After returning from the canceled 2020 season, the minor leagues adjusted the schedule to have team’s play six-game series from Tuesday through Sunday, with a near universal day off for travel on Monday. It’s a system that is still being used to this day, now entering year three of doing so.
One of the ways the Pirates tried and eased pitchers back into a full season worth of baseball was to adapt to the schedule and use a six-man rotation. After missing an entire year of competition, this eased pitchers back in by having them pitch once a week.
Last year we saw every level except for Bradenton go back to a five-man rotation for most of the season, although the pitcher throwing twice in a week sometimes was on a more strict pitch limit.
Now entering year three of having the schedule this way, should the Pirates revert back to a six-man rotation?
While it does limit the amount of innings that pitchers are getting, potentially slowing down development, it does keep more options available. The Pirates are going to have quite the traffic jam in Indianapolis to start the year, with depending how the major league roster shakes down, there could be quite a few names forced back to Altoona to start the season.
We know it’s looking like Roansy Contreras, Mitch Keller, JT Brubaker, Rich Hill and potentially Vince Velasquez will get the first crack at the major league rotation. If they want to keep Johan Oviedo as a starter, he’d have to slide to Indianapolis to have some depth on the 40-man roster.
That leaves up to nine potential names for the rotation for Indianapolis;
You can make a case that Bolton, Mlodzinski and Nicolas (pictured above) can slide to the bullpen, which has a logjam of its own before factoring them in, but I’m not sure it’s time to pull the plug in some of those cases.
Fastball, fastball, slider. Easy peasy strikeout for Quinn Priester #LetsGoBucs pic.twitter.com/10j3XCs4hk
— Anthony Murphy (@__Murphy88) September 15, 2022
Mlodzinski/Nicolas could head back to Altoona to start the season, if only to keep as many arms stretched out as possible. The Curve used a lot of piggyback pitchers in the early stages of the season, with the starters never really pitching more than four innings at a time.
Double-A Altoona could have a similar situation, especially if one of those names slide down from Indy. Justin Meis, Jared Jones, Sean Sullivan, Ricky DeVito, and Aaron Shortridge are among candidates to start in the Curve rotation to start the year. Braxton Ashcraft will be coming off of Tommy John, so he’ll be eased back in, and he eventually could be in line for a rotation spot.
The other player in the Richard Rodriguez, Ricky DeVito has had an up and down season this year. He has great stuff, and misses a lot of bats, but control has been an issue. He's also pitched better in Greensboro, which is rare #LetsGoBucs I'll have more on him Tuesday pic.twitter.com/jWMiwSdIBd
— Anthony Murphy (@__Murphy88) July 10, 2022
If Ashcraft sticks in Greensboro, where he last pitched in 2021, he will join a picture that includes most of the Bradenton rotation from last year. Valentin Linarez, Bubba Chandler, Po-Yu Chen, Carlos Jimenez, and Anthony Solometo should all factor into the mix.
They also heavily invested into college pitching in last year’s draft, with Thomas Harrington among them. He could also start the year in Greensboro, giving them anywhere from six to eight options right out the gate.
There are plenty of pros and cons when it comes to a six man rotation in the minors. It makes sure your prospects arms don’t have a chance to get worn down over a long season, but it doesn’t really allow you to prepare them for a major league workload.
Times are different now, and there aren’t many starters pitching deeper into games as the league becomes more and more analytically dependent. That actually works in the favor of a six-man rotation.
It will be interesting to see how the Pirates utilize the amount of options they have, starting pitcher wise. They have a lot of prospects with upside, but need the innings to try and get there.
Highlight of the Day
Pirates Prospects Daily
By Tim Williams
**For a second there, I thought Anthony was going to be advocating for a six-man MLB rotation. I would be for it. Or, at least a five-man rotation with a fifth starter piggyback situation. I wrote about this idea in my column last week.
**Ethan Hullihen broke down how service time works in his latest Pirates Business article.
**Missed yesterday? Anthony broke down the backup catcher battle after the recent addition of Kevin Plawecki.
Song of the Day
I am all for having 1 or 2 pitchers being used in long relief appearances this year. Last year our starting pitchers lasted an average of 4.7 innings.
As long as roster size stays at 26, then we’ll need to stay with 5-man rotation. If it goes to 27 some day, which the Union would support, then that may open things up for a 6-man. As for Milb, I’d support 6-man to study arm health versus 5-man. That would be the main reason to see if there might be fewer TJ’s going with 5 – 6 days rest.
I think a lot of these logjams will sort themselves out. Injuries happen every year and spots naturally open up. Beyond that, I’m more in favor of piggybacking than having a 6-man rotation. If guys like Mlodszinski and Bolton had a scheduled day where each threw 4 innings, everyone would get extended pitching opportunities on a regular basis.
I don’t think MLB is moving to 6-man rotations, but I do believe they’re moving toward bridging the gap between relievers and starters. I expect to see more and more short outings (twice through the lineup) for starters, with more Wil-Crow-2022esque long reliever roles, that include 2-3 innings in non-mop-up situations (enough hyphens for you guys?). Mlodszinski and Bolton seem like ideal candidates for that kind of role, as they have starter stuff, but would likely play up in relief.
AAA seems like the place to move guys into that transition, as it allows them a full run at the minors before giving up on a 6 or 7 inning guy, and taking lesser value to get more quality outcomes in a reduced role.
AA doesn’t have a true logjam. Guys like Meis, Sullivan and Devito are not sacred-level starters… all have relatively low ceilings and could be converted to relief without much concern.
As for the lower level logjams, I don’t really see it. Mmmaybe in Greensboro, if Harrington and Chandler are in the mix with Solometo, Jimenez, Chen and Linarez. But still, that assumes that Chandler doesn’t stay behind in low-A to bring the bat up to speed, Harrington gets aggressively placed, and no one gets injured. Could still be solved via one piggyback.
I like getting creative with innings management, but I see more cost to building endurance and workload than benefit in squeezing in opportunities.
To clarify that last sentence; a 6-man rotation hurts the ability to build endurance and workload, while not adding much in terms of extra opportunities.
Don’t even need to read the article. The answer is “no”. What they NEED to do is properly get these pitchers up to a reasonable inning amount so they are actually useful when the get here. A starting pitcher should need 150 IP in a year before even being considered for a rotation. So what, we would have a 6 man rotation with these snowflakes still only pitching 5 innings? Hell no. The only way you go to a 6 man is telling these guys they are EXPECTED to pitch into the 7th inning. Its time to get these guys comfortable again PITCHING later in games, instead of THROWING for 5 innings and coming out. The pirates just can’t afford to have their top prospect pitchers come to the majors only able to pitch 5 innings every 6 days. We need more.
Really hope Oviedo shows enough this Spring to start the season in the rotation. Maybe piggyback Dick Mountain and VV to start the year?
If not, I can see them using a 6 man rotation in April since I think there’s only two scheduled off days.
Nice problem to have, too many pitchers for the spots needed. In the not too near distant past, we had a lot of pitchers who fell under the category of “who the heck is this guy?” and none had much more than a minor league depth for their upside. Suddenly a lot of guys with at least an upside to the bigs. Can’t wait to see how the story turns out for several of these guys.
I agree, a lot of options. Which is a good thing!! I would be alittle different in my placements though. I wouldn’t mind seeing acouple guys repeat and stayed stretched out as SP until a spot opened up or they prove otherwise.
AAA – JohanOviedo, QuinnPriester, MikeBurrows, LuisOrtiz, CodyBolton, Wei-ChiehHuang
AA – C.Mlodzinski, KyleNicolas, JarredJones, ScottRandall, RickyDeVito, AaronShortridge
HighA – ThomasHarrington, A.Solometo, SeanSullivan, JustinMeis, Po-YuChen, ValentinLinarez, DrewIrvine
Injury-HunterBarco, JulianBosnic, DrakeFellows
A – BubbaChandler, CarlosJimenez, HungLengChang, DerekDiamond, LuisPeralta, JpMassey, OwenSharts
*HungLengChang is 21 years old(22 in October) and I think he gets to Bradenton before Alesandro Ercolani who is only 18(19 in April).
And I would like to see Michael Kennedy at some point in Bradenton but it’s doubtful. Same with Owen Kellington.
Owen Sharts? 🙁
SP in college and was coming off an injury last season. I’ve seen and read a lot of positive stuff about him from multiple scouts/prospect writers or prospect websites.
He was also a very highly regarded pitcher coming out of HS. I think the highest rated HS pitcher in Nevada(which isn’t exactly a hotbed but still impressive). He went to Nevada college and from what I remember, he improved every season.
Or are u making fun of his name? Lol. Which I’m sure is the most original joke he’s ever heard.
Edit** – https://www.mlb.com/prospects/2018/draft/owen-sharts-680714
If Oviedo wins the 5th spot in the rotation over VV(which I’m hoping happens) and VV moves to the bullpen in a long relief/spot starter role, then that would leave a 5 man rotation in AAA. Maybe Bido starts if you really want the 6 man rotation.
And DeVito could move back to the bullpen and that also gives you a 5 man rotation in AA.
I don’t see anyway around a 6-man in Greensboro and Brandenton though.
I would like to see them move Drew Irvine to a SP; like they did Meis. He has a SP profile. He throws a FB, slider, and a good change-up, was a starter in college and has that SP body type that is successful and scouts look for. But they probably don’t which leaves the 6.
And without Owen Sharts in my mock up, who probably starts out in FCL, that also leaves 6 in Bradenton.
Bolton doesn’t throw enough strikes tin my opinion to claim a spot if there are other options, Mod, not a fan, but should move to AAA. Big DeVito fan and I believe that he is a reliever long term, but that should be decided by seasons ends and therefore he should start. I do agree with A levels having a six man rotation!
Bolton should be in the pen. The larger issue I think is they should start sorting guys out who are actual depth, and those who are better suited to the bullpen. So at least they can contribute at the MLB level. Instead of doing the Huntington dance which is every pitching prospect with a pulse has a chance to be a starter and then you don’t know what to do when you have 15 guys slotted in the rotation at Indy and Pgh.
Bolton has just been productive at every stop/level though. I think he showed good progress last season on an innings limit and not pitching since 2019 too. Me personally, I just can’t pass a guy up on the depth chart or move off him if he’s producing good numbers.
I still not all out on Mlodzinski either. I would probably rather DeVito if you gave me the choice right now though.
But Mlodzinski still has the work ethic(from all reports he’s a psycho and has to be told to take a day off and even got in trouble for not resting while injured), SP repertoire, and SP build to become successful MLB SP. And his numbers aren’t atrocious. But you would expect them to be better and hope at some point dominant. He’s definitely running short on time to stay a SP.
I guess we’ll see!! I’ve definitely been wrong b4 on prospects though!! I’m still holding out hope that Desmond Jennings comes out of retirement and proves me right.
Six-man rotations are different in MLB and MiLB. In MLB they are designed to help you win. In MiLB development is primary; winning is secondary.
So your verdict? I say lower level is fine, get a look at more arms as starters while managing workload.
I have mixed feelings about a 6-man vs. a 5-man rotation. But for a 6-man rotation, I’d love to see a team try a model where a guy starts, rests for two days, pitches out of the pen on the third day, rests for another two days, and then starts again. For development, that exposes prospects to both roles, starter and reliever. For major leaguers, it’s a way to add a starter without reducing the pen or bench and to get more innings out of your best pitchers. For example, who wouldn’t prefer an inning from Keller, Contreras, Brubaker, Oviedo, … over an inning from Crowe, De Jong, DUJ, …?
Maybe that can’t work at the major league level because it’s too hard for a pitcher to adjust his mindset (of course it regularly happens in the postseason but the postseason is its own thing). Again, mixed feelings about 6-man vs. 5-man, but if a 6-man I’d like their “throw day” to include an actual inning or two.
Maybe small market teams need this type of “outside the box” thinking to level the playing field?
Think who succeeds as a starter in MLB. Guys who are dominant starters in the minors. Even guys like Brault, Kuhl, Brubaker… dominated in AA and AAA and they’re just OK MLB starters.
Let’s quit pretending that guys with a 1.32 WHIP in the minors are worth any thought of being ML starters.
I want to trust more advanced metrics as your choice of 1.32 doesn’t seem to work. Kuhl and Brault both pass that test as you state but a Max Fried and Tom Glavine (kind of border line) do not. Randy Johnson not surprisingly does not pass that test.
What defines dominant and don’t we also need pitchers who may not be dominant but may carve out long careers as starters.
At some point we fill out the minor league rotations with whoever the Pirates best think profile as future starters. Some years that looks pretty sad and some years it my look good (they all throw 99), but the odds are low.
I guess I don’t understand what you are driving towards, how many even potential ‘dominant’ pitchers is ever realistic to think a team will have in it’s pipeline at any one time?
Dominated is strong. Good ERA, true. Average to bad BA against, WHIP, K rates, and peripherals.
The answer is probably both. some pitchers you can pitch on a 5 day schedule, if you are grooming them for top of the rotation MLB pitcher, and you work around those chosen few to have others pitch on more rest if there is a log jam of potential lower tier starters.
As an aside, I really like the 6-game series, a lot less travel required, and more time can be spent training. I also live kind of near Greensboro, so it makes it a lot easier to remember when they are at home.
The six-game series was a great move by the minors.
This is kinda long, but it’s an interesting topic.
Short answer for me is no. The main issue with the Pirates’ pitching prospects, as a group, is needing a couple guys to step forward and look like more than mid-rotation starters. (Happened to read just this, for the umpteenth time yesterday, at BA.) I don’t see how that happens with guys pitching once a week like in college.
And I think the Pirates, like the other 29 teams, would prefer not to do the opener, piggybacking thing if they can find starters who can go through a lineup a third time. If you check the game logs of the Altoona starters in 2022, you see everybody topped out at 5 IP for a while, but as the season went along they started pushing guys into the sixth or seventh. It varied with individuals. Mlodzinski, for instance, not much. But they did it a good bit with Ortiz, Priester and, of all people, Aaron Shortridge. Ortiz and Priester sometimes went longer even when they seemed to be pitching only okay-ish.
Shouldn’t be any different with the question of a six-man rotation. You’re not getting used to a MLB workload if you’re pitching once a week. Even in a five-man rotation you’re pitching only every six days most of the time, due to the six-day schedule now in the minors.
Below AA is a different issue, of course. But I do think the Pirates are trying to identify guys who can be something close to traditional starters. At Greensboro and Bradenton last year, they mostly stuck with their rotations until promotions or injuries intervened. They seem to be trying to make judgments about these guys, without just relying on trial and error, which seemed to be the approach under NH. (Of course, there’s more talent now, because they’re actually getting a lot of good international arms, something that wasn’t happening under NH until the last year or two.) IMO, they just have to make choices sometimes and run the risk that a guy may get overlooked.
WTM – make sure you listen to Priester talk to David Laurilla on the Fangraphs podcast couple weeks ago. Priester talks to some of these things.
He talks about Davis, Burrows and how he uses his 2 and 4 seamer, is a good listen.
David Laurila also did an article/interview with Priester alittle while back on Fangrapghs(like a year or so ago). I’m sure you could still find it.
I remember it being a good read and super interesting too. He talks about spin rates, Trackman and Rapsodo data.
Thx, gotta check that.
By the by, anyone with a New York Times subscription, there’s an article released today about our old 1B John Jaso now living a life on a sailboat. Pretty interesting. Pretty spot on.
This surprises no one! Freaking Jaso.
Yeah, but you’ve got to understand the challenges that he faces: plenty of money, complete freedom, beautiful girlfriend, lovely boat, and ripped physique. A delightful read (you don’t need an account to read a couple of articles a month). FYI, his retirement life looks like most people’s fantasy, but a lot of folks eventually start wanting to give back (fo family, society, or something else).
Love Linkin Park. Love hip-hop. But the Jay-Z / Linkin Park combo was meehhhh…
Can’t fault the marketing though. Jay-Z is an exceptional business man. I think the collaboration opened an entirely new audience for him. Not that he wasn’t successful before. But the man cannot make an incorrect business move.
Yea six man rotation, but eventually bump their pitch counts to 110 because they will only be throwing one time a week.
“… it doesn’t really allow you to prepare them for a major league workload.”
Heck why don’t we just start 9 or 10 and pitch each one three innings with the goal of once through the lineup and have them pitch 75 innings each year. This should limit the wear and tear on their fragile arms. It’s not like we’d want to change anything about the successful development program the Pirates have for young pitchers! When they get to the majors, suppose we increase the best to 100 innings and about 20 starts.
Why not start 5 and have some good old competition? The ones that succeed stay in the rotation and the ones that don’t are replaced? A couple dominant pitchers developed trump a dozen replacement levels.
Where is the research that says 100 pitches is a max limit?
And, if pitchers are trained to go longer ingames, maybe they won’t run out of gas the third time around?
Just a thought.
While I miss the days of Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, etc… Baseball has evolved away from the 250+ inning pitcher. I think there were only FIVE 200+ innings last year.
6-man rotations, piggyback starters, long relief appears to match up with what the current pirate system has; ultimately, there is trade fodder (granted, of low return/quality) to be cashed in.
But is it a GOOD evolution? The current system means that you need more and more good pitchers. And, as most teams find out, that is hard to do.
You say trade the excess but the fact is every team is chock full of pitching prospects who throw very hard and have excellent breaking balls and trading the excess isn’t as easy or lucrative as it sounds.
There are certainly myriad reasons that teams have such large amounts of minor leaguers compared to Bob Gibson’s day’s but one very significant reason is that they don’t pitch 250 innings anymore.
Remember mark fidrych? And even much more recently mark prior? These are the poster boys of the current reality and while you can yearn for the old days, the way of that world was to not only keep the ones who could get outs, but keep the ones who didn’t shred their arms doing it.
and kerry wood
It’s the trend in pitching today, and the Pirates have the quality depth within the system to make a 6 man rotation work, at least for the first few months of the season. Make adjustments as necessary.
Why is Velasquez thought to be a SP? Did BC promise him a spot in the Rotation in order to sign him? He started in a rotation last year and did not do very well. After about 6 or 7 starts, he was moved into the BP and pitched the rest of last year as a reliever.
Velasquez is here for 4 months and then gone, and I cannot see favoring him over a kid like Johan Oviedo who was 2-2, 3.23 ERA in 7 Starts, 30.2 IP for the Pirates after being traded from the Cardinals.
It’s the Pirate Way. Why give a kid a chance, when you can bring on a ‘never-has-been’ to take valuable playing time away from him??
Agree. Oviedo had started 13 games for the Cardinals in 2021, but then only started one game in 2022 – spending most of his time in the BP. When traded to the Pirates they stretched him out over 7 Starts at the end of the season, where he put up some excellent numbers.
I can agree that VV has value to the Pirates as SP #6 /BP, and he could be valuable at the trade deadline. But not somebody who will keep Oviedo out of the Rotation. That would be just stupid.
Back on that narrative again? #5 or #6 pitchers are not valuable at the trade deadline. They are not candidates for flipping for a lottery ticket. They are of no value to teams in the hunt looking to get better. They are DFA candidates, that’s it.
I know that BP meant bullpen, but my first thought was Batting
It isn’t so unusual to promise him an in season shot at starting. I’m sure they didn’t promise him a guaranteed 30 starts and they probably have some idea they can “fix him”. If it fails Oviedo will take over.