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Forget a starting rotation

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And I don’t mean that figuratively

Colorado Rockies v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Yesterday, our man Eric Roseberry pitched (heh sportswriter pun) the idea that the Reds could use the bullpen as their fifth starter, at least for a little while until some of the more accomplished arms can healthy up a bit. He’s a smart dude and his piece is well measured, so I suggest you go read it before digging in here. This is kind of a part II to that.

Did you read it? Good.

So all this got me thinking: if a team is struggling to fill out a rotation with healthy and capable starters, one option is to use your bullpen to help fill the gap every fifth day. But then I’m thinking, why not just blow up the whole rotation?

Eric points to a good bit of interesting stuff to back up his idea. One thing he did not mention though is the fact that most pitchers see a significant dip in efficacy their second and third trips through a lineup. So I’m thinking, why not limit a pitcher to just one time through a lineup?

Dig it: the current convention is to employ five starting pitchers and another six or seven relief pitchers. The starters take their turns with the intention of pitching as deep into the game as they can get. Relievers then step in to pick up the rest of the outs necessary to finish the game.

But here is what I’m thinking: with a staff of twelve pitchers, loosely group your pitchers into four squads of three. When a pitcher is called on to enter the game, he goes in with the explicit goal of collecting nine outs (for those who want to make the “pitchers like defined roles” argument, there is your defined role).

And so you can kinda schedule out your pitchers like this: The Reds open the season with six games in seven days against the Phillies and the Cardinals. The first game you pencil in your first three-man troupe. Game two goes to your second three-man troupe, and the third game to your third three-man troupe. Three other pitchers are on staff as flexible arms to help cover for ineffective performances or extra-inning games. The troupes do not have to be set it stone either, giving the manager added flexibility to play to advantageous match-ups.

Any given pitcher will be given the opportunity to get nine outs (three innings) or about 50 pitches. The number of pitches thrown in a given outing will determine how many rest days the pitcher would require before seeing action again (generally two or three).

A few of the interesting benefits to the approach are that your pitchers won’t face the same lineups as often as they would in the conventional construction. With a five-man rotation, your starters rarely face the same team back-to-back. But your relief pitchers are quite often asked to pitch on back-to-back nights. This new orientation would cut that back quite a bit. It would also allow your pitchers to be more aggressive against hitters. They won’t have to strategize for a second or third time through the lineup so they can use their entire pitch arsenal against a given hitter. Also, it would allow the manager more flexibility to use his best arms in the highest leverage situations. Do you have a one-run lead heading into the eighth inning? Do you want to hand the ball to Ross Ohlendorf hoping he can hold it until your closer pitches the ninth? Or would you rather give the ball to your best available pitcher and have them get six outs?

The Reds are in a unique position right now to try something so radical. One of the major points against this approach is that traditional starting pitchers are creatures of routine and can get uncomfortable when that is altered. But at this point, the Reds have exactly zero healthy pitchers on the staff who have ever thrown more than 200 innings in a season as a traditional starter. Also, there is a long-standing desire to have that rotation anchor #1 ace throw seven or eight innings for you. Guys like Clayton Kershaw, Johnny Cueto, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale and so on. The Reds do not have anyone like that, though.

Of course, it would take some significant changes to the pitchers’ preparation routines to get them ready for something like this. I really don’t know a whole lot about what goes into that, but I don’t want to discount it.

The front office has floated some balloons out there over the winter saying they are open to using Michael Lorenzen and Rasiel Iglesias as neo-retro firemen. So I guess my question here is: why limit it to just those guys? What do they have to lose?