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Might the Minnesota Twins Consider a 6-Man Rotation in 2020?


Although it likely did not materialize exactly as it was drawn up, Minnesota has done a nice job of adding quality starting pitching to greatly increase the depth of the rotation. The possibility of having more starters than rotation spots is an unfamiliar but welcome problem for the Twins. If and when the majority of their options are healthy and pitching well, might Minnesota consider a six-man rotation?Generally 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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This is a great idea! People might hate this, but I'm kinda hopin' for a 2nd half rotation of Berrios/Odorizzi/Pineda/Maeda/Hill/Dobnak. 

 

No doubt, Dobnak will be my favorite player when Cruz &/or  Odorizzi leave next season (they both stay best case scenario). Maybe I'll expand my favorite players to 4. 

 

If Homer Bailey is good and Dobnak is terrible through the first half then I will reconsider how I want a 6-man-rotation to look. 

 

Ironically, the Twins started with only 1 starter, and now they're trying to fit everyone into a rotation. Remember when it looked like Dobnak, Smeltzer, Graterol, and Thorpe were going to fill the rotation behind Berrios? Nope, the Hot Stove Season proved us wrong.

 

Overall, I love this idea. I packed a lot of stuff into this comment that probably wasn't necessary. A 6-man-rotation is a great idea for this. (Anaheim has one, right? Wait, no they aren't Anaheim they're California. Or Los Angeles. Or Orange County? Or isn't it Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim? Geez people, pick a location. Point is, they have a 6-man-rotation.)

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I think it’s a very good idea, yet it may be easier said than done. I believe that Japanese starters are used to pitching every 6th or 7th day, so it would be easier for Maeda to handle. In addition, as noted both Berrios and Pineda benefitted from extra rest, especially from the All Star break on. Of course, most Major league pitchers have been brought up on every 5th day. So implementation would be a tall order. I would bet that this Twins FO with its advanced analyst department gives it a try sometime this season. Very good article!!

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No on the 6 man rotation, teams have tried it and it doesn't work at all.  I do like the idea of doubling up starters and having your traditional starter throw 2 times through the order and then the second starter come in and doing the same. 

gives most of the bullpen a day off and a way to take advantage of the pitching carousel of the 3 starters in Smeltzer, Thorpe and Dobnak sending one down after the game and calling another up for the same thing the next time though the rotation. 

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I like the idea of two "starters" splitting one game. 5 innings for one, 4 for the other. A guaranteed day of rest for the bullpen in an era when complete games are almost non existent.

Given the 13 man pitching staff, I agree that this is an intriguing idea.

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Strategic rest is a part of the Falvey/Baldelli way. Another example of how the game has changed. No doubt this is a possibility if we have 6 guys effective and healthy at all times. We'll see who starts in AAA and hope they keep the pressure on and give us great options as the year goes. Hard to predict injury. 

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The more pitchers in the rotation, the less frequently your best arms are allowed to contribute. Unless the theory is that extra rest turns into better results, seems like a net negative.

Kind of depends on the gap between your "best" arms and the rest.  You could use your best arm(s) every 5th day and the rest on a different rotation.  Just because it's not a conventional strategy doesn't mean it won't work.

 

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I could see shorter starts followed by 2-3 inning pitcher. Well documented pitchers success declines third time through order. Maybe starter 5 IP then a pitcher for 3 IP, then closer if ahead in 9th. 

 Great article! A 6 man rotation I`m not in favor of but for the make up of our rotation we need to limit their innings so the 3rd time around be ready to pull them (except Berrios). Use starters in tandem using maybe some form of opener. Constantly rotating available starting pitchers from the minors to the bigs. This keeps batters from adjusting to pitchers, better evaluate the pitchers, stretches out incoming pitchers, gives young pitchers experience & give rest to the starter (even Berrios could use a rest, he seemed tired at the end of the season)

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Bert probably didn’t like the shift from a 4 man rotation to 5 man rotation that happened from about 1974 to 1985.

 

This would have suited Ted Lyons well. Later in his career he only started once a week on Sundays. At age 42 he led the league in ERA starting 20 games and completing them all. It was essentially his last season as he joined the military in 1943. In 1940 at 40 he led the league in shut outs despite starting many fewer games.

 

I do think we are seeing signs that the 5 man rotation is on the way out. We might land on a 6 man rotation with two stacked and pitching every three days. As a general guideline if a pitcher is over 60 pitches you don’t let them start the next inning. There would be many 4 inning start but league average or better pitchers would get to 5 more frequently throwing 70-75 pitches. I think more good pitchers will be throwing over 200 innings with the possibility of a less stressful load.

 

One rule change that would help us to get rid of the 5 inning requirement to secure a win. The rule should at least allow a score keeper the discretion of giving a starter who went 4 good innings the win.

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I've often wondered about a slightly different approach to this. No idea if there's any reason this would be different than a six man rotation in effect, but is there a reason not to cycle through skips in the rotation to give starters an occasional break within an otherwise normal routine? Rather than aiming for 32-34 starts for a starter that doesn't miss any time, have them start 28-30, with a skipped start once every month or two. For this team, with Hill and Pineda joining a couple months in, use ~6 starters, but cycle a skipped start in if all are healthy (and if not, go with the five that are, supplemented by Thorpe, Dobnak, etc. as needed). Berrios skipped first time through, Odorizzi second time through, etc. I think they did this with Pineda at least once or twice last year to keep him fresh, and I really hoped they would with Berrios when he struggled. Just a thought.

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Another option might be rotating the piggy-backed starts, and having each starter occasionally get a start where they only do one time through the lineup or three innings to give them a lighter day, and have the sixth ostensible starter come in for as much of the rest of the game as they can to give the bullpen a break.

 

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Maybe a 1-2 spin-through of a 6-man rotation in September, but otherwise I don't see it happening in modern baseball.

 

I've said a variation of this in other position discussions, but depth is good and essential. There will be injuries, suspensions, paternity...who knows. But things happen. Without that depth you start LaMarre for half of September and Dobnak in game 2. The FO learned from those issues last year.

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I like the idea of intermittent rest as opposed to a 6 man rotation. Skipping a turn now and then or taking a week or two off on the " Injured List".

Except that the injured list is 15 days this year instead of 10. With a 10-day IL a starter missed only one start plus one more day during the next rotation cycle. 

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The now 15 day mandatory IL does complicate "rest periods" for SP or players of any position. The Twins used that well last season. Still, there are enough bumps and bruises and blisters and the such that I don't think it would be out of the question for someone to be on the IL late in the season if the Twins have a comfortable lead.

 

With options available, they could shuttle a guy or two to the pen and back to the rotation as well as up and down to facilitate said rest periods.

 

But these things often work themselves out, as we've seen. Not in favor of a true 6 man rotation, but in favor of cycling guys here and there.

 

I find the option of partial days off to be interesting, whereby a pair of SP could piggy back about 3 IP each.

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Old guy fondly remembers 4 man rotations. I kind of like the idea of using a starter for 5 innings so he can get the win and regular work, and then turning it over to a long guy for the next 3-4 innings. Rotate who the starter is and who the long relief will be. Might keep games more in control and reduce the number of true relief pitchers a team would need to carry.

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I don't see an advantage to having a regular sixth starter using a roster spot. If an extra day of rest for starters is needed from time to time do a bullpen game or a AAA call-up to implement that.

 

I think the next development in the post-Hader and opener era will be a few specialist swingmen who start a dozen games a year and alternately pitch in high leverage situations.

 

But like Hader and Andrew Miller before him, there will only be a few noteworthy pitchers to take a new role like that while everybody else calls it the next big thing.

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Have your 6th best pitcher pitch more and your best pitcher pitch less...as a deliberate strategy?

 

This will be done as necessitated by injury and fatigue, not as a deliberate long-term strategy. The best pitchers will always be the best. Pay a guy...what, 2-5 times more than an average starter and 4-8 times more than a good reliever...then have him throw 140 innings? I don’t see this happening for a while. I won’t say never, though.

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Does anyone remember when the Chicago White Sox under Tony LaRussa went long stretches in the eighties with an 8-man pitching staff? Not an 8-man rotation, but a pitching staff of 8 and 17 position players. 4-5 starters and 3-4 relievers (maybe one swing-guy).  My how things have changed. Not that long ago that a 10-man pitching staff was the norm. That's the way Bert liked it.

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I'd like to see Odorizzi have another healthy season, this time actually qualifying as a starting pitcher.  Throwing less than 160 innings in an injury free season is not acceptable.  I'd also like to see Rocco and the team throw out the "6 or 100, and you are done" mentality.  If we truly want to become playoff winners, these starters will need to be pushed.  Way too many times last year were Berrios and Odorizzi pulled a little early. I would be HIGHLY against a 6 man rotation.

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right...and 140 innings isn't far from what Odorizzi pitched last year.  I know I've already said it once, but I don't think expecting LESS from Odorizzi, Berrios, and others is a good idea.  Hopefully Wes is working with them on endurance and fighting through fatigue.  Not sure if its them or just the Twins "6 or 100 pitches" way, but it can be extremely frustrating at times.  Odorizzi loves to hand out souvenirs at games in the way of foul balls, not sure how you remedy that, other than he continues to try to put hitters away earlier in the count.  He was fantastic at that, but only early in the game. 

   I also think Rocco's mindset is "the 3rd time through the lineup vs a starter is very dangerous territory" and while the stats back that up, why not work harder on pushing the GOOD pitchers you have?  That's the only way they learn to see what they have left in the tank. 

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right...and 140 innings isn't far from what Odorizzi pitched last year.  I know I've already said it once, but I don't think expecting LESS from Odorizzi, Berrios, and others is a good idea.  Hopefully Wes is working with them on endurance and fighting through fatigue.  Not sure if its them or just the Twins "6 or 100 pitches" way, but it can be extremely frustrating at times.  Odorizzi loves to hand out souvenirs at games in the way of foul balls, not sure how you remedy that, other than he continues to try to put hitters away earlier in the count.  He was fantastic at that, but only early in the game. 

   I also think Rocco's mindset is "the 3rd time through the lineup vs a starter is very dangerous territory" and while the stats back that up, why not work harder on pushing the GOOD pitchers you have?  That's the only way they learn to see what they have left in the tank.

 

I hope Rocco doesn’t believe that about the third time through because it is a myth. The data is heavily skewed because pitchers get to their pitch limit somewhere in the middle of their third time through. The set of batters faced the third time through is mostly the top of the order.

 

It can be seen if you look at batters the third time they face a pitcher. Looking at the 50 batters who faced a pitcher a third time at least 100 times last year they had their most success in their second at bat and not their third at bat.

 

Odorizzi doesn’t give in or give a fat pitch early in the count like Berrios does. Batters see more pitches against him and he is pushing the pitch count earlier and his data is even more skewed.

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