Might the Minnesota Twins Consider a 6-Man Rotation in 2020?
Image courtesy of © Paul Rutherford - USA TODAY SportsGenerally speaking, it’s obviously ideal to have your best pitchers pitching as often as possible (i.e. once every five days), but the group of starters Minnesota has could make a six-man rotation viable for several reasons. Age, injury history, durability and similar individual talent levels make the possibility of going with six starters at least somewhat feasible.
If there is a “work horse” in the current group of Twins starters, Jose Berrios would be the guy. However, while Berrios is still only 25-years-old and pitched 200 innings last year, getting some additional rest throughout the season might help him to avoid his annual August slump (5.96 career ERA) and general second-half decline. Odorizzi and Maeda come up short of Berrios’s overall innings totals in part due to their struggles with the third time through the order, along with high pitch totals in Odorizzi’s case and being moved to the bullpen in Maeda’s. However, Maeda’s lackluster second-half numbers are undoubtably part of the explanation for his late-season bullpen stints in LA, as his career second-half ERA is 4.44 compared to 3.51 in the first-half (and it’s actually worse when you consider that his second-half ERA includes the relief innings, which have been good). Additional rest might help to mitigate both Berrios and Maeda’s second-half woes.
Pineda, Bailey, and Hill’s careers have been filled with injuries and it seems the three of them could definitely benefit from the additional rest provided in a six-man rotation for at least part of the season. The Twins utilized a couple of injured list stints to keep Pineda fresh last season, and it seemed to work wonders as he was pitching his best ball prior to his season-ending suspension. Hill pitched just 58 2/3 innings in 2019, and as someone who has excelled in the postseason, a six-man rotation could help to keep him fresh for October. Bailey’s 163 1/3 innings in 2019 were his most since 2013, so keeping his innings down a bit could help to keep him healthy as well.
Due to Pineda’s suspension and Hill’s offseason elbow surgery, in addition to early season off days and inclement weather, there’s no reason to start the season with six starters. However, assuming a rotation of Berrios, Odorizzi, Maeda, Bailey, and one of Jhoulys Chacin, Randy Dobnak, or Lewis Thorpe to start the season, the Twins will have a decision to make once Pineda becomes available in May. Injury or ineffectiveness could make the decision an easy one, but for the sake of argument, assume the fourth and fifth starters are pitching well. Even if Bailey fails to match his late 2019 success with the splitter, he will likely be given some leash due to his $7 million contract. And, if say Dobnak were to get the fifth-starter job out of spring training and pitch like he did last year, it would be hard to demote him to AAA.
Then of course, Rich Hill is set to come back in June. Due to his advanced age and the uncertainty of his recovery, the Twins could bring him along slowly, but if he pitches like the Rich Hill we know and love, he’ll be in the rotation. Again, we’re looking at June as a best-case scenario, and a lot can happen between Opening Day and June, but it’s not that much time, nor is it too much of a stretch for the Twins to have five starters who are pitching well at that point.
The other consideration is the overall talent level of the group. Last season there were periods during the season when Berrios, Odorizzi, and Pineda stepped forward and each looked like the team ace. Hill and Maeda are in the same general talent level and Bailey looked much improved after increasing his splitter usage with the Oakland A’s. Dobnak’s numbers were amazing both before and after being called up and Chacin was a good pitcher in 2017 and 2018. It’s not that much of a stretch to imagine that six of that group (or Thorpe) could be pitching well simultaneously and be deserving of a rotation spot.
It’s also completely possible that injury and/or ineffectiveness rear their ugly heads and make, in hindsight, the idea of a six-man rotation utterly ridiculous. However, if the Twins do end up with a healthy stable of starters fairly early in the season, switching to a six-man rotation could help to preserve the rotation’s health and effectiveness as the season wears on. Manager Rocco Baldelli has been big on rest, and extending that philosophy to the rotation could prove prudent.
What do you think? Will we see a six-man rotation at any point in 2020? Please leave your comments below.
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