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.

Just How Good Have the Red Sox Been This Season?

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Before I get into the blog, I just wanted to apologize for the lack of content lately. My schedule has been absolutely STUFFED, plus there hasn’t been a ton of major news worth blogging about. But I feel that since it’s been a week since my last blog, I figured I’d pull something out just to keep things going.

So how ’bout them Red Sox, eh? After destroying the Royals 15-4 despite David Price not having his good stuff, they now carry a record of 61-29 through 90 games, a winning percentage of .678. If the Red Sox kept this pace, they’d finish with a record of approximately 110-52, which would surpass the previous franchise record of 105-47 in 1912 (their second World Series-winning team, first time being known as the “Red Sox”). In fact, the Red Sox have not won 100 games in a season since 1946, when they lost the World Series in 7 games to the St. Louis Cardinals when Johnny Pesky infamously “held the ball.” Here are some interesting tidbits about the Red Sox’ historically strong first half.

-If the Red Sox keep this pace and do reach the 110-win threshold, it would obliterate the previous record for rookie manager success, as Alex Cora’s 110-win season would be a record for rookie managers (unfortunately I am having a very difficult time finding the actual record for rookie managers so I couldn’t tell you how much Cora would hold the record by, but I’m assuming 110 would be the record. The highest I’ve been able to find is Ken Macha’s 96 in 2003 with the A’s). Cora’s .678 winning percentage would make him the winningest manager of the modern era for managers that lasted at least 1 season  (George Wright went 59-25 in his lone season as a manager in 1879 for a .702 winning percentage, however Cora has already managed more games than that dude).

-Mookie Betts is currently leading the majors in batting average (.343), slugging (.672), and OPS (1.112) and is third in the Majors in WAR at 5.2 and that’s even with missing 21 games due to injury. He’s been a legitimate MVP candidate all year and would likely be the favorite if Mike Trout weren’t on his bullshit at the moment.

-JD Martinez leads the Majors in both home runs and RBI with 27 and 73, respectively, and is on pace to hit over 50 home runs and drive in nearly 150 RBI while also hitting .329 with an OPS of 1.038. Remember when nobody wanted to sign him in the offseason? He’s been the best high-profile free agent acquisition the Red Sox have had since Manny Ramirez (yes, David Ortiz also joined the Red Sox via free agency, but at the time of his leaving the Minnesota Twins, he wasn’t considered “high profile”), which isn’t saying a lot because the Red Sox have whiffed on quite a few of those recently. But regardless, Martinez has been a major part of this offense.

-Mitch Moreland is currently sitting on a 2-year, $13M deal. There are 16 first basemen in the Majors making more than him and the only ones with a higher batting average than his .288 are Freddie Freeman (.304), Brandon Belt (.289), and Joey Votto (.294). Moreland is currently slashing .288/.354/.533 with 11 homers and 40 RBI and is probably the lowest profile cleanup hitter that is doing the best job of it at the moment. He also plays a very strong defensive first base, which cannot be understated given that the rest of the Red Sox infield tends to struggled defensively (Eduardo Nunez has a lot of mental lapses in the field, Xander Bogaerts has limited range, and Rafael Devers leads the Majors in errors at any position with 18).

-Chris Sale has been absolutely dominant of late. He’s carrying an ERA barely over 1 in his last 5 starts since getting roughed up by the Braves and is currently holding a 2.36 ERA while striking out roughly the same amount of batters per 9 innings (12.98) as he did last season (12.93) when he hit 308 punchouts. At the rate he’s going, he may be in line to start his third consecutive All Star Game and perhaps land his first Cy Young Award (though Houston’s Justin Verlander may have something to say about that).

-David Price had been lights out prior to getting roughed up in his last two starts. Since the carpal tunnel problem, he had gone on a 7-start stretch where he was carrying an ERA of 2.63. Price seems to turn it on as soon as everybody starts talking about what a bust of a signing he was so perhaps we may see another string of stellar outings pretty soon.

-The Red Sox’ bullpen has quietly been pretty strong for the team, as they’re 6th in the Majors in bullpen ERA. That effort is spearheaded by Craig Kimbrel, who is again dicing up opposing hitters with a 2.02 ERA and 13.12 K/9. Matt Barnes has been going a bit under the radar for the team this year, as he’s carrying a 2.45 ERA with over 12 K/9 and actually has the same WAR as Kimbrel right now at 1.0. Hector Velazquez has been a welcome addition to the ‘pen, as his bullpen ERA is 2.91 and he’s also capable of making a spot start should the team need him.

-The Red Sox are tops in the Majors in runs scored and that’s despite the fact that they have gotten absolutely nothing out of their 6-9 hitters. The combination of Rafael Devers (who is admittedly starting to heat up a little bit), Eduardo Nunez, the catchers Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon, and Jackie Bradley Jr have basically been liabilities this season. The Red Sox are basically only getting production out of Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Martinez, Moreland, and Bogaerts and they still lead the Majors in runs scored. But despite some of the poor hitting, some of these guys in the bottom of the order help your team in others ways. Jackie Bradley Jr is a magician in the outfield and quite frankly, I can give him some leeway for his hitting woes because of how good in the field he is (the fact he doesn’t have a gold glove is a crime). Christian Vazquez is basically impossible for base stealers to run on. Sandy Leon calls a very good game. Devers is a guy who can take you deep if you aren’t careful.

-Really the only black hole the Red Sox have had is at second base, where Eduardo Nunez has had a really tough season both offensively and defensively. He’s been losing a lot of playing time to Brock Holt, who is hitting a cool .296 at the moment but is best utilized as a swiss army knife. Dustin Pedroia’s knee problems have me VERY worried about his future and I wonder if the Red Sox will pursue a second baseman at the trade deadline (or just call up the recently signed Brandon Phillips).

So yeah, the Sox are really freaking good. But it’s going to be critical that they outpace the Yankees in the division, who currently hold the tie-breaker over them. The Yankees are just 2 games behind the Red Sox in the AL East right now and with the new Wild Card stipulations, winning the division is that much more important. Let me know what you think of the Red Sox’ hot start in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

A Wild Day in Baseball

Normally I would call this segment “General Sports” but it’s all baseball today so I felt the title change was appropriate. Plus it was an absolute DOOZY of a day for baseball so I felt it was justified. Let’s get to it.

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-Mariners ace (yes, I’m calling him their “ace” now) James Paxton threw the third no hitter in baseball this season and second in the last 4 days. On the day, he of course gave up no hits, no runs, struck out 7, and walked 3 and was still hitting 100 mph on his pitches with one out left to go in the no-no. He did it against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto, becoming the first ever Canadian-born pitcher to actually throw a no hitter in Canada. Though he did get some help.

Every time there’s a no hitter thrown, there always seems to be an unbelievable play to save it at some point in the game. But this type of dominance isn’t something new, Paxton has been doing this all season. In fact, I watched his performance against Oakland last week and he went 7 innings, gave up no runs, and struck out 16 batters. However the Mariners’ bullpen blew it and he ended up with the no decision and the Mariners ended up losing the game 3-2. He became what I think is the third pitcher in the modern era to strike out 16 batters in 7 or fewer innings while giving up no runs in a game his team lost. I’ll have to double check on the specifics of that because I can’t seem to find the tweet I read that on. But whatever, James Paxton is really freaking good and I think this is the perfect time for uninformed baseball fans to realize this.

-I wrote a little while ago about Matt Harvey getting DFA’d by the Mets. Well, they finally reached a conclusion to this saga, as they traded him to the Cincinnati Reds for catcher Devin Mesoraco. Mesoraco is a former All Star but has struggled with injuries these last couple years. He’s a talented catcher and seems like a solid return for a guy the Mets were desperate to get rid of. As for the Reds, they get a pitcher they sorely needed as well as dumping some of Mesoraco’s salary (about $13M as opposed to Harvey’s $5.6, though they will send the Mets some cash to offset this somewhat). He’ll probably slot into the rotation as even with his recent run of poor play he’s probably better than half the guys on the Reds’ staff. Harvey and Mesoraco won’t have to travel very far, though, as the Mets are currently playing in Cincinnati at the moment. Hell, Mesoraco appeared in a game for the Mets literally hours after the deal was struck. Hopefully a fresh start in a much smaller market is just what Harvey needs to revive his career.

-Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna has been placed on Administrative Leave after being charged with domestic assault of his girlfriend. Basically “Administrative Leave” is a 7-day suspension with pay while the league investigates the matter, though Osuna can appeal this if he so chooses. As of right now we have very little in terms of details on the situation so it’s unknown what transpired. But if the 23 year-old is found guilty, this could be disastrous for a Blue Jays team that is playing above their talent level at the moment. Osuna has been very good in the closer’s role this season, carrying a 2.93 ERA (2.06 FIP) with a minuscule 0.59 walks per 9 rate and he has yet to give up a home run this season. Typically the punishment for domestic assault in MLB is about half the season, which would be a crushing blow for the Jays. We’ll have to keep an eye on this one.

-Major League Baseball officially announced that the Red Sox and Yankees would play a 2-game series in London on June 29-30 in an effort for global expansion. The press conference happened a little over a week after the news broke and I’ve got to say, despite the fact that one of my teams is playing this game, I don’t know if I could care any less about having games in London. Now yes, this is definitely better than what the NFL is doing, which is putting a couple mediocre teams out there a few times a year (the Red Sox and Yankees currently have the best record in baseball and a suddenly reinvigorated rivalry). But I don’t see any expansion happening anytime soon. I’d much sooner see a team in Mexico than in London. Hell, we have far more Mexican-born players in the Major Leagues and it’s right south of the border in a similar situation to Toronto. Now granted, there may be some issues, as Mexico typically has a higher altitude than most of the United States (putting a team in Monterrey would give that team the second-highest altitude in the Majors behind Colorado) so pitching would likely suffer there. But it wouldn’t be a whole lot different than having a team in Toronto. Plus, putting a team in London would be disastrous for travel, as you would have to give teams a few off days in between traveling to London to account for the time zone changes (not to mention how much mileage the London-based team would accumulate). Chill with the London stuff guys, get teams in our neighboring countries first.

-Speaking of the Red Sox, David Price has been scratched from his next start after feeling numbness in his finger tips again. Since this issue first rose a month ago, Price has gone from dominant to poor for this Red Sox rotation. He looked awesome in his first two starts, as he didn’t surrender a single run in either outing. However the numbness started happening and he’s been getting shelled and his ERA has ballooned to 5.11. Quite frankly, I would just put him on the DL if I were the Red Sox brass. This doesn’t sound like something to mess around with, plus Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez have shown that they’re more than capable of putting in quality spot start duties which should tide things over nicely while the Sox let Price recover. I know there’s this concern over the fact that you’ve got so much money invested in him and it’s another DL stint for him, but if a guy’s injured, he’s injured. You can’t keep sending him out there and setting him up for failure and potentially damaging him beyond repair. It’s not worth it.

-So the Orioles currently have the worst record in baseball and then they faced the Kansas City Royals. The Royals dropped a freaking 10 spot in the top of the FIRST INNING, hitting 4 home runs off Dylan Bundy before Bundy could record an out, the first time that’s happened in the modern era. He ended up allowing 7 runs to score and it was the nail in the coffin for Baltimore as they got trounced by Kansas City, who ended up with a 15-7 victory while also collecting 20 hits. And it’s not like the Royals are some juggernaut, either. They entered the game with an 11-23 record and were scoring the 4th fewest runs in the Majors entering that game. Though, to the O’s’ credit, they didn’t completely lie down after that first inning shelling. They did manage to score 7 runs (6 of them after the 7th inning) and collect 14 hits. But the Manny Machado trade speculation is going to be running absolutely RAMPANT after this game.

That’s going to do it for this baseball update. Let me know what you thought of everything in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.