Six-man rotation would actually make sense for the Yankees in September

Yankees lose 5-2 to Astros after bullpen falls apart again
Update: Yankees call up Zelous Wheeler, send down Chase Whitley
(Greg Fiume/Getty)
(Greg Fiume/Getty)

The Yankees have struggled to piece together a decent rotation for much of the season. At one point arguably the five best starting pitchers in the organization were on the disabled list, and for a big chunk of the summer they were without CC Sabathia (knee), Michael Pineda (shoulder), and Ivan Nova (elbow). Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) went down right before the All-Star break. Pineda has since returned but the other guys are all still on shelf and only Tanaka has a chance of returning before the end of the season.

Finding five quality starters has been a struggle at times, though the Yankees have a decent group right now. Pineda joins young Shane Greene and veterans Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, and Chris Capuano in the rotation, which isn’t the most intimidating fivesome in the league, but they’ve been no worse than solid these last few weeks. It would be nice if they pitched a little deeper in the game once in a while — Greene is the workhorse at this point, no? — but what can you do? Take what you can get. Those guys done more than any of us could have reasonable expected, really.

Rosters expand in only ten days now, at which point the Yankees will surely call up some extra players to help out in the final month of the season. Extra arms like Bryan Mitchell, Matt Daley, and (if healthy) Preston Claiborne will be back, and they may be joined by Manny Banuelos as well. Jacob Lindgren or Tyler Webb could replace Rich Hill, though that’s not adding another pitcher to the roster. Once rosters expand and the Yankees have extra bodies lying around, it actually makes sense to implement a six-man rotation for the final month of the regular season. Here are some reasons.

Control Workloads
Fatigue is always a concern this late in the season, especially for young pitchers and older pitchers. Kuroda has faded late in each of the last few seasons — he’s again showing signs of fading this year — and scaling back on his workload these last five weeks wouldn’t be a bad idea. I know Kuroda is likely in his final few weeks with the team, but he’s been a damn good Yankee these last three years and you take care of your people. He gave the club everything he had and they should reciprocate by taking it easy on him in September even if he won’t wear their uniform in 2014.

The 25-year-old Greene is actually in great shape with his innings total. In fact, he might not throw enough innings this season. He is at 109.2 innings total right now (MLB and Triple-A) after throwing 154.1 innings last season, the most in the farm system. The final weeks of the season probably get him up to 150 or so for the year. Ideally you’d like to see him get up to 170-180 innings this year, but still, we’re talking about a guy who was in High-A and Double-A last year. Major League innings are a different animal. They’re more intense and take more out of you. The raw innings total only tells you so much. Easing Greene towards those 150-ish innings is in no way a bad idea.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Injury Concerns
Needless to say, the rotation is still loaded with injury concerns. Pineda has made two starts after missing more than three months with a back/shoulder issue, and he didn’t even get stretched all the way during his rehab assignment. Given his injury history, taking it easy on him these last few weeks makes an awful lot of sense. Same goes for McCarthy, who has been healthy this year but has a long history of shoulder problems. If the Yankees intend to try to re-sign him after the season — and they should absolutely try to bring him back — then they have every reason to do whatever they can to keep him healthy in September.

And then there’s Tanaka, who threw his second bullpen session yesterday as he works his way back from a partially torn elbow ligament. Everything is going well so far — he even threw some breaking balls and splitters yesterday — so much so that he might face hitters in live batting practice for his next throwing session. The hope is Tanaka will return in September to make a few starts, and if he does, using a six-man rotation would be a fine way to take it easy on that elbow. They were trying to get him extra rest whenever they could before he got hurt. There’s no reason that should change once he returns, right?

Busy Schedule
The Yankees will play their final 38 games of the season in only 39 days. They do have two off-days (September 1st and 8th) but also one doubleheader (September 12th). They close the season out with 21 games in 20 days. There will be no opportunity to give the rotation an extra day of rest here or there the last three weeks of the season — at least not without more rainouts, which would only lead to more doubleheaders — so playing it safe with guys like Greene and Tanaka and Pineda will be tough. The six-man rotation would give everyone an extra day of rest each time through the rotation automatically. They won’t have the opportunity to give them that otherwise.

* * *

Though the Yankees are bringing David Phelps back from his elbow injury as a reliever, they’ll still have Mitchell and Esmil Rogers as sixth starter candidates until Tanaka returns. Maybe even Banuelos, if he’s physically up to it after missing close to two full seasons. That would be fun. Expanded rosters in September ensure there will be plenty of extra arms available in case someone gets knocked out early or anything like that. There’s no worry about overworking the bullpen.

Let’s face it, the team’s postseason odds are tiny — 4.3% according to FanGraphs and 3.1% according to Baseball Prospectus — so it really doesn’t matter who they run out there as the sixth starter. The important thing is getting guys like Tanaka and Pineda extra rest down the stretch, not winning every last ballgame. A six-man rotation isn’t all that practical before September, but it’s plenty easy to implement once rosters expand and winning is a secondary concern. It makes a lot of sense for the Yankees to use six starters in the season’s final month given the injury and workload issues on the roster.

Yankees lose 5-2 to Astros after bullpen falls apart again
Update: Yankees call up Zelous Wheeler, send down Chase Whitley
  • LIYankeeFan

    Okay, so with the topic. A six man would be great, but right now, it would take a spot of a reliever. My top candidates for the sixth man are Rogers, Banuelos, and Mitchell. Knowing Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi, the latter two are less likely to happen. However, they are pretty good, and with Rogers’ terrible performance yesterday, I really don’t know.

    • Scott

      Right now Baneulos and Mitchell are terribly inconsistent. Manny is getting better but he just had a poor outing his last time out, and Mitchell took a whooping yesterday.

  • Drew

    Capuano has given the Yankees more than anybody could have expected but keeping him in the rotation isn’t exactly ideal. I know monitoring injury concerns is a thing, but if you aren’t confident in guys making in through a few weeks with out getting hurt, then why are you going out there to begin with.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    This came up on here a few weeks ago, from Steve/Wanners, I believe. The conventional thinking at the time was that the team didn’t really have five, much less six, starters they could trust.

    Do I feel better about the possibility now? With Pineda back, and not having to (hopefully) dip into Rogers and Whitley and such? Sure. It still could change on a dime, though.

    Just as concerned as to overuse and potential injury with our better relievers, frankly. Diluting the rotation could make that worse.

    On the fence here, in the end.

    • lightSABR

      Well… since this would effectively be a “taking care of guys for next year” strategy, I assume you’d rest the better relievers, too, and let the young guys pitch more.

  • blake

    Let Jeter pitch

    • Pkyankfan69

      I’m still disappointed that Mariano didn’t play CF for a few innings… I get why he didn’t and the way he came out of his final game at NYS was awesome, but I really would have liked to see him out there.

      • Mick

        Jeter said not to.

  • Madrugador

    As far as the post season is concerned, I don’t think it matters 5 or 6. As far as next year is concerned, Mitchell and Banuelos need the experience and Tanaka and Pineda need the innings to know if their arms are going to hold up for 200 innings in 2015.

  • Robert

    Bring up the Kids the Fat lady is warmed up. Lets see Baneulos,Mitchell ,Webb and Jacob L. find out about them now !!! I’ve given up on the Obvious calling up Ref.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    We should go with a 6 man just to experiment if nothing else.

    i think it’s an important response to PED reductions & we should do it next year too.

    • Rick

      I’m not following on the PED line of thought. Can you elaborate?

      • Eric MacLaurin

        Pitchers took just as many steroids and speed as the hitters and developed a work load that took into account the extra energy and quick healing they provided.

        Now that everyone is stepping back with meds they aren’t stepping back on their work and it’s leading to injuries.

        Going with a 6 man gives a little more healing time and leaves them all better rested in every start and over the whole season. It seems to work well in Japan too.

        Pitchers here all seem to be so close to the edge they are all an extra 10 pitches away from the DL.

        Having a large budget and constant expensive injuries it seems to make sense to invest in the 6th starter. Any improvement to the health picture of the rest of the staff at all would make it a good investment.

        • Rick

          I get your point, but I’m not sure it can all be summarily attributable to PED’s. It could certainly be one factor though – despite definitive scientific evidence in either direction.

          • Eric MacLaurin

            I wasn’t trying to connect all of anything to peds. I was saying that the reduction in peds has made it hard for the bodies of athletes to recover from their exploits.

            Making something worse doesn’t mean it’s the entire cause.

            • Rick

              “[I] think it’s an important response to PED reductions & we should do it next year too” shows that you were connecting a large majority of to PED usage – which is surely misplaced.
              Also, I was not suggesting you were connecting “all of anything to peds.” I was simply summarizing your brief statement and addressing the main aspect of it.

              • Eric MacLaurin

                Get a grip dude! You need to think more and type less.

                What you quoted very clearly said we should do it in response to the loss of PEDs on the ability of the athlete to heal as quickly. Expanding that to say I think PED’s caused anything is a comprehension fail.

                There was no rating system to assess it compared to other reasons for anything.

                What you are doing is trying to twist my words into an absolute position I don’t agree with and am not trying to make. You should assume that when you “summarize” for someone and they argue that you aren’t getting it right.

                Please don’t use the words all and most interchangeably and don’t use one of them unless you mean it. It makes it impossible to follow your point.

                • Rick

                  “Summarily” – defined as: without wasting words; a presentation of the substance of a body of material in a condensed form or by reducing it to its main points; an abstract.
                  No one is twisting your words, however I did take them in the exact context for which you said them. So, I didn’t use anything incorrectly. Your comprehension of my argument was the only thing incorrect.

                  • Eric MacLaurin

                    When you add “all” and “large majority” or “assume” you are adding words and meaning.

                    “Without wasting words” means to reduce superfluous words that don’t add to the the speakers point. It does not mean adding or changing words to fit what you think the person is trying to say. You look foolish or manipulative when you argue with someone about what they think.

                    • Rick

                      First, no one changed your words. Quoting you is clearly not changing your words.
                      “You look foolish or manipulative when you argue with someone about what they think.”
                      That just makes no sense at all. I’m done with this conversation, you’re talking in circles and just being absurd. You’ve attempted to twisted words and have ended up looking ridiculous in the process – not to mention a pretentious jerk.

                    • Eric MacLaurin

                      You included a couple of quotes in your half dozen posts.

                      Surely you realize I’m talking about what you wrote and not the couple of lines you quoted.

                      Quoting someone with additional words is actually misquoting when you then refer to the entire thought as essentially a quote.

                      I don’t think you were ever able to get past the idea that you thought I was blaming PED’s or something when I was just trying to recommend less work for people who aren’t healing as fast.

                      I can understand disagreeing with a portion or all of the argument but past players, the effect of drugs or any of the other stuff is unrelated to my point.

        • Scott

          How about before the steroid era? In the 1940s-1960s starting pitchers (some 4 man rotations BTW) used to continuously pitch 8-9 innings every start. They didn’t use PEDs.
          Don’t recall who it was now, but a former MLB pitcher on ESPN said he thinks the problems with today pitchers is that so many of them are specializing in baseball only as kids, and throwing almost year round with spring leagues, summer leagues, fall leagues and indoor practice facilities in the winter. They are also throwing breaking balls at a younger age that is bad for undeveloped ligaments and tendons.
          Many moons ago, kids played 3-4 diferent sports, working different muscles and joints.

          • Eric MacLaurin

            If you follow individual sports you’l notice people push new boundaries every year. In baseball they adjusted workloads and jobs based on this drug induced ability.

            With the enabling drugs suddenly gone have you noticed pitchers throwing damaging pitches less often?

            They didn’t have the DH back in the day & they had a ton of speed, coke, heroin and almost anything else you can imagine. Not being paid much also meant little draw of top athletes and a higher valuation on staying healthy than throwing 90 MPH

            • Rick

              That totally misses his point. Pitchers back in the 40s and 50s pitched more innings and threw more pitches than pitchers today. Additionally, “speed, coke, and heroin” most certainly would not increase a pitchers performance nor prevent injury.

              • Eric MacLaurin

                They threw easier pitches, didn’t throw as hard, were considered disposable & threw less stressful innings.

                I’m happy to hear you are drug free but whoever told you drugs don’t enhance performance weren’t honest or knowledgeable.

                • Rick

                  “The threw easier pitches, didn’t throw as hard, were considered disposable & threw less stressful innings.”
                  At least some of those things are true, despite the fact you make it as if all of them are.

                  • Eric MacLaurin

                    Why not say which ones are and aren’t?

                    You’ll probably stumble upon an accurate point some day.

            • Scott

              I have no idea what you just wrote has anything to do with what I said. If pitchers “developed a work load that took into account the extra energy and quick healing they provided.” how does that explain the mammoth workloads, IPs and 4 man rotations of baseball prior to PEDs, speed, amphetimines, etc.
              Plenty of pitchers threw in the 90s back then, and they also threw a lot junk balls that do torque the elbow quite a bit.
              My point to your original point was that though a 6 man rotation might be good, it has nothing to do with the response to PEDs, when years ago guys were pitching every 4th day instead of every 5th and throwing 9 innings instead of 6.
              Not sure what crack, coke, the DH and not getting paid much has to do with a 6 man rotation.

  • Rick

    Agree with you, Mike. For the first time all year, my hand is on the white flag. It’s ready to be waved. Better to get everyone through the season healthy.

  • ropeadope1

    I know the article byline is Michael Axisa, but I think this might actually be a guest column written by Eddard, who’s been trumpeting the six man rotation for some time now. Are they one and the same?

    • Literally Figurative

      Finkel & einhorn……

      • ropeadope1

        I met Sean Young a long time ago (30+ yrs.).

  • Yankee Trader

    Per Mike-

    “The Yankees will play their final 38 games of the season in only 39 days. They do have two off-days (September 1st and 8th) but also one doubleheader (September 12th). They close the season out with 21 games in 20 days. ”

    Yes and their final 20 games are versus AL East opponents, the last 3 at Fenway.

    If by some miracle the Yankees are in a position to win the AL East, no I’m not really saying that. Oh well!

  • Martin Preddard

    I proposed this a couple weeks ago so it’s good to see that my ideas are now becoming mainstream. Phelps is a starter, he should remain a starter. I think the 6 man should be Tanaka, Pineda, McCarthy, Phelps, Kuroda, Greene.

    Next year our 5 man will be – Tanaka, Pineda, Phelps, Greene, FA

    The 6 man would have made a lot of sense even if we still had a legitimate chance at a postseason berth. Now that we have been effectively eliminated it makes even more sense with 3 of our guys coming back from injury.

    • Eric MacLaurin

      I’m so glad you invented the idea.

      It’s great they’re listening.

  • Dan A.

    Do they really want to give Pineda extra rest down the stretch? They should be trying to get his IN count up this year. Obviously don’t get him hurt. But he needs to get up over 50 IP this year, maybe 60. It’s important for his future.

  • gageagainstthemachine

    I like this idea, especially if our minuscule playoff hopes are dead. Might be a good experiment to save pitchers (but no guarantee of course) from the dreaded TJS. The bigger question going forward, and I’m “captain obvious-ing” here for a second, is the offense. Is this more of an anamoly year where it just wasn’t working but the tools were there, or is it more systemic? If it’s the latter, all the pitching changes in the world (to a pitching system which has somewhat thrived under the circumstances it’s been in all season) aren’t going to do a bit of good. Figuring out what went wrong offensively and how to fix it is going to be the real offseason work this winter. Again, this is painfully obvious, but having to watch this team bat is even more painful.

    • Martin Preddard

      What has gone wrong for the past 2 seasons is that Brian Cashman has burned us with too many old ballplayers with albatross contracts. He has infused no youth into the everyday lineup since Robbie Cano and Brett Gardner.

      He signs old and declining Beltran for 3 years, gives CC a 7 year extension that is now worthless, Teixera can’t stay on the field, A-Rod was Hank’s fault, Ellsbury is a decent player now but what about in 4 years when he’s 35 and has to play LF? Another powerless corner outfielder. Jeter retiring means that the last remnant of that great late 90’s dynasty is gone. What made that club great? Homegrown talent of Jeter, Bernie, Andy, Jorgie and Mariano and they built the rest of the club around them for nearly 20 years.

      • runninonempty

        In some ways, Tex, to me, is the most infuriating, and the signing of Beltran. Tex just said in an interview how sad it was that He and Carlos were so injured this season. Wow. That miserable POS has the nerve to just make excuse after excuse for his .233 BA and his inability to stay on the field. He looks for any excuse to explain away his lack of hitting and courage. He is a disgrace to the Yankee uniform, although I think now, the ” Yankee Uniform” is a thing of the past. They are now the team that other teams look forward to playing and to get better against.

  • lightSABR

    You’ve got me convinced. Of course, it will never happen.

  • nsalem

    One day I would love to see a bullpen where minimally you would trust every relief pitcher in a high leverage situation against both lefties and righties the exception being carrying an elite Loogy. This would mean that Rogers,Hill and Huff wouldn’t be on this roster and Kelley would be up for debate. Presently the Yankees have an offense that is having great difficulty scoring more than 4 runs a game and a killer bullpen all the way down the line is one way to counteract it. I realize that this is much easier said than done.