What Would Baseball Look Like Without Starting Rotations?

Tampa Bay Rays v Seattle Mariners

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:

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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.

New York Yankees vs New York Mets

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.

Seattle Mariners v Colorado Rockies

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.

30 Clubs in 30 Days: Atlanta Braves

The big story outside of baseball for me today is the fact that Dallas Mavericks owner and Indiana alumnus Mark Cuban got fined $600K by the NBA for openly admitting that it was in the Mavericks’ best interest to tank this season. I mean, he’s right and bad teams tanking is not some unknown phenomena going around, it’s pretty well established at this point. But you can’t openly say that’s what your team is doing, especially considering the league sees tanking as a big issue and is trying to take steps to prevent it. That being said, the $600K fine is ENORMOUS overkill. Let’s take it easy, here, Adam Silver. I know Cuban wipes his ass with $600K, but you’re setting a pretty rough precedent here. Tanking really isn’t THAT bad for the league, I actually think it’s good for eventual parity, as it ensures the top college prospects aren’t going to the teams that are already absolutely loaded already. Speaking of tanking, we are in Day 3 of my 30 Clubs in 30 Days series and today we’re focusing on the Atlanta Braves. Let’s take a look at how the Braves are projected to do in 2018.

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2017 Results:

Record: 72-90, 3rd in NL East, 25 games behind Washington Nationals, 15 games behind Colorado Rockies for 2nd Wild Card Spot

Notable Offseason Additions: RP Peter Moylan, C Chris Stewart, RP Chase Whitley

Notable Offseason Subtractions: RP Jason Motte, RP Ian Krol, 1B Matt Adams, SP RA Dickey, 2B Jace Peterson, 3B Adonis Garcia, CP Jim Johnson

Best Position Player: 1B Freddie Freeman

Best Pitcher: Julio Teheran

Depth Chart

C-Tyler Flowers, Kurt Suzuki, Chris Stewart

1B-Freddie Freeman

2B-Ozzie Albies

3B-Johan Camargo, Rio Ruiz

SS-Dansby Swanson, Charlie Culberson

LF-Lane Adams, Preston Tucker

CF-Ender Inciarte

RF-Nick Markakis

SP-Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, Sean Newcomb

Bullpen-Arodys Vizcaino (CP), Peter Moylan, Rex Brothers, Chase Whitley, Jose Ramirez, Sam Freeman, Dan Winkler

Coaching Staff

Manager-Brian Snitker (2nd Season with Braves)

Hitting Coach-Kevin Seitzer

Pitching Coach-Chuck Hernandez

1st Base Coach-Eric Young

3rd Base Coach-Ron Washington

Bench Coach-Walt Weiss

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I’m not going to sugarcoat things, it’s going to be a long season for the Braves. The thing I would look forward to the most if I’m a Braves fan is the later part of the season, August-Septemberish, when they start making their September call-ups because their farm system is absolutely loaded and it’d be exciting to see what kind of young talent the team has for the future. Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies were the first in this talented group to really get their first taste of action but the Braves also feature Ronald Acuna (MLB.com’s #2 prospect), Kyle Wright, Mike Soroka, Luiz Gohara, Kolby Allard, and Max Fried, all of whom could get their shot with the big club this season. Something worth noting, all those guys I just mentioned with the exception of Acuna are pitchers so perhaps the Braves may be in for a Mets-like rotation within the next couple of years. But offensively, Atlanta is going to struggle. Here’s how they’re projected to look to start the season.

1. Ender Inciarte-CF

2. Ozzie Albies-2B

3. Freddie Freeman-1B

4. Nick Markakis-RF

5. Tyler Flowers-C

6. Dansby Swanson-SS

7. Lane Adams-LF

8. Johan Camargo-3B

9. Pitcher’s Spot

Not good. Not good at all. One thing I pride myself in is knowing who everybody in baseball is. I’m sorry to report that going into this blog I had no idea who Lane Adams and Johan Camargo were. It’s bad that you have one guy I’ve never heard in your starting lineup but these guys have two. Plus they’ll be featuring Nick Markakis near the top of their order, who hasn’t been worth more than 2 WAR since 2014. The only positives are Ender Inciarte and Freddie Freeman. Granted, they are HUGE positives for this lineup, but not enough to get them out of the bottom third of the league in runs scored like they were last season. But these two guys really are the only offensive threats the Braves have right now. Inciarte is one of the most underrated centerfielders in baseball both defensively and offensively. Last season, Inciarte hit .304 with 11 home runs, 57 RBI, 22 stolen bags, a DRS of 5 in centerfield, and a WAR of 3.0. Meanwhile Freeman continued to put himself in the discussion for best first basemen in the game as he hit .307 with 28 home runs, 71 RBI, slugged .586, and was worth 4.5 WAR despite battling injuries all season. But if the Braves are going to head in the direction they need, Dansby Swanson has to take the next step forward. The former #1 overall pick that the Braves traded Shelby Miller to the DBacks to acquire (a trade that would an all-timer of a steal if he can develop) struggled in his first full season of action, hitting just .232 with 6 home runs and 51 RBI with -7 DRS and only had a WAR of 0.1 in 144 games played. Not good at all. He is a very talented player but another season like that could be really damaging for the Braves’ rebuilding process.

during a game  at Marlins Park on September 28, 2017 in Miami, Florida.

Pitching is not a strong suit for the Braves either. Julio Teheran is easily the most talented pitcher on the roster but he’s also the most inconsistent. His seasons seem to always be good-bad-good-bad. Last year he had a career-worst ERA of 4.49 a year after making the NL All Star team in 2016 and finishing with an ERA of 3.21. Teheran also had an ERA of 2.89 in 2014 but followed that up with an ERA of 4.04 in 2015. Based on that trend, it appears that 2018 will be a strong season for Teheran but the rest of the Braves staff leaves much to be desired. Mike Foltynewicz (pronounced FOLT-in-EV-ich) is very talented but he hasn’t been able to put that talent together for a full season. You’ve also got over-the-hill starters like Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir who were basically the excess from the Dodgers’ pitching staff that they were trying to get rid of. Once upon a time both guys were quality starters (in Kazmir’s case, an ace), but nowadays they’re just drifting off towards the sunset.

There are some decent pieces in the Braves’ bullpen that I think could be assets for playoff-caliber teams. Arodys Vizcaino has some really dominant stuff and pitched well last season with a 2.83 ERA and struck out over 10 batters per 9 innings. Newly-signed Peter Moylan is an underrated middle relief guy who, despite being 39 years old, can still pitch well, as he had an ERA of 3.49 last year with the Royals. He’s one of those submarine pitchers, which I have noticed tends to add a couple of years to a pitcher’s career as long as they can remain productive. He could be a guy that can help the Braves out late in games. There’s also some young talent in that bullpen such as Jose Ramirez, Sam Freeman, and Dan Winkler who could quietly have strong seasons for the Braves’ ‘pen.

Overall, I don’t expect much out of the Braves this season, but I’m sure they’re well aware of that. But their plethora of prospects is so loaded that I don’t think they’re going to suck for a whole lot longer provided their coaches can properly develop them (Swanson’s 2018 season will be a big barometer for whether or not these guys are up to the challenge). The only thing that’s really going to keep them out of the cellar of the NL East this season is a healthy Freddie Freeman because he’s such a good hitter that he can take over games if you’re not careful. Unfortunately, there is absolutely zero protection around him right now so if he’s on a hot stretch, opposing pitchers have literally no incentive to pitch to him. This season is basically an opportunity for the organization to see what the younger guys can do and plan for the future.

Projected Finish: 71-91, 4th in the NL East

That’s going to do it for Day 3 of the 30 Clubs in 30 Days series. Join me tomorrow on my 22nd birthday where I will be previewing the Baltimore Orioles, who are kind of in no-man’s land at the moment, as the front office will have some HUGE decisions to make when July rolls around. Let me know what you think of the Braves’ chances this season in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.