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.

A Tale from my Baseball Career

So a lot of times when I do these stories, they’re about unfortunate moments in my athletic career, whether they be concussions or failing to drill a kid. This one will be a little different, as it’s one of my prouder, if not proudest, moment in my athletic career. It’s from the same season as the one where I tried and failed to headhunt a kid for being an ass in the batter’s box. In fact, it was from the last game of the season, well for me that is. We had made the playoffs, but because I was going on a trip to Michigan with my family the next day, I would miss all of it except the first round game. This was for a rec league, otherwise there might have been a problem with my travel schedule. Knowing this, my coach had me as the starting pitcher in this game.

The first inning did NOT go well, as I surrendered 3 early runs, struggling with my command. In the bottom half, I was batting leadoff and I struck out on four pitches. I was someone who took it personally when I struck out. It basically ruined my day if I did it even once. But not today. I actually don’t remember most of the rest of the game up until the 6th inning. But I do know that I did not let up another run until the 7th and final inning on the mound.

It was 3-2 bad guys when the bottom of the 6th inning rolled around. I had been pitching my heart out for the last five innings and we were still losing and I felt responsible given that I had given up all three runs in the first. I was due up second after a kid that had struggled all season, but he was also one of those kids who was just kind of there because his parents signed him up, not because he loved the game. I remember standing in the on-deck circle thinking to myself “please get on, I’m feeling it right now and I hit so much better with runners on base.” I don’t know if that was statistically true, but I always felt more confident hitting with runners on. But for whatever reason, I was amped up for this next at bat. I expected it to be my last at bat of the season and I wanted to go out with a bang. Well the kid did the unthinkable and drew an 8-pitch walk. I’d never been more excited than when he drew that walk. I thought to myself “I’ll take it from here.” I stepped up at the plate and stared down the pitcher.

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Ball one. First pitch missed pretty badly. Next pitch came in and I fouled it back. Wasn’t a great pitch, but it looked like a strike and I was the type of hitter who would pounce on a pitch the moment I thought it was going to be a strike. If I wasn’t confident it was a strike, I didn’t swing. The third pitch missed up and away but I thought it looked pretty good there. I was able to lay off, but I thought to myself “if he can bring it down just a little bit, I can unload on it.” Earlier in that season, I had absolutely OBLITERATED a ball that was up and over the heart of the plate. I had hit that ball so hard that I dented my favorite bat (it’s actually the one in the picture above. That picture is not from the game in question, but it was played on the same field). But the ball went 300 feet and I was basically able to walk to second base with a double. I hit it so hard that the next time I came up, the shortstop was telling the outfielders to back up, which I always saw as the ultimate sign of respect at our age. Hell, I was a 14 year-old kid who just hit a ball 300 feet. Granted, the next at bat, I hit a dribbler to third and was easily retired, but still, the power was in me.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the pitcher put the ball in the exact spot I was hoping for. It was up and away, but still in the strike zone. I don’t think I could have timed it up any more perfectly. I went with the pitch and hit a BOMB to the opposite field in right. The last thing I remember from that play was the right fielder running back. I never saw the ball hit the ground, but I knew I didn’t clear the yard because nobody had signaled for a home run. So I booked it around the bases. As I was rounding second, I saw my third base coach give me the signal to come to third. I saw that the runner on first was already on his way home and the ball still hadn’t gotten back to the infield. I slid into third with my first ever clean triple (I had hit one before but it was loaded with errors). As I was sliding into third (which I didn’t need to do, but I wanted to be sure), I saw that my team’s dugout on the third base side was exploding in cheers. I had no idea how excited everybody was for this hit, as I had kind of blacked out rounding the bases. I had to come up with some sort of celebration to do after I popped up on the bag. I’m not great at coming up with celebrations on the fly, so I just clapped my hands together about as hard as humanly possible. They didn’t seem to mind the simple celebration as they continued to cheer and all of a sudden there was a newfound energy as I had just tied the game up in the bottom of the 6th (in a league where the game ends after 7 innings). The batter after me wasted no time in driving me in, as he found a hole between the shortstop and third baseman and I scored easily from third to give us the lead. That was the spark we needed, as we scored 4 more runs before heading into the top of the 7th. Our opponents looked pretty defeated after that, as their 3-2 lead had turned into an 8-3 deficit in a matter of 3 outs. Sure I let up another run in the top of the 7th, but that was mostly from good baserunning and with 2 outs, the batter hit a dribbler to me and I easily flipped it over to first to end the game. For my performance, I was awarded the game ball. Never had I been prouder of any of my athletic achievements than I was in that moment.

I later found out that while my brother and I were in Michigan, my team had lost in the semifinals to the team that would eventually win the entire league. I was disappointed, but I was proud we made it as far as we did. That’s it for another of my stories. Let me know what you thought in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon. Also, I wanted to apologize for there not being a blog yesterday. I had a VERY eventful day. My family was meeting at one of our favorite restaurants and I surprised my godson with tickets to Sunday night’s WWE pay per view Clash of Champions in Boston. As for the end of that Patriots game, the officials made the right call on that “catch,” but something needs to be done about that rule to clear things up on what is and isn’t a catch.