The six-man pitching rotation will become a major feature on some MLB teams this season. That expectation surfaces following last week’s announcement of newly-christened rules for the 2020 season. While there’s nothing in the rules that suggests a six-man rotation gives teams an edge, some have been eager to advertise their use of the tactic.
Managers for the Angels, Tigers and Mariners have been trailblazers on this issue. They intend to begin the season with a six-headed pitching staff. However, teams like the Rangers, Dodgers, Athletics and Diamondbacks have all spoken out against adopting this strategy. What’s the rub?
If there’s one irrefutable truth about baseball, it’s that the establishment always remains suspicious of new game tactics. Until they’ve been proven to work, at least.
Baseball has used a five-starter rotation since the 1920s. Before that, teams generally used four starters, three starters before that and so on. Now in a time where baseball is examined analytically, new strategies are numerous. But the five-starter rotation endures, and doesn’t look to change in the near future. Still, let’s consider the case for teams using six-man rotations this season.
The major benefit of this strategy is easy to understand. An extra starter gives players an extra day of rest in between appearances. Starting pitchers, notorious creatures of habit, have been vocal in their opposition to this new concept for years now. Still, the major difference between the argument then and now revolves around a 60-game season.
Spring training 2.0 is set to last only three weeks, only half of its usual drawn-out length. It seems probable that many pitchers, especially young arms with lots to prove, may rush in preparing for this 60 game push. Veteran hurlers aren’t immune to this mindset either, as they’ll be seeking a full year of contribution before age and ineffectiveness sets in. Pitchers approaching the season with these mindsets increase their potential for injury exponentially.
Under the conditions, the proposition for an extra day of rest suddenly starts to look a lot more enticing. Protection from injuries. Ability to throw more pitches. Everybody wins.
With a roster of 60 players to choose among, many teams figure to have more than half their roster depth in pitching. The strong desire to decrease injuries across baseball also manifests in roster choices. Rosters then become another factor in the case for using six-man rotations this season.
Any other year, teams could cite innings limits, lopsided divisional races or service time manipulation as excuses for exempting certain players from transactions. For not bringing in that extra starter. But this is a 60 game season, where one hot streak can place normally “bad teams” into the postseason. There can be little argument that pitching better pitchers is the best decision any team can make this season.
Of course, the caveat to this plan is the same as its supposed advantage — pitching depth. If teams do not have solid backup starters or major league ready prospects, there isn’t much to gain by using a six-man rotation. Which is fine. Teams set up well under this system should look to utilize it. More established squads can settle for the status quo.
New Look, New Strategies
Perhaps the biggest reason for teams to use a six man rotation? Baseball is already going to look crazy and unfamiliar this season. Empty ballparks and the three-batter minimum rule to taxi squads, universal DHs and an August 31 trade deadline. Baseball will be a living adaptation of April Fools Day.
That’s not to say the season will be bad or unenjoyable; far from it. It just means that baseball is primed to do lots of unprecedented things over the next three months. Who’s to say a six-starter rotation would be any crazier than what’s been proposed?
Baseball fans might not like it, but they will learn to deal with it. Before long, fans could likely tell their grandchildren how they personally saw the first widespread use of a six-man rotation. And in 70 years, that’s a story everyone will want to hear.
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