keep Watson and get rid of JMac.

    • Cato the Elder

      hahaha. I am pretty sure the Rockies did try something like this unsuccessfully last year. The main difference of course was that the Rockies were motivated to try it because the lacked quality starting pitching, and not because they had an over-abundance they were trying to preserve.

      • stickyweb

        Technicalities, Cato. If the pitching starved Rockies couldn’t pull it off, IT CAN’T WORK. I’m sure prior to trying this, the Rockies were leading the league in ERA and this just screwed the whole season for them :-)

  • BostonsCommon

    So would this continue into the playoffs? If these guys are limited to 4-5 innings every 4 days, would they need to be stretched out again for the playoffs?

    I can’t see this happening in the middle of a season when the staff and bullpen have been performing well. It would be one thing to change if things weren’t going well, but both the starters and relieves are 3rd in the league in ERA.

    Anyway, it will be interesting to see what happens. You would like to think that before the season Neil and Clint discussed, “What are we going to do if/when all these starters are actually healthy and performing well?”

    …I hope the answer wasn’t, “Well deal with that when we get there…”

    • stickyweb

      Their target pitch count is still 80 every game. If they’ve been throwing 80 every 4 days it should take exactly 1 start to stretch them out to 95 – 100 pitches. One start in the last week of the season and they’re ready for playoffs. Did I just say the Pirates are ready for PLAYOFFS? Wow!

  • timdwyer8

    Very interesting concept, but this isn’t a problem we need solved. We’ve had great depth from the pitching staff all year, and even if there will be some regressions to the mean, I’d rather take our chances there than take our chances blowing up the system in the middle of a year when the Bucs have the 3rd best ERA in the league and the 2nd best record.

    • Cato the Elder

      It will be a problem because the Pirates won’t have a place to stash all of the quality arms on the roster, if everyone is healthy – hence the Cole to the minors talk. It won’t be a real problem because everyone wont be healthy, but it is still an interesting idea to think about.

      • timdwyer8

        I’d rather send Cole to the minors and let him develop as a 7-8-9 inning starter than stunt his development by limiting him to 3-4 innings per start. An innings-eating ace is invaluable. Don’t want to put that future at risk.

  • pirateradio

    This sounds like a great idea if:

    * all starters are healthy at the same time
    * if the starters would be game for this kind of line up

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.j.stein.3 Jeremy J Stein

    I think this is a good idea and it could work.
    .
    Of course as others have noted, the hard part is getting all of the pitchers to buy into it.
    .
    Personally I think the reason for the 2011 and 2012 collapses was that the Starting pitching and bullpen came back to earth, either because they were worn out, injuries or just the baseball gods evening things out. Hopefully, the depth (quality and quanity) will help minimize the normalization of the pitching.
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    This idea gives them flexibility. Reduce the workload a little bit and then work guys back up in late August and September to get ready for playoffs (hopefully). If it doesn’t work out, it’s easy enough to drop the experiment and call bulpen guys back up from Indy.
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    Playoffs?!?! PLAYOFFS?!?!:?!!