Friday November 28, 2014

Pondering the sixth man


View from the Cheap Seats is kind of an extension of the newsroom. Whenever our three regular reporters, Calvin Daniels, Thom Barker and Randy Brenzen are in the building together, it is frequently a site of heated debate. This week: Should Major League Baseball go to a six-man rotation of starting pitchers?

Wrong solution

Texas Rangers starting pitcher Yu Darvish has suggested that the MLB should adopt the six starter pitching rotation in order to cut down on severe arm injuries and Tommy John surgery.

His thought process is that Japan does it so why doesn’t the MLB?

Well Japan also has it’s top pitchers throwing anywhere from 120-160-plus pitches throughout youth and high school baseball. Plus, Japanese pitchers tend to be far more flexible which enables them to stay healthy more often.

But it is a novel idea, I’ll give Yu that. What Yu forgets, however, is that the league is watered down enough in regards to starting pitchers with each team already using five.

If they were to add a sixth starter to the mix then you’d have guys who have no business playing in the Major Leagues not only playing, but starting every sixth game. Sure you’d have 14-10 scores every week or so, but where’s the fun in that?

Speaking as a pitcher, if someone’s arm is going to go it’s going to go. Whether there are six starters or five. What they should actually do is scrap the whole pitch count idea. The Atlanta Braves of the 1990s didn’t put much stock into the pitch count; instead, they let their pitcher determine how long they stayed in the game. If they felt good, they kept going. If not, they left.

Oh, and the amount of arm injuries to pitchers in Braves camp was well below the MLB average when they ran it like that.

So while there are ways to prevent arm injuries (such as a torn rotator cuff), adding an extra starter to the mix is definitely not one of them.

— Randy Brenzen

Worth trying

Baseball pitchers, from the Major League level on down, seem to be facing a new epidemic of arm troubles, more and more ending up in so-called ‘Tommy John” surgery to repair torn rotator cuffs.

The situation has left everyone from baseball pundits to casual fans looking for a reason for the seeming upswing in injuries.

Everything from being taught the curveball too young, the strain of the pitch starting to hurt the arm even in minor baseball, through to too much focus put on the radar gun measuring a fastball, to too many innings over too many years have been blamed.

While getting a handle on the cause would help, I suspect no one culprit is to blame.

Which then leaves us to ponder how to deal with the problem.

Yu Darvish, the Japanese pitching star now with the Texas Rangers recently tossed out the idea of a six man starting rotation at the major league level. With the usual day off teams have each week, it would mean a starting pitcher would toe the rubber once a week.

Purists will hate the idea, pointing to the days when the likes of Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson went to the mound every four starts, and expected to toss a complete game, not give way to the bullpen after six innings as is the norm today (even with the current five-man rotation).

But purist thoughts aside, there is no real good reason a six-man rotation is not worth a try.

In Japan it is used, with teams having a 28-man roster, the manager designating three players to the stands for each game.

That would take care of the need to grow the roster by at least one spot for an extra starter.

The only real barrier to the idea gaining more attention is the fact contracts for starters are based on the expectation of 32 starts a season.

Move to a six-man and each starter would max out at 26 starts. Owners would want contracts adjusted, players would not.

Money aside, systems are forced to evolve in sport, and the game may now be at the point a starter is best preserved for a long career with more time to rest between starts. It is certainly something the sport needs to look at more closely.

 — Calvin Daniels


I have a really hard time getting excited about this debate over Major League Baseball going to a six-man starting pitching rotation.

First of all, getting paid a gazillion dollars a year for working once every five days, does not engender very much sympathy. Yeah, yeah, I know, they have to practice and train and travel and keep themselves healthy, but really.

Second, I’m not convinced that going to once a week will actually prevent injuries. As far as I know, it’s not so much about how often they pitch, but how intensively they pitch when they do. There is some anecdotal evidence from the Japanese leagues from Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvis—who suggested the idea based on his experience pitching there—and others, but until I see some real evidence I think it is suspect whether frequency is the issue.

I can see from a business perspective how teams would consider it to protect their “property,” but again, if I were an owner, I would want to see concrete data that shows the five-day rotation is the problem.

If there is one thing that does kind of concern me though, it is what it might do to the quality of baseball. Let’s face it, most teams have a hard enough time putting together a five-man rotation that is two or three deep with winning records. A team with five really strong starters and decent batting is virtually guaranteed a run at the World Series. Where are all these new starters supposed to come from?

Even that may be a moot point though. If MLB were to adopt it wholesale, it becomes a zero-sum proposition because all teams would be in the same boat.

My final word on this issue? Meh.

— Thom Barker



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