The Mythical Six Man Rotation

Might Nova draw the short straw? (Photo Credit: Flickr user Marianne O'Leary via Creative Commons license)

Given the state of the rotation heading into Spring Training, it’s hard to believe that we can sit here on July 1st and say that the Yankees have too many starting pitchers. I guess that’s what happens when you catch lightning in a bottle with not one but two retreads, and the untested rookie exceeds relatively modest expectations. Bartolo Colon will come off the disabled list tomorrow following a brief battle with a sore hamstring, and Phil Hughes figures to be activated sometime in the next week after missing all but three (awful) starts with shoulder inflammation. That makes six guys for five spots.

Prior to yesterday’s game against the Brewers, Joe Girardi said a six-man rotation was “something we’re going to think about,” mentioning that it’s easier said than done. “Do we feel a guy needs an extra-day off? Do you skip a guy just to give him a little extra rest in one spot? There’s just some different things that you could do to be creative with the rotation if you do a six-man. Do, all of a sudden, you need one guy in the bullpen because your bullpen was fried the day before? Those are all things you have to consider if you do that. It’s all things we have to figure out in the next couple of days. It’s somewhat complicated, but we need to figure it out.”

Six-man rotations are great in theory, but very rarely are they put into practice (this year’s White Sox are an obvious exception). It seems to me that the most creative thing the Yankees could do is roll with a modified six-man rotation, one in which CC Sabathia starts on traditional five-day rest regardless of whose turn it is to pitch. That way you maximize the number of starts CC makes, which is never a bad idea. If Colon comes back from the disabled list throwing like he was earlier in the year, then it’s probably a good idea to start him every five days as well.

That leaves the other four guys making sporadic starts around Colon and Sabathia. Could be six days rest this turn through the rotation and eight days next time. Pitchers are creatures of habit and like to have a set routine between starts, and the variable rest will only disrupt that. Perhaps they could come up with some kind of weird tandem starter system, where every five days two starters are combining to throw all nine innings. The first guy throws the first five innings, and the next guy finishes it off. They could even alternate roles every other starts. Sounds great on paper, but that’s one of those things that’ll never ever ever work in a Major League game.

The Yankees are in a tough but enviable position. They have some surprising pitching depth, even if half of the rotation only figures to pitch like a four or five starter. The easiest move would be to demote Ivan Nova – either to the bullpen or to Triple-A so he can remain stretched out – since he’s the kid with those precious minor league options. Is it fair? No, probably not. Nova’s pitched well of late and doesn’t really deserve to lose his spot, but sometimes that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’d hate to see the Yankees mess around with Colon and/or Garcia when there might be only so many bullets left in those arms.

Ultimately, this is just a temporary situation. Something will happen, most likely sooner rather than later, that will take someone out of the rotation, be it injury or poor performance or both. These things always have a way of taking caring of themselves, I promise you. The depth looks great now but before you know it it’ll be gone, and all this talk of a six man rotation will look silly. I say just send Nova down, it’s the simplest and cleanest move. Don’t worry, he’ll be back before long.

Soriano, Feliciano both throw off mound

Via Bryan Hoch, both Rafael Soriano and Pedro Feliciano threw off a mound in Tampa today. The former threw 32 pitches, the latter 30 soft tosses. I’m guessing that we’ll see Soriano throw a few more bullpens before facing batters in a simulated game, then he’ll head out on a rehab assignment. His rehab stint shouldn’t be all that long since he’s just a one inning reliever. Either way, Soriano’s not eligible to come off the disabled list until after the All-Star break, so he has time. Feliciano still was a long way to go.

RAB Live Chat

Series Preview: New York Mets

(From Flickr user David Berkowitz via Creative Commons license.)

This weekend marks the close of interleague play in 2011. After a two-series homestand the Yanks head across town to play their second to last series this year without the DH. The Yanks and the Mets met up during that brief interleague weekend in may, and after dropping the first one the Yanks took the next two. Overall they are 11-3 against National League opponents and have won their last five games.

What Have the Mets Done Lately?

The Mets have fared well since interleague play started. After dropping a series to Anaheim they won series against Oakland, Texas and Detroit. Included in those series wins is a string of four games in which they put up 52 runs, putting them over .500 for the first time since April 6th. They dropped the final game of the series to the Tigers, but they get a pass on account of facing Justin Verlander. Overall they’re playing some of their best baseball this season, which will certainly make this series a bit more exciting.

Mets on Offense

(From Flickr user slgckgc via Creative Commons license.)

As a unit the Mets rank eighth in the majors with a .324 wOBA, and get a slight bump in the adjusted numbers because of their pitcher-friendly park. Understandably, they don’t hit for much power, ranking in the bottom third of the league in ISO. They are, however, fourth in OBP and BA and first in triples, so they do get the job done on offense. Their 4.56 runs per game ranks third in the National League.

Jose Reyes leads the way in every rate stat, hitting .352/.397/.529 while stealing 30 bases and scoring 65 runs. You’ll hear people, particularly announcers, saying that the key for the Yanks is to keep Reyes off base. That’s all find and good as a concept, but clearly it’s no easy task. Reyes is actually tied atop the WAR leader board right now with Jose Bautista with 5.3 WAR. Carlos Beltran isn’t far behind, hitting .281/.370/.493 with a team-leading 12 home runs. Reyes and Beltran are clearly the biggest threats on the team, but there are others who can do some damage.

The Mets were looking for big things from Angel Pagan, but a slow start followed by an injury set him, and them, back for a while. He’s finally starting to get into the rhythm, so don’t be fooled by his .326 wOBA. He’s produced .341 and .358 wOBAs in the last two years and is coming into the series 9 for his last 17 with three doubles. Daniel Murphy has been another threat, hitting .302/.346/.426 while playing around the diamond (though mostly at first).

There are a few underrated guys to look out for as well. Ronny Paulino has been getting a few more reps at catcher, and he’s been a bigger threat at the plate than Opening Day starter Josh Thole. Paulino is hitting .346/.387/.442 in 112 PA. That might not be a meaningful sample, but you never know how long a hot streak will last. I’d bet on him getting two out of three starts in the series. Jason Bay has also been quite a deal better lately, hitting .317/.371/.444 since June 11th. It’s not the Bay the Yankees came to know while he was in Boston, but then again he wasn’t that player last year and he still managed to kill them.

Mets on the Mound

(From Flickr user slgckgc via Creative Commons license.)

Friday: LHP Jon Niese. A few weeks back I read somewhere that Niese’s rotation spot was in jeopardy. For a team with an already thin starting staff, I wasn’t sure why anyone would say that, but I guess they were frustrated by his 5.03 ERA on May 12th. Since then he’s pitched 49.2 innings to a 2.36 ERA, including 47 strikeouts to 13 walks. Overall on the season he’s thrown 98 innings to a 3.67 ERA and 3.62 FIP. On the whole he’s been the Mets most effective starter this year, and I’m sure they’re glad to have him going in the opener.

Saturday: RHP Dillon Gee. Gee has been a pleasant surprise for the Mets this year. In a way he’s like their Ivan Nova, but he’s produced better results. He has a below average strikeout rate and above average walk rate, but his ability to keep the ball inside the park helps his overall numbers: 3.32 ERA, 3.83 FIP. He started off June with three excellent starts in which he allowed one run combined, but he faced a few more struggled when facing American League lineups. Against Oakland and Texas he allowed seven runs in 10 innings. This time he faces his most difficult offense to date. It should be a bi gtest for him.

Sunday: RHP R.A. Dickey. On Sunday the Yankees will get their only repeat from the series earlier in the year. Unfortunately, it’s the one guy who held the offense in check. Dickey was going through a rough patch at that point, but since the Yanks series he’s pitched 51.1 innings to a 2.45 ERA, holding opponents to a .288 OBP. The Yankees have had trouble with knuckleballers — Dickey and Wakefield — this year, as well as guys who (according to John and Suzyn) they consider akin to knuckleballers (Doug Davis), so this could be another challenge. But it’ll be a day game, since ESPN mercifully picked up the Dodgers-Angels game.

Bullpen: The Mets bullpen has gotten beat up a bit this season, ranking 25th in WAR and sporting a 4.38 ERA. Francisco Rodriguez has been serviceable, if not good, in the closer role, but there have been problems setting him up. In particular watch out for Bobby Parnell. he was ineffective and then got hurt earlier in the year, but in June he’s allowed just two runs while striking out 12 and walking three in 12 innings.

Recommended Mets Reading: Amazin Avenue is our Mets blog of choice. Friend of RAB Caryn Rose also provides a good take on the fan experience at MetsGrrl.

We’ll be chatting at 2 this afternoon

Mike will be working MLB Trade Rumors and then heading on his way to Citi Field this afternoon, so I’ll take over as his chat host. We’ll gather ’round the chat table at 2 and take you into the holiday weekend. It should be a nice way to end the work day for those who are still stuck there this afternoon.