Revisiting the Myth of the Five-Man Rotation

The other day, Eno wrote something up about the importance of team depth, and about the importance of being able to measure it. I think the thing I like most about the A’s roster right now is how it’s so deep in so many places. The Cardinals, too, have given themselves some flexibility. Depth is something you never think about at first — at first, you’re simply focused on the top bits of the depth chart — but for as much as the need for particular depth is unpredictable, odds are those extra players are going to matter. Players who aren’t on the opening-day roster, or who aren’t starters, are going to end up responsible for attempted runs scored and attempted runs prevented.

I think most people have a good understanding that it matters to have starting-pitcher depth beyond the front five. At least, most people who hang around at places like FanGraphs. We all get that pitchers are volatile, and we all get that pitchers get injured. Yet still there’s a focus on just the first five, because no pitcher is individually super likely to break down, and if the five are good enough you should never need a replacement, right? People talk about filling out five-man rotations, but really, a team would be fortunate to lean on a five-man rotation, and I thought it could be useful to provide some updated numbers from the season most recently finished. Those sixth and seventh starters in a system — they’re going to get innings. Sometimes a lot of them.

This is a study of just one year, and it won’t establish anything new. The methodology could probably be tweaked, but as is, it worked well enough. I exported the performance of every pitcher who started at least one game in 2013. I then sorted by team and by number of starts, and then I went in and erased the numbers by each team’s top five starters, by games. This eliminated the five guys used most heavily. Remaining on the spreadsheet are the depth guys. The depth guys and, rarely, trade acquisitions. I wanted to know about usage, and I wanted to know about performance.

This doesn’t perfectly capture the importance of depth. It might even underrate it — at times, a guy counted on from the get-go didn’t end up in a team’s top five. Which means that a depth guy ended up in the top five. With the Phillies, for example, Roy Halladay was supposed to be a dependable starter all year, but he wound up sixth on the team in starts. With the Pirates, Wandy Rodriguez wound up sixth. The Cardinals got just nine starts out of Jaime Garcia. I’m content, though, with the results, serving as approximations. The data gives a good idea of how important it is to have ability behind the intended five-man.

Overall, these guys made 967 combined starts, for an average of 32 per team. They threw a combined 5,097 innings, for an average of 170 per team. They totaled 7.2 RA9-WAR, and 24.1 regular WAR, for averages of 0.2 and 0.8. Their combined ERA- was 125; their combined FIP- was 119.

The Tigers had an excellent rotation in large part because of the ability of their top five starters. Those five guys, though, also started 156 of the games, leaving just six for depth in the person of Jose Alvarez. The next team, alphabetically, is the Twins, and their depth guys made 48 starts. For the Rangers, 43. For the Orioles, 40. The Dodgers clearly had to lean on some replacements. The Blue Jays wound up somewhat in tatters. Contenders and non-contenders alike had to give dozens of starts to guys who didn’t so much figure to be starters in March and April.

Take that team average of 32 starts, noted above. That’s a fifth of all starts. That is, basically, its own rotation slot. To put it simply, teams got four slots out of the intended five starters, and then a bunch of other guys picked up the slack out of the remainder. The actual need for depth will vary from team to team, but there are games to be won and lost, and so it’s easy to see how this could make a significant difference.

Building rotation depth isn’t the easiest thing to plan for. With position players, you can keep quality depth pieces on the major-league bench. It doesn’t work quite that way with starters, because real good ones will get rotation jobs right away. You won’t be able to sign good starters to minor-league contracts to stash them away in Triple-A. You generally won’t be able to keep good, established starters in the bullpen. Good depth often has to come from within, in the form of younger talent. Depth is hard to build overnight, but it’s easy to deplete.

As an example, I instantly think of the Mariners. Right now, they’re looking at a rotation of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Erasmo Ramirez. There’s not much of anything behind them. The Mariners intend to add another starter, be it Masahiro Tanaka or a free agent or a trade acquisition. That would push Ramirez into the sixth-starter role. A follow-up move could be trading a young starter for some kind of bat, but then they’d be back in their current position, with depth in the persons of Blake Beavan and Brandon Maurer. Ramirez is probably superior, given his health, and he’d make for an excellent sixth-starter option. To trade from a pool of big-league-ready starters is to make your roster worse, because those starters are likely going to matter. It’s easy to just think about the five main guys, and see the others as just emergency options, but most teams do encounter emergencies, be they major or minor. The need for depth can be anticipated ahead of time, and better to have it and not need it than to (and so on).

Another example would be the Red Sox, who currently don’t seem to have a space in the rotation for Ryan Dempster. There are also prospects climbing the ladder, and Brandon Workman in the bullpen. Given Dempster’s salary and lack of a spot, he’s been the subject of countless trade discussions, but while there could be good sense in sending him packing, he could also still play a prominent role in Boston going forward, as the guy who’s next on the list. The Red Sox are going to need to give starts at some point to other guys, and so it’s not just about moving a superfluous player. Generally, a decent starter isn’t superfluous.

The tricky thing is the unpredictability. You never know when you might suddenly have a need, and you never know for how long that need might exist. As noted, it’s tough to build quality rotation depth, because good starters are always valued at a premium. But depth is still important, for all of the uncertainty. Every team employs a five-man rotation, but those rotations, in the end, will have consisted of more than five men. Depth should be preserved, not depleted, and the best teams are the teams prepared for the inevitable adversity. The absence of quality depth will usually cost a team, in one way or another.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


104 Responses to “Revisiting the Myth of the Five-Man Rotation”

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  1. Dick says:

    I disagree.

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  2. DD says:

    Why not take the 5 starters on each team’s opening day roster as the Top 5 guys”? That gives a truer sense of the number of “unplanned” starts. That way the guy who replaced Halladay, not Doc himself, shows as the depth guy.

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    • lesmash says:

      I support DD’s comment here; the truth is that Halladay and others of his ilk were Plan A, not Plan B. I suspect you’d see more than an average of 32 starts per team in this case, and you’d get a truer picture of just how relevant depth is in the case of a team’s starting pitchers.

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    • Not so easy to track down Opening Day rosters, and sometimes teams don’t start the season with their intended regular five for one reason or another. You’re right, though, that a little deeper research using Baseball-Reference would change the numbers some, increasing the number of depth starts even more. I took the easy way out. Probably, year to year, we’ll look at consistent averages in the 30-40 start range per team.

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      • cass says:

        Can be complicated to determine intended starters for sure. For example, a team may start a pitcher in the minors and intend to bring them up later in the year, perhaps to avoid them becoming a Super 2.

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      • someone says:

        I agree that it’s difficult, but I have a potential solution: use the top 5 guys (projected) on the Fangraphs positional power rankings prior to the season. Easy to find, and gives a good idea about each team’s intended starting five.

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      • SurprMan says:

        Really, for just one year it wouldn’t take that long to go through each team and identify the 6th starter. Not complaining, though; as Jeff said, his methods give an approximation, which was all that was needed for this piece.

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    • Eric Lutz says:

      The required depth for starting pitching is way deeper than what this article suggests. All you have to do is go into the pitching stats of Games vs. Games Started and you will see how deep a ‘starting rotation’ needs to be to complete a season. 296 different pitchers had at least 1 start in 2013. Basically 300 divided by 30 teams, that’s 10 pitchers per team on average. Its a revolving door people. Durability, especially at the pitcher spot, is an underrated characteristic. You cannot help your team if your aren’t on the playing field or standing on the bump. Lots of different pitchers fill in for spot starts along the way. The other way you can tell, is look at the 2013 database of total players by position. The grand total of MLB players, that even had 1 plate appearance or threw a single pitch is 1,313 players, even for a cup of coffee cameo. Of these 1313, 679, or 52% of all players were pitchers! Catcher and Left Field contain the next highest count of players by position, 110 and 100 respectively. When it comes to pitching its a revolving door. This article is simply a cautionary tale regarding, “So you want to make the pros as a major league pitcher do you? Good luck.”

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  3. WJ says:

    The Dodgers’ 2013 season would be a good example of the importance of depth. They had 8 starters in ST and went into the season with 7 after trading Harang. Then lost Beckett, Billingsley for the season, and Capuano for stretches (which led to the deal for Nolasco). They used Magill & Fife as well. Don’t know what the combined record is for those players, but my recollection is that their combined efforts were a net positive, and without the “surplus” of starters at the beginning of the season, the Dodgers may have fallen into a deeper hole than the one they found themselves in last June when they were 9.5 games out.

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    • Bip says:

      Everyone thought it was comical how the Dodgers had 8 starting pitchers going into 2013. People seemed to expect they would trade at least 2, though they ended up trading only one.

      Planned starting 5:
      Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Billingsley, Beckett – 101 starts

      Original 8:
      Starting 5 plus Capuano, Lilly, Harang – 126 starts

      Not on active roster to begin season (4):
      Nolasco, Stephen Fife, Matt Magill, Volquez – 36 starts

      So depending on how you look at it, the Dodgers got either 36 or 61 depth starts. The 36 starts was like depth for the depth; starts made by players that people weren’t even considering when they declared that the Dodgers had “too many starters.”

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    • Pirates Hurdles says:

      The Pirates also showed tremendous depth in 2013, which was stunning for a franchise that was until very recently pitching starved.

      They opened with Burnett, McDonald, Wandy, Locke, and Jonathan freakin’ Sanchez in the rotation.

      The season was saved by Liriano (2.92FIP), Cole (2.91), Morton (3.60), Gomez (3.85), and Cumpton (2.62).

      They used 10 SP at least 4 times and only had 3 guys make more than 20 starts. It seems like Huntington is setting up for a similar approach with Liriano, Cole, Wandy, Morton, Volquez to start and Locke, Gomez, Taillon, Cumpton, Irwin, Kingham, and Wilk waiting in the wings.

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      • Pitnick says:

        And McPherson!

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        • Pirates Hurdles says:

          I would love to see KMac return to form (he’s been a hughe favorite of mine), but I have my doubts after all his arm issues. I still hold out hope that he can at least be a good power RH reliever.

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  4. pft says:

    The average team goes thorough 8-10 starters. Injuries, poor performance, etc require teams to use other options. Its pretty rare for your top 5 to give you 156 starts, you can;t go into the season expecting it.

    As for the Red Sox, they have an older staff. Lackey 1 year after TJ surgery, Buchholz coming off an uncertain shoulder injury. Doubront with conditioning problems and a tendency to fade down the stretch Dempster could pitch in the pen until needed, and they have a number of arms in AAA that could start. It was lack of pitching depth that did in the 2011 Red Sox, not chicken and beer. That seems unlikely in 2014.

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  5. GilaMonster says:

    The Red Sox are bad example. Depth is good, but too much depth could be bad. I don’t really like moving guys to the bullpen when they can start because most people don’t ever move back.

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  6. Bip says:

    The 2012 Reds rotation had one of the most incredible seasons I’ve ever seen. They gave 161 starts to their top 5 of Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo, and Leake. All but Leake managed more than 200 innings.

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    • Crimity says:

      Their rotation average 219.1 IP, the highest total since the 1983 Minnesota Twins staff who average 222 IP. Their IP compared to the league average is the highest of all-time (41% better than the 2013 average), with only the 1954 Braves close with 39.2% better than the respective league average.

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      • jim says:

        surprised not to have heard more about that

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      • Mr Punch says:

        The 2004 Red Sox got 160 starts from their 5-man rotation, which was 6 guys because they switched out Kim for Arroyo (there he is again!) in April. Wakefield missed two starts. Wake and Lowe, BTW, are starters who went to the bullpen and returned; Kim was a closer who became a starter/swing man.

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      • ValueArb says:

        The 2004 Boston Red Sox had a bunch of prima-donnas and could only get 157 starts out of their top five starters, and that group of nancy boys didn’t even average 200 IP each.

        Billy Martin gave 159 starts to the five real men on the 1980 Oakland As and being smart enough not to overload the bullpen, averaged 252 IP out the group. It’s so long ago I can’t remember what happened next, but pretty likely the As won a couple of world championships and one or two of their starters ended up in the HOF.

        My memory of the 2004 Sox is a bit better, I remember they were not very good, a 2nd place team that didn’t even win 100 games, and got swept by the Yankees in the ALCS (the first 3 games were so depressing I didn’t even watch the clincher or World Series, knowing the Cardinals were naught but a grease-spot in the way of a Fifth Yankee World Championship in 8 years).

        When Schilling and Pedro enter the HOF without a single starter from the 1980 As being inducted, it either shows how our standards for greatness have declined over the years, or how our most likely outcomes can be easily altered by butterfly effects as small as the tiny heart of an egocentric and malevolent manager, or a team of ball playing eccentrics far too dumb to ever quit.

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        • alantrammellfan says:

          Norris ended injured. Once threw 12 plus innings and Martin let him there as punishment for asking to be relieved in the 13th. They went to the WS, seven years later with LaRussa not Martin

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    • cass says:

      The Nats were blessed with good health that year as well. If not for the Strasburg shutdown, they’d have barely ever needed a sixth starter.

      And, as Jeff alluded to the in piece, they had problems stashing a starter. The sixth starter they kept stashed in AAA had been a MLB league average starter for a few years – John Lannan. He was upset with the situation and asked to be traded. And after that year, he was. Didn’t work out too well for him, unfortunately.

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  7. Nathan Shields says:

    Does this article mean to say that the teams that have the best depth at SP are going to be a better team in the course of an entire season?

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      Well sure, if your “depth” includes Michael Wacha or Sonny Gray it’s better than if you’re relying on Ramon Ortiz or Russ Ortiz, but it’s gotta still be better to have the Tigers 5 than the A’s 10.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        What if Verlander or Scherzer goes down with season ending TJ? That’s kind of he point of depth. If you are top heavy, an injury (which isn’t unlikely) can decimate your roster.

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  8. OaktownSteve says:

    One of the things that revolutionized the 100 meter dash was a theory that instead of running your fastest split the 1st 50 meters and then slowing consistently down to the finish (which it turns out is what was happening to most sprinters since forever because even elite athletes get fatigued subtly giving max effort over 100 yard) you try to run the same split for every 10 meter increment, giving consistent effort. Study showed this led to faster times. One of the things that happened was that at the end, it looked like the consistent effort sprinter was surging forward when in reality the other runners were simply slowing down.

    I’ve felt this way about the A’s for some time now. The depth, particularly in pitching, allows them to be consistent in the quality of their baseball all through the year, but it really shows up as the season goes on and other teams without their depth start to use replacement players. The A’s record post-June over the last two seasons is 105-57. Anecdotally, it’s seemed like the A’s have consistently had solid advantages in pitching match ups over each 3 or 4 game series as the season goes on. So many teams are forced to run out 6th and 7th starter options that are sub-replacement. Yeah it’s cliché to say you need a lot of pitching. But watching how pitching depth actually operates as a season winds on has been interesting here in Oakland.

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  9. Ryan says:

    The Blue Jays ended spring training with
    Dickey. 34
    Morrow. 10
    Buerhle. 33
    Johnson. 16
    Happ. 18
    Total – 111
    Which means they got 51 starts from depth guys, the likes of:
    Esmil Rogers (20), Todd Redmond (14), Chien-Ming Wang (6), Ramon Ortiz (4), Chad Jenkins (3), Ricky Romero (2), Sean Nolin (1) and Aaron Laffey (1)

    Going into the season all the talk was whether it would be Ricky Ro or Happ in the 5 spot and that it was such a luxury to have a quality 6th guy.
    Even if you include Ricky Ro’s 2 starts as the sixth man, starters 7-13 on the Jays depth list started 49 games while Happ, Johnson, Morrow and Romero started 46.

    Wow, I think I just figured out why the Jays sucked so much last year.

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    • Jamie says:

      They might have sucked last year because they also lost about 330 games from their core hitters: Lind 20, Encarnacion 20, Rasmus 45, Bautista 45, Lawrie 55, Reyes 70, and Cabrera 75 (approximate #’s)…

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  10. byron says:

    Thanks for not rubbing in how this analysis makes the Fister trade somehow look even worse.

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  11. PackBob says:

    Some teams begin the season with depth guys in the starting rotation.

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  12. This is great. Always hate the spring training story “they’ve got six starters, they have to trade one” that pops up every year. Keep the sixth guy! You’ll need him. A lot.

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    • Bip says:

      Same with the Dodgers 4 outfielders. There were like 2 total games where all were available

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      • Ruki Motomiya says:

        This, so much. Having a quality 4th OFer/5th IFer isn’t having too much, it is smartly preparing, with the exception of if you really need assets elsewhere (IE your starters suck, so you’ll get more from upgrading there)

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  13. Basmati says:

    Angels had some depth in 2013 but both the quality and quantity was lacking:

    33 Wilson
    24 Weaver
    24 Vargas
    20 Blanton
    13 Hanson

    Total 114

    25 Williams
    17 Richards
    2 Buckner
    2 Enright
    1 Roth
    1 Shoemaker

    Total 48

    Weaver, Vargas and Hanson all had injury problems. Blanton and Hanson proved to be ineffective. So long relief/spot starter Williams made the 2nd most starts on the team (with an ERA+ of 82).

    There’s talk of releasing Blanton if the Angels can’t trade him. Maybe they should keep him for emergencies, although I guess he’s out of options. I guess this means the Mulder signing could prove useful.

    The Angels currently have 8 potential starters – Weaver, Wilson, Richards, Blanton, Hanson, Santiago, Skaggs, Mulder, plus they’re still expected to sign another free agent.

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    • Ryan says:

      Interesting that the Jays and Angels were two of the biggest disappointments and had so many starts lost to depth guys. I wonder Jeff Sullivan if you could find a trend from year to year In this regard. Although, the idea of a disappointment s subjective, it’s clear in these two cases.

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      • Pirates Hurdles says:

        I think what you will find is obvious. The teams who’s depth guys perform well win and those that do not lose. The teams that stay healthy likely perform closer to expectation. This type of thing probably explains a bunch of the variance from a team’s perceived win loss record on opening day and what happens.

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  14. WIlliam says:

    The article was worth writing but the author was lazy in producing the data to back up his point. It would be much more meaningful to know how many starts were lost to the projected starters. Shame!

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  15. TanGeng says:

    The thing about the 6th guy is that you can’t pay full price for to have someone backup the rotation. In the end these guys are going to have be either bargain options or cost controlled and not someone that will feel slighted by the position as 6th option.

    Finding a good fit for the 6th starter is more difficult than for bottom half of the rotation.

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    • Steve says:

      unless you’re the dodgers, of course

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    • psualum says:

      The real issue is how fluid the 6th starter is by nature. If, as the 6th starter, the guy performs well and keeps you afloat his expectation next year will be to get a spot in the 5 man rotation. If, as the 6th starter, the guy performs at replacement or slightly below you might want to replace him, but on the other hand you know he won’t feel slighted by being the 6th starter again next year.

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  16. wmevans says:

    Jeff, this is fascinating. I agree with the commentors above that this work could be enhanced by a better methodology for determining who a team thinks of as ‘depth’ going in to the season. After all, the market for frontline pitching is very different than the depth market — and the latter market may be a significant market inefficiency, particularly if your article understates the number of innings pitched by depth pieces.

    Two thoughts on potential follow up pieces:
    – How much of a difference does depth make? It would be interesting to try and quantify how much advantage the ‘deepest’ teams have against the rest and whether depth is evenly distributed.

    – How do the 2014 rosters stack up in terms of depth? This is a question for March, once the depth pieces have signed. For example, one of the reasons I’m (irrationally) excited about the Mets is that their #6-8 starters are Rafael Montero, Jacob DeGrom and Noah Syndergaard (with Carlos Torres maybe thrown in there somewhere). Would be interesting to see how other teams compare.

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  17. G Man says:

    I think the salient point is that the average number of starters used is 10. The fact is, if your top 5 lost time one at a time, for a total of about 30 starts, you’d be elated. You could have a 6th guy who steps in and out as the others get time off. The reality is, at least in Toronto, multiple starters lose time to injury simultaneously. So you need luck – timing of injuries or avoiding them – and you need 3-5 guys who can step in. Off the top of my head, all of the playoff teams in 2013 had one or both of these things going for them.

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    • wmevans says:

      Agree that you need 10, but they are not all equally important. Your #6 guy is going to throw many more innings than your #10 guy.

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  18. Eric R says:

    I did something similar for OFers. I used 1996 to 2013 and grabbed all players who played at least one game in the OF. Sorted by team-season and innings.

    The guy with the most OF innings was the #1 OFer; second most innings, the #2 OFer, etc.

    #1 136 Games* [28% of the OF innings]
    #2 113 [24%]
    #3 87 [18%]
    #4 56 [12%]
    #5 36 [7%]
    #other 51 [11%]

    * Games, defined as innings/9, not starts or appearances

    What I was curious about is how important is a #5 OFer, specifically, if the Mets signed a player like Cruz does it make sense to hand Eric Young Jr $1.9M in arbitration to be a #5 OFer [vs handing that job to Matt Den Dekkar or some other $500k player].

    I guess I still don’t know, but if your #4/5/6[…] OFers are going to combine for as many innings as your #1 OF, then it seems like it shouldn’t just be something you throw at a some junk players as an afterthought…

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  19. Chris from Bothell says:

    So, now I wonder if teams can beat the averages around pitcher health / durability, by simply having their pitching consist largely of almost the exact same guy. That is to say, rather than relying on a Halladay or a Felix at the front of the rotation, but then have the guy who replaces him be some 1.5 – 2 WAR dude, you have something like 6 – 8 starting pitchers who are all reliably about 2.5 – 3 WAR.

    Instead of a lot of variance due to losing an ace to injury, you might benefit from having their entire starting staff be essentially interchangable. You lose the high ceiling, but you guarantee a predictable floor. No one getting butt-hurt about being stashed in AAA because the superstars are busy taking all the starts; it’s essentially first-in-first-out, quick trigger on any pitcher who’s injured or slumping.

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    • rageon says:

      Basically the recent Oakland A’s.

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      • Belloc says:

        I think that statement completely disregards Bartolo Colon as an ace. He wore down by the end of the season, but he pitched 190 innings and his FIP was better than Justin Verlander’s and Yu Darvish’s.

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      Are you seriously saying that the Mariners should trade Felix Hernandez for Tom Milone, Dan Straily and AJ Griffin?

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    • Pirates Hurdles says:

      The problem would be that no team can really get 6 to 8 2.5-3WAR pitchers reliably. Some years it may work out that way, but I don’t think its a functional strategy.

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    • OaktownSteve says:

      If you can afford an ace and still back him up with a solid 2-7 set of starters, of course you want that. You want as many aces as you can get. But if you’re small market, the investment in an ace is pretty sketchy. You’re sinking a lot of payroll into a guy that plays once every 5 games. Much better to spread it around.

      Of course, once you get to the playoffs, like mentioned above, the ace becomes much more valuable…believe me I was at game 5 in ’12 and ’13. The A’s will never hold an elite, frontline starter unless a guy like Sonny Gray that they develop can be the man while they have him under control.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        That logic is still kind of unproven though isn’t it? The braves had 3 aces, 1 ring. The phillies didn’t win with Lee/Hamels/Halladay. I think it’s a crapshoot still and the As just have shitty luck.

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        • OaktownSteve says:

          Yeah…I do think that’s fair. There are a lot of counter examples. Kershaw couldn’t quite get it done for the Dodgers and he’s the aceiest of aces. The ace for the playoffs may be overblown. If the A’s bullpen holds the lead in Detroit, there never is a game 5 last year.

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        • Ruki Motomiya says:

          The difference would be in terms of odds. I would say that you are more likely to win with Lee/Hamels/Halladay as your 3 than 3 pitchers who did worse…it’s just that the playoffs are still small sample sizes.

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      • Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder Hydra says:

        Did you forget about us? We were a three-headed, six-armed ace, and our shit still didn’t work in the playoffs.

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  20. Kris Medlen says:

    I was bummed that a chart wasn’t included breaking down the extra starters statistics by team! I would have liked to see which teams performed well using guys beyond their starting 5.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      I agree, how about a chart or 4!

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    • Eric R says:

      I grabbed the 1996-2013 SP data; sorted by team-seasons and ranked the pitchers within that by starts.

      Here are the teams who got the most fWAR from their #6+ starters:
      2001 Blue Jays 7.5 fWAR
      2000 Reds 2.9
      1996 Phillies 4.2
      1998 Astros 4.1
      2001 Red Sox 4.0
      2012 Braves 4.0
      2003 Royals 4.0

      The 2005 Pirates got 2.9 fWAR from their #6+ and only 1.8 from the #1-5, 61% of their SP fWAR.

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  21. filihok says:

    I posted his a bit ago and found that teams were getting about 40 starts out of ‘depth’ guys. Or at least 40 starts out of replacement level pitchers.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/community/what-is-an-ace-2013/

    Also 2011
    http://filihok.blogspot.com/2012/08/what-is-ace-2011.html

    And 2010
    http://filihok.blogspot.com/2011/01/what-is-ace.html

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  22. mike wants wins says:

    I still think for teams with no good options, that a 3 man rotation with a bunch of guys in the majors and AAA that rotate in and out for 3 innings makes more sense than building what the Twins did last year. Should be cheaper too.

    Also, the article misses the opportunity cost part of the equation, if a team concentrates its assets on 7-9 good pitchers, can most teams afford/find enough good hitters then? For every good pitcher you add, you probably did not draft/trade for/sign a good hitter (unless you are the Cards…..).

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    • wally says:

      There is certainly something to that, but maybe this should show teams (the ones that don’t already know it anyway), that you back up guys are usually pretty important. I’m sure some teams put very little thought into the 4th outfielder, 6-7th starter, 3rd 2B/SS, when in reality between those backup roles you probably have 2 full player seasons of playing time in a given year.

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  23. Joebrady says:

    There are a couple of issues that could’ve been fleshed out a little more.

    1-The expense of a #6. Dempster should get a fair amount of starts as the #6, but he also cost almost $13M. That’s a heck of a lot of money to spend even if he gets as many as 16 starts.

    2-It costs a roster spot. Would you rather have an SP that might make 16 starts with an ERA of 5.00 (or else he’d likely be a starter somewhere), or would you rather have a lefty specialist for 50-60 IPs with an ERA of 3.00?

    3-What’s the marginal gain for a #6, assuming that their universe is the #151-180 SPs in terms of ERA, versus the top 30 minor league SPs? That assumes 30 teams have 5 SPs, and the 30 teams #6 comprise #151-180 in BB. My guess is that the average ‘planned’ #6 has to have an ERA of > 5.00. Even if the top minor SPs have a cumulative 6.00 projection, which I think would be high, if you averaged 16 starts, and 6 IP/GS, then a difference of 1 run in ERA is about 1 win per season.

    4-Is there anything to be gained from calling up your most appropriate minor league candidate in May to work out of the BP to acclimate him to the major leagues?

    As a RS fan, I assume Dempster should be fairly good. But I would prefer to trade him for nothing, and put the $12M in my pocket until the trade deadline. Assuming we miss 32 starts, I’d prefer to give 16 to Workman, and spread the other 16 emergency starts among the prospects.

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      “2-It costs a roster spot. Would you rather have an SP that might make 16 starts with an ERA of 5.00 (or else he’d likely be a starter somewhere)”

      Isn’t this a bit of backwards logic/ The reason that is most likely true is because people are not going after players to be 6th etc starters right now, ergo they are going to go to lower teams instead of higher end teams paying more for them.

      For example, Jorge De La Rosa (If he had hit the open market and not had his option exercised) could be a good starter on an elite team who could also work in the bullpen, good depth. Scott Feldman would be a prototypical 6th man in this situation, I feel: Something like 3 years 33 mil or even 3/38 or something, paying him over 30 to attract him from the worse team, would mean needing to be about 2 WAR worth to pay the contract out. He’d probably be a slight overpay between bullpen/long man work and rotation work, but leverage and the depth would probably add some value not accounted for in WAR.

      Dempster only needs to be worth, what, 2.2 WAR to be worth the money? Between bullpen work and rotation work, that should be easy enough to do unless he explodes, plus one could argue Workman counts as depth anyway. Really, the bigger issue with Dempster is how good he’ll be.

      “3-What’s the marginal gain for a #6, assuming that their universe is the #151-180 SPs in terms of ERA, versus the top 30 minor league SPs? That assumes 30 teams have 5 SPs, and the 30 teams #6 comprise #151-180 in BB.”

      Uh…why would you assume that? I mean, it’s not really remotely true, considering some teams definitely have loaded up on superior starting pitching talent then lower teams, or else there wouldn’t be a need to trade surplus starters, as they would be worse than all the other starters. Plus, that assumes very equal distribution of SPs, plus it assumes that the Top 30 minor league SPs are ready to be promoted.

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      • wmevans says:

        Re De La Rosa and swingmen, there is a really interesting point there. Stat heads tend to operate on a model that pitchers have a true talent level and always perform at that level. As a practical matter, i think starters tend to generally perform at a level higher than their final season numbers, then have a couple of outings where the don’t ‘have it’ and get shelled. If you have a great #6/swing man, maybe the manager could pull starters early on bad days turning low leverage, post-shelling innings into medium leverage innings.

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  24. Brendan says:

    Loving these comments. Quality and depth

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  25. BigBubbaNoTrubba says:

    Here’s a novel idea: Try a six man rotation. It seems like injuries are less frequent in the Japanese league. Perhaps it’s because their pitchers are allowed to recuperate one or two days more? It’s my firm belief that the stronger and more fit pitchers are, the more they’re able to exhaust their arms.

    Maybe 5 days were plenty 60 or even 25 years ago. But today the game is faster than ever. Thus a néed for a bit more recovery time.

    I’m surprised why none of the stats geeks have studied this.

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    • baycommuter says:

      It’s hard with a 25-man roster. You really need that 13th position player/DH. The A’s went to an effective 6-man rotation in September 2012 for a couple weeks.

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    • Seattle says:

      Using the Mariners example if they added a Tanaka type it would be a perfect scenario to have your three aces like Felix pitch every 5th day as usual with your three rookies rotating thru the last two slots, each taking a turn skipping a start to keep their innings down and still be productive at the end of the season. The skipped guy would be the “long reliever” as the 7th bullpen reliever and if needed and used the team would adjust accordingly. I wish the Nationals would have used this strategy and had their guy around with his final starts being the playoffs instead of Sept 1st. It seems a young, cheap prospect type is your best hope to use in thie 6th spot unless you’re a rich team that’s truly 25 deep.

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  26. Jon C says:

    There’s really no more injuries with a four-man rotation than a five or six man. Three days rest is plenty. It’s the amount of pitches accumulated that correspond with injury, not the days of rest, at least not when you get at least 3 days. Past 3 days, you get diminishing returns on rest. It’s simply that with a six man roation, you will get 27 starts instead of 40 and less starts means less pitches, so each pitcher is individually less likely to be injured, and if you do lose a pitcher, you only have to replace 27 games, or even 0 if you simply go down to a 5 man rotation, instead of 40 starts.

    Also, it matters not if the “extra starter” is on the 25 man roster or not – they simply need to be on the 40 man roster and have options left.

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  27. wannabe like Arod says:

    Regardless of the amount of people you use in the rotation, isn’t it still a five-man rotation? Maybe it should be referred to as a five-game rotation.

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  28. Thrust says:

    Saying you need an ace to win in the playoffs, is much different than saying if you have an ace you will win in the playoffs. Come on people. Just check out the World Series Champs over the last 10 years, which one did NOT have a front line ace?

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