So on Wednesday night, I had just gotten home from work and was having a few beers while my brother and I watched a replay of the Edge vs Mick Foley Wrestlemania 22 Hardcore match. You know, this one:
After we got done watching that, I was scrolling through Twitter and noticed a user pointed out that on mlb.com’s depth chart page for the Tampa Bay Rays, Chris Archer is the only starting pitcher listed. I thought that was weird and sent it to a buddy who said “looks like Archer will be getting his innings in.” I then went and watched the James Cameron movie “Aliens,” which was badass, but the Rays’ pitching situation wouldn’t leave me alone. So finally, when the movie was done, I got to thinking: what if ALL of baseball did away with pitching rotations?
A little background first on why Tampa’s depth chart probably looks the way it does. So at the start of the season, manager Kevin Cash announced that the Rays would go with a 4-man rotation and would make the 5th day an all-bullpen day. A pitcher that usually comes out of the bullpen will get the start, go as long as he could (typically no more than 4 innings) before other bullpen arms got in the mix. It led to the creation of the term “opener,” rather than “closer.” Tampa opened the year with a starting rotation of Chris Archer-Blake Snell-Jake Faria-Nathan Eovaldi (who didn’t debut until a little over a month later). Snell and Faria are currently on the DL while Eovaldi was just traded to the Boston Red Sox for pitching prospect Jalen Beeks. So right now, of those four, only Archer is currently standing. As for who the “openers” are, the Rays have sent out Ryne Stanek, Ryan Yarbrough, Matt Andriese, Johnny Venters, and Sergio Romo among others. All in all, 14 pitchers have made a start for the Rays.
So how well has it worked? Well the Rays currently sit in 3rd place in the AL East at 52-50 (this blog was written before the start of play on July 26), 18.5 games behind the Red Sox in the division and 9 games behind the Seattle Mariners for the second Wild Card spot. However that’s due in large part to the fact the Rays have struggled to score runs, as they’re 22nd in all of baseball in runs scored. Their pitching has put up very good numbers, though. Right now they’re currently 9th in pitching WAR at a combined 10.6 with the 7th best ERA at 3.70. That’s the main contributing factor for why a team as untalented on paper as the Rays has a winning record in late July. In fact, if the Rays were in the weak AL Central rather than having to face the Red Sox and Yankees a million times every year, it wouldn’t shock me at all to see them battling the Cleveland Indians for the top spot in the division (they currently trail Cleveland by just 3.5 games overall).
So how would Major League Baseball look if they took Tampa’s formula a step further and did away with starting rotations? Well, for one, there would be a lot more opportunities for managers to get creative. I’m going to use the Red Sox as my example team in order to simplify things for myself. The pitchers at manager Alex Cora’s disposal are, in alphabetical order: Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Eovaldi, Heath Hembree, Brian Johnson, Joe Kelly, Craig Kimbrel, Drew Pomeranz, Rick Porcello, David Price, Chris Sale, Tyler Thornburg, Hector Velazquez, and Brandon Workman (this is not accounting for the injured Eduardo Rodriguez, Carson Smith, and Steven Wright). Assuming each staff follows Tampa’s model, the Red Sox could send any one of these guys out to start and go up to four innings. Not only that, but they could appear in back-to-back games and pitch in more games overall over the course of a season. As if we couldn’t get enough Chris Sale already, now he could be pitching back-to-back days and 70 times in a season as opposed to now where he only pitches every 5 games and about 30 times in a season. We could also see David Price come in relief for Sale, meaning teams will have to face two Cy Young-caliber pitchers back-to-back. Which sounds pretty menacing to me. Or Hell, the Yankees could start the game with Aroldis Chapman, go to Luis Severino for the second-fifth inning, then send out Dellin Betances. The combinations managers would have at their disposal are endless. Plus, we won’t have to think of bullpens as having just 7 or 8 options available to choose from. When you add guys who normally start to the mix, that gives teams 11 or 12 guys to choose from.
We will also definitely see a rise in fastball velocity. The reason some of these starters aren’t hitting 100 mph on every fastball is due to the fact that they’re preserving some energy in case they need to go deep into the game, whereas relievers put everything they have behind every pitch because they know they’re probably only going the one inning. So take this into account: a few years ago, the Cincinnati Reds toyed with the idea of making their superstar closer Aroldis Chapman into a starting pitcher. They tried him out in the role in Spring Training. Chapman’s fastball in his career has topped out at an MLB record 105.1 mph. Chapman’s fastball as a starter never got over 94 mph. The 105.1 mph pitch is obviously an outlier, but Chapman’s fastball still is routinely clocked at around 101 mph. Now let’s take into account what some guys are throwing despite the knowledge that they’re going to have to go multiple innings. Luis Severino, Noah Syndergaard, Mike Foltynewicz, and Eovaldi’s fastballs all average about 97 mph. By the logic of Chapman’s dropped velocity as a starter of -7 mph (typical 101 to 94), we can imperfectly assume that these guys’ fastballs would rise by about 7 mph (the math that got me to that assumption is probably very wrong, but you get what I’m trying to say here), meaning we’d have four dudes averaging a 104 mph fastball. I’m not sure how teams would manage to hit that on a day-to-day basis, especially when you consider that guys who normally throw 91 are now throwing 98.
We would also see the absolute annihilation of the pitching wins stat. As if it wasn’t already useless enough in today’s game, now it will pretty much only favor the second pitcher to be used, since in order for a starter to qualify for a win, he has to go 5 innings and his lead can’t evaporate. If the first pitcher used only goes 4 innings with a 10-0 lead, whomever replaces him first will vulture his win even if he struck out all 12 batters he faced. However other stats would likely be significantly improved, such as the ERA and opponent batting average stat. Think of it this way. In seemingly every game where a pitcher is going deep into his outing, the broadcast shows a graphic that showcases how a pitcher does each time through the lineup. Usually, the hitters will have the pitcher figured out by their third time seeing him in the game. With this type of pitching staff, you deny hitters the opportunity to see a pitcher for a third time, thus relinquishing that late-inning value at their disposal, leading to potentially fewer runs being scored. Now, of course, bringing in a bunch of relievers makes it more likely that you’re going to bring someone in who is having an off-night, but I think overall the number of runs scored is going to drop substantially.
There will also be more talented pitchers take the next step and become studs than before. Consider the fact that Andrew Miller, Zach Britton, Archie Bradley, Wade Davis, and Brandon Morrow all began their careers as starting pitchers but flamed out and failed to realize their great potentials. Then consider the fact that they became dominant bullpen arms upon their move to that role. Well now everybody will make that switch so we could see extremely talented guys such as Kevin Gausman, Lucas Giolito, or Tyler Glasnow be given the opportunity to reinvent themselves. David Price even looked like his Cy Young-winning self during his brief stint in the Red Sox bullpen to finish the 2017 season, as he didn’t give up a run in his 9 relief outings.
Sadly, though, the individual no hitter would cease to exist as any future no hitter would be of the combined variety. The most exciting outcome for a pitcher where nothing happens has been something that has always been a goal of mine to see from start to finish would be a thing of the past since the starter would likely be gone by the third or fourth inning. However I’m sure there are plenty of managers out there who don’t really care, as long as they got the win, which is ultimately what really matters.
There will be a few changes that will have to happen, though, in order for this change to work. For one, guys who are currently starting pitchers need to COMPLETELY overhaul their routine. Starting pitchers have routines they do on their off days to get ready for their next start, but without the certainty that comes with being a starting pitcher, that will change dramatically and will more than likely affect some guys for the worst. Another change will be MLB’s requirement of teams announcing who will start each game. If a manager is going to run with this type of pitching staff, they’re going to have to give a few days’ notice for each pitcher. If this type of staff were to be rolled out, I’d personally be more invested in a surprise starter for every game, keeping opposing teams on their toes. Though I guess managers typically fill out their batting orders based on who the opposing pitcher is so that would probably cause a problem. Damn, thought I was on to something or a moment.
In short, I think that taking the Rays’ formula for a pitching staff a step further and doing away with starting rotations could potentially be a very innovative way to go about pitching and re-think the way teams construct their staffs. Did I just break baseball? Or did I have way too much to drink and this idea is stupid? Let me know what you think of the idea of no pitching rotations in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.