Phil Hughes. Humberto Sanchez. Tyler Clippard. Steven White. Ross Ohlendorf. Matt DeSalvo. Jeff Karstens. Darrell Rasner. Steven Jackson.
That’s 9 guys vying for 5 Triple-A rotation spots. Even though most of us would prefer the Yanks to have that dearth of pitching at the big league level, none of these guys are that far away from contributing to the Bombers. Before we start to shake outÂ this situation, let’s take a quick look at which each player did last year to put themselves in contention for a AAA rotation gig:
Hughes (A+/AA): 146 IP, 92 H, 168-34 K-BB, 2.16 ERA, 0.86 WHIP
Sanchez (AA/AAA): 123 IP, 97 H, 129-47 K-BB, 2.63 ERA, 1.17 WHIP
Clippard (AA): 166.1 IP, 118 H, 175-55 K-BB, 3.35 ERA, 1.04 WHIP
White (AA/AAA): 175.1 IP, 152 H, 133-70 K-BB, 3.70 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
Ohlendorf (AA/AAA): 182.2 IP, 186 H, 129-29 K-BB, 3.25 ERA, 1.18 WHIP
DeSalvo (AAA/AA): 116.2 IP, 127 H, 82-93 K-BB, 6.24 ERA, 1.73 WHIP
Karstens (AA/AAA/MLB): 190.1 IP, 174 H, 131-55 K/BB, 3.40 ERA, 1.20 WHIP
Rasner (Rk/A+/AAA/MLB): 92 IP, 95 H, 70-20 K/BB, 3.23 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
Jackson(AA): 149.2 IP, 131 H, 125-44 K-BB, 2.65 ERA, 1.18 WHIP
Obviously, having this much young pitching depth is a problem 30 clubs would like to have. But how does this play out? I see 3Â realistic options available:
Give the spots to the guys with the most talent
If you go this route, youâ€™re looking at a 5-man staff of Hughes-Sanchez-Ohlendorf-Clippard-DeSalvo, which is a better staff than whoever the Nationals will be throwing out there. The problem with this is that Karstens and Rasner are just a phone call away from a big league emergency start, but will be ill-prepared coming out ofÂ Scranton’s bullpen.
Give the spots to the guys with the best track record
Going this route would yield a Hughes-Clippard-Karstens-DeSalvo-Rasner staff, which would still be better than the Nats rotation. However, Sanchez and Ohlendorf are left out in the cold, and it’s very possible that those 2 will turn out to be the best pitchers of the bunch. Simply put, they need to accumulate innings in a controlled way (i.e. starting every 5th day).
Give it to the guys who perform best during the spring
This is clearly the most logical approach, as competition is a great motivator, but this would leave you with a staff of Karstens-Clippard-Ohlendorf-TBA-TBA, as none of the other guys have performed as expected (or at all in Sanchez’s case). Surely you wouldn’t want to leave Hughes out of the rotation, and who’s to say that Rasner has been better/worse than Jackson, or that Hughes was better/worse than Rasner? Tough calls.
They could always use a 6 man rotation, but that’s just a bad idea in general, especially in the minors. In a feeble attempt to think outside the box, hereâ€™s my solution: go with a tandem starter system.
â€œBut Mike, whatâ€™s a tandem starter system?â€
Glad you asked. A tandem starter system is a way teams try to limit the pitch counts of their prized young arms, while getting as many guys into the game as possible. It’s used mainly in the low minors (Dellin Betances and Zach McAllister were a tandem last year in Rookie ball) with very young pitchers, but hereâ€™s the basic idea of how it works: Pitcher A starts the game and is held to a 60 pitch/3 IP limit, Pitcher B then comes in and is held to the same limits, then miscellaneous relievers finish off the remaining innings. The Rockies actually tried this at the big league level in the mid-90’s with a limit of 4 IP for the “starters”, but that was a disaster. The Reds used the tandem system in the minors for years before junking itÂ prior toÂ 2006, which just so happened to coincide with some of their top young pitchers taking off.
I’m the first to admit that this is a less than ideal solution,Â so why do I think it’s the way to go? Simple; it’s cold as all holy hell in Scranton, even in April. Using tandem starters will limit the amount of time each pitcher will have to bear the elements, still keep them on a regular rotation schedule, and limit their pitches to avoid overwork later in the year. Once the situation changes in May – when someone is called up, someone else is demoted, someone else is traded, etc – and the weather warms up, you can take the reigns off and let the 5 best go nuts. I’d line’em up like this:
Day 1: Hughes-Karstens
Day 2: DeSalvo-Sanchez – finesse guy to an extreme power guy is almost unfair for the hitters
Day 3: Ohlendorf-Rasner
Day 4: Clippard-Jackson
Day 5: White with no tandem
Of course having 9 starters in a tandem system leaves you room for 3, maybe 4 relievers. JB Cox and TJ Beam and shoo-ins, but then there’s Justin Pope, Charlie Manning, Jose Veras, and Colter “giveÂ him some damn respect. No way, he’d get spanked in the bigs” BeanÂ left over.
No matter how you slice it, 3 or 4 guys are going to get the shaft and be banished to Double-A. For about 2 months anyway.