Santana’s post-suspension tune-up with Rochester was impressive. Over the course of three starts, he worked 20.2 innings while allowing 17 hits (.227 batting average) and just four runs resulting in a 1.74 ERA. In his final two outings, both against the Red Sox’s Pawtucket affiliate, Santana faced several Major League caliber bats including Rusney Castillo and Allen Craig. The velocity was reportedly down to the late-80s/low-90s but he mixed in a slider and change to keep hitters off-balanced.
With the excitement building within the team about Santana’s impending arrival, Provus asked the question of how the rotation will shape up once Santana returns and if the six-man rotation is on the table.
“It’s one of the options we are looking at,” Molitor said regarding the shift to six in the rotation, “We have options but one of them would be to go ahead and insert Ervin there and give everybody an extra day and use all the starters we have until we get to that last game. Obviously the other route would be to take someone out and try to piece it together from there because of the rest that we will be able to have. Once we decide when where we are going to slot those guys in, we will trust it and go with it.”
While Molitor seems open to the six-man idea, general manager Terry Ryan seems less receptive and is leaning towards replacing a current member of the rotation.
“Things happen, we all know that,” Ryan told the Star Tribune. “Paul is very adept with connecting with players, I can tell you that. Most players will be very receptive. If I went to them, it might be a different story. It will be a tough decision for whoever winds up getting squeezed.”
The New York Mets recently switched to the six-man rotation and the St. Louis Cardinals toyed with the idea this spring. Both team’s motivation was predicated on limiting innings to young arms as well as reducing the workload on rebuild arms like Matt Harvey. The Twins do not have the same scenario when it comes to rationing innings like the two NL teams did. Minnesota’s motivation would be to not remove any of the current starters who are performing serviceably across the board. The obvious reasoning is that it allows the Twins to showcase a pitcher as a trade candidate between now and the July 31 deadline but the other factors could be keeping their pitchers healthy and improving their performance.
In 2014, Enos Sarris pointed out that the Japanese trend of using six-man rotations might be responsible for why Japan’s pitchers tend to have fewer instances with Tommy John surgery compared to their Major League counterparts. The data blog FiveThirtyEight.com’s Rob Arthur dug further into the hypothesis and found that pitchers who have four days of rest – like the standard five-man rotation have – will have a reported injury risk of one percent over the next two weeks after pitching. However, a shift to a full five days of rest – enjoyed by those in a six-man rotation – have a 0.8 percent chance of injury, a 20 percent decrease in comparison to the four-days of rest. The caveat, Arthur found, was that while the six-man prevented injuries to some degree, the nature of the injuries were comparable to those of the five-man. In short, while longer rest showed the ability to reduce the frequency of injuries, it did not reduce the risk for suffering major injuries such as UCL tears.
Still, for a team over a 162-game schedule, keeping their core starting pitching healthy means fewer dead-arm spells that pitchers try to work through far too often before admitting something is wrong.
But not everyone in the game is convinced the extra day between starts is better for the arm. Former MLB pitcher and current FOX Sports analyst CJ Nikowski spent time pitching in Asia and says his personal experience tells him that the notion that the six-man rotation saved arms in Japan is hogwash.
“The problem with the notion of “they do it Asia” is that in the four years I spent pitching in both Korea and Japan, I saw more arm injuries than I did here,” Nitkowski wrote in February of this year. “I remember one day sitting in the bullpen and looking around at my teammates, every one of them had a significant arm injury at some point in their professional career.”
While there are no numbers in Nitkowski’s post to determine if his gut model statement is true, Nitkowski cites the increase – some say even insane, per Twins pitcher Blaine Boyer – amounts of sideline throwing between starts and in spring training negates any effects the six-man rotation rest factor would play.
Nitkowski also argued against the six-man structure because it would reduce the number of starts giving to a team’s high-paid ace. The Twins, however, lack any real “ace” caliber pitchers in the current rotation. Distributing the starts among six and keeping arms healthy for the latter portion of the season could ensure that all pitchers are fresh but it could also mean reducing the number of starts for those starters who are clicking.
Like the small decrease in limiting the number of injuries, moving from a four-day to a five-day rest period also has a very minor increase in production. According to Baseball-Reference.com’s splits, pitchers who work on a four-day rest cycle have posted a 4.35 ERA since 2000 while those on a five-days of rest have turned in a 4.31 ERA. Over a 30-game span, if that performance maintains, that could be the difference in at least one run.
It may be unlikely for the Twins to embrace the idea but If Santana is added to the core of Phil Hughes, Kyle Gibson, Mike Pelfrey, Tommy Milone and Trevor May for the starting six, it might be a very insightful decision by the Twins to maximize their current production…or it could be an innovative way to market a tradable commodity.
- Jul 02 2015 03:10 PM
- by Parker Hageman