A solution to the 5th SP spot; no 5th starter

A solution to the 5th SP spot; no 5th starter

Postby phuturephillies » Thu Mar 27, 2008 3:09 pm

* disclaimer * This type of thing will probably not make its way into the mainstream, certainly not into a team that operates like the Phillies, but I think it's something to consider * end disclaimer*

So yeah. As an alternative to Trent Steele's candidates for the 5th spot, I got to thinking about an old idea that I brought up either last year or the year before; why not just use 4 starters? Some teams recently have toyed with the idea, or tried it for a few weeks, but they invariably scrap the plan and go with the conventional 5 starters. The good doctor Rany Jazayerli did a long, in depth piece on the 4 v 5 man rotation at BP a few years ago. You can read it here. I linked to the 3rd part, which offers a summary of his conclusions, and it has links for parts 1 and 2. Here is a snippet

The four-man rotation simplifies a starter's between-start schedule. Most teams have their starters throw on the side once between starts, but no one really knows whether it's better to throw on the second day after a start, or the third. It's not even clear whether starters should throw only once. In Atlanta, Leo Mazzone has had continued success doing things his way: he has his starters throw twice on the side between starts instead of once. (He does this because he feels it gives the starter the same increased sharpness that comes from working on three days' rest.)

In a four-man rotation, there is no dilemma. A starter rests on day 1 after a start, throws on the side on day 2, rests on day 3, and is back on the mound on day 4.


Earl Weaver never carried more than 10 pitchers at a time, and frequently kept just 9. In so doing, he was able to carry as many as seven bench players, allowing him to mix and match talented role players like John Lowenstein and Terry Crowley and Benny Ayala. He was able to start a defensive whiz like Mark Belanger at shortstop because he had enough bullets on his bench to pinch-hit for Belanger if the Orioles were losing late, and have the defensive replacement on hand as well.


Your best pitchers not only throw more innings, they throw more relevant innings. Working in a five-man rotation where they are limited to 33 or 34 starts, the only way most starters can reach 220 or 230 innings in a season is to throw a good number of innings in games that are already in hand.

By giving starting pitchers an additional seven or eight starts per year, you guarantee that those innings will have meaning; after all, every game starts with a tie score. With more opportunities to pitch, there is less need for a starter to accumulate innings by working deep into ballgames where he has a comfortable lead, allowing the less-experienced pitchers on the staff the opportunity to get some innings in low-pressure situations.


More regular work may help young pitchers develop more quickly. We're talking about the great unknown here, but isn't it possible that young pitchers may be even fresher on three days' rest than veterans? Examples of great starters who required extra rest as they approached 40 are myriad, with the most recent example being David Cone. You rarely hear of the 21-year-old fireballer that needs an extra day of rest, though.

The dilemma of how to best develop pitchers while keeping them healthy has been vexing baseball teams for decades. Because the minor league season only runs through Labor Day, there are fewer innings to distribute among minor league prospects. As every organization wants its best prospects to get as much repetition as possible, with only 26 or 27 starts available, the only solution has been to allow those prospects to pitch 6 or 7 innings a start. For a 22- or 23-year-old major league starter, that workload is dangerous; for a 20-year-old prospect in A-ball, it borders on criminal negligence.

We have already seen at least one influential baseball man, Grady Fuson, take a different tack. In order to get his charges as much work as possible while keeping them healthy, Fuson has experimented with a modified version of the four-man rotation. In his system, eight pitchers are split into four pairs, working every fourth game, with one member of the pair starting, and the other relieving after the starter has reached a very conservative pitch limit, somewhere around 80 pitches. The two pitchers then switch places the next time through the rotation. Two or three pitchers are made permanent relievers to fill in the gaps along the way.

Fuson has hit upon something very important: based on the existing research, it seems safer to allow young pitchers to work on less rest than to allow them to throw 110 or more pitches in a game. The organization that decides to switch to a four-man rotation can start at the minor league level, either by using the Fuson formula or simply going with the traditional four-man rotation, as long as those starters are placed on very strict pitch counts. With 33 or 34 starts in a minor league season instead of 26 or 27, those starters won't have to pitch 6 or 7 innings a start to get their innings in. Even averaging only 5 innings per start, a minor league pitcher in a four-man rotation could throw 165 or 170 innings a season, which is as much as most minor league starters rack up today.


This article was written in 2002. This was his conclusion

The days of the five-man rotation are numbered. Baseball strategies are governed by the same evolutionary processes that guide strategies in any business: those that are successful are kept, while those that are not are discarded. Major League organizations are learning that the best way to keep their pitchers healthy is to restrict their pitch counts. Eventually, some bright guy in a major league front office is going to realize that if the solution to keeping pitchers healthy is to limit their pitch counts, maybe limiting their starts isn't part of the solution at all.

And once that light bulb goes on, the only thing that will keep teams from experimenting with the four-man rotation will be inertia, that pervasive tendency among baseball teams to keep from rocking the boat and putting their ass on the line. Don't discount that inertia, for it is a powerful thing - but eventually, it will be overcome.

At some point in the next five years, I am confident that we will see the return of the four-man rotation.


And it hasn't happened yet. Is this one area where teams are still behind the curve, and a team could exploit this weakness?

Of course, an important aspect of this concept is managing pitch counts in a very very strict manner. Jazayerli also wrote an article talking about pitch counts, and how they developed the Pitcher Abuse Points system. You can check it out here. Snippet

What seems to matter isn't how often a starter pitches, but how much he pitches when he does take the mound. About five years ago, we unveiled a system known as Pitcher Abuse Points (PAP for short) that attempted to measure just how much is too much. The system is based on the following principles:

1. While pitching is an inherently unnatural motion, throwing a pitch does not necessarily do permanent damage to a pitcher's arm. It's only when fatigue sets in (and a pitcher's mechanics start to waver) that continued pitching can result in irreversible injury.

2. There is a certain number of pitches that a pitcher can throw before that fatigue sets in.

3. Once a pitcher is fatigued, each additional pitch causes more damage, and results in more additional fatigue, than the pitch before.

The original version of PAP operated under the assumption that fatigue set in at 100 pitches, and after 100 pitches a starter was awarded Abuse Points for each additional pitch. The number of points he received per pitch slowly increased as he threw more pitches.

Two years later, Keith Woolner performed the definitive study that examined the relationship between high pitch counts and injury risk. First, Woolner looked at whether there was a relationship between high pitch counts and decreased effectiveness over the pitchers next few starts. What he found was that, while the relationship was there, the formula for PAP needed to be changed--that until that point, the system did not penalize pitchers enough for really high pitch counts (120 and up) compared to a 105 or 110-pitch outing.

Then using the new, refined formula for PAP, Woolner showed that there was, indeed, a link between high PAP scores and future injury risk.


So to recap, here's everything we know about the usage of starting pitchers:

* There is no evidence that the current system of employing a five-man rotation is any better at accomplishing what it was created for--keeping pitchers healthy--than the four-man rotation. It appears that most pitchers simply don't need more than three days of rest between starts.

* In the era of the four-man rotation, teams were able to get six or seven more starts, and 50-75 more innings, out of their best starters than teams do today.

* Starting pitchers have, historically speaking, thrived without use of a fixed rotation at all.

* Starting pitchers have, historically speaking, been used as relievers between starts without adverse consequences.

* What seems to put starters at risk of injury is throwing too many pitches per start.

* Roughly speaking, "too many pitches" seems to translate to "over 100".

* Once a pitcher hits his fatigue point, his risk of injury goes up very quickly with each additional pitch.

* Pitchers under the age of 25 are exquisitely sensitive to overuse.


So, to summarize.

Myers
Hamels
Moyer
Kendrick

You limit them to no more than 100 pitches per start and go on 3 days rest. You have no need for Adam Eaton. Chad Durbin is essentially the long man. A guy like Clay Condrey is also able to go multiple innings, and adds another element of depth in terms of soaking up innings.

Lidge, Gordon, Romero, Madson, Condrey, Durbin = 6 + 4 SP = 10 pitchers. That allows the Phillies to carry 15 hitters, which means a 7 man bench, which means Snelling and Helms can both make the team. If this is too radical you can carry 11 pitchers, adding a guy like Blackley to the pen and only carrying 14 position players, or a 6 man bench.

I have to think that this method will be used some day, by some team, and they will find great success with it. It would seem to benefit an NL team far more than an AL team. I'm just sad that there is almost no chance the Phillies would be the team to break the mold.
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Postby ek » Thu Mar 27, 2008 3:11 pm

ya, no way the Phils think of that.
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Postby CFP » Thu Mar 27, 2008 3:13 pm

Some day it might work for stretches, but I don't see any team going to this method for an entire season as of right now. If anything, I'm sure some day we're going to see a 6 man rotation. Another thing is that if you are going to limit them to 100 pitches, you need to have a strong bullpen. I don't think this team has strong enough of a bullpen right now to do it.
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Postby dajafi » Thu Mar 27, 2008 3:15 pm

The arguments for this are logical enough and the Phillies' circumstance might justify the experiment. But they won't do it simply because they'd consider it too huge a health risk for Hamels (and I guess Kendrick).

I think we have to suck this one up. Hopefully Manuel will be smart enough to skip Eaton whenever possible; maybe he'll only make, say, seven starts before Benson is ready, and maybe half of them will be not-horrible enough to give the team a chance to win.
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Postby phuturephillies » Thu Mar 27, 2008 3:17 pm

CFP wrote:Some day it might work for stretches, but I don't see any team going to this method for an entire season as of right now. If anything, I'm sure some day we're going to see a 6 man rotation. Another thing is that if you are going to limit them to 100 pitches, you need to have a strong bullpen. I don't think this team has strong enough of a bullpen right now to do it.


yes and no. The point is that you want your best starters starting more games. By not starting Eaton, we already put ourselves in a better position than running him out there every 5th day. The bullpen is inconsequential when you are down by 5 runs after the 2nd inning. Yes, you need a good bullpen if you are going to use strict pitch counts, but you need a good bullpen even if you are letting your starter throw an extra 10 pitches per game.
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Postby TenuredVulture » Thu Mar 27, 2008 3:19 pm

Here's a possible wrinkly--does the emphasis on OBP and working counts make a four man rotation a bit more difficult? Would it put more pressure on long relievers? Might this be a reason why no team has tried this?
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Postby Bill McNeal » Thu Mar 27, 2008 3:27 pm

FWIW last season the 3 phillies starters I could find on ESPN's stat page the quickest threw:

Hamels: 99 pitches per start
Lohse: 89
Moyer: 96
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Postby phuturephillies » Thu Mar 27, 2008 3:30 pm

Looking at the Top 100 in Pitcher Abuse Points

42. Hamels
54. Lohse
55. Moyer
98. Eaton
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Postby TenuredVulture » Thu Mar 27, 2008 3:32 pm

phuturephillies wrote:Looking at the Top 100 in Pitcher Abuse Points

42. Hamels
54. Lohse
55. Moyer
98. Eaton


When Eaton pitches, we should really be recording Phan Abuse Points.
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Postby philliesr98 » Thu Mar 27, 2008 3:32 pm

Eaton is outta the game way before he could do any abuse to his arm, no worries there
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Postby phuturephillies » Thu Mar 27, 2008 3:33 pm

Average pitches thrown

Hamels 99.6
Moyer 95.4
Lohse 93.9
Eaton 91.6
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Postby smitty » Thu Mar 27, 2008 4:01 pm

This is an idea that has been kicked around for a while now. Like the Ace Reliever instead of a "closer" idea, this one makes sense as well. I don't see the Phillies as a team that would do it (although having Dallas Green on their staff might be a benefit here -- "Hell yeah, the four man staff was good enough for Bunning, it's good enough for me -- get me a beer willya Ruben!").

I wonder if a team like Oakland would be the first to try it? Like tha Ace Reliever, if someone tries it and it works the rest of the teams will fall in line at some point. One thing is almost certain about baseball -- it changes all the time.
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Postby philliesphhan » Thu Mar 27, 2008 4:01 pm

I like the idea aside from Moyer. I don't know that a 45 year old can go every four days.
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Postby philliesr98 » Thu Mar 27, 2008 4:03 pm

YOUR MOM HAS NO PROBLEM!+@#^&*^#@
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Postby BuddyGroom » Thu Mar 27, 2008 4:07 pm

The 1977 Phillies, the first year I followed baseball day in and day out, often went with nine pitchers. The difference, of course, was that this was in the day of the complete game. They had Steve Carlton leading the staff which meant an almost automatic day off for the bullpen every five days.

They went with five starters: Carlton, Christenson, Lonborg, Kaat and Lerch. The bullpen was Garber, McGraw, Reed and Brusstar.

This is worth noting because Kaat and Longborg were past their primes at this point and not that dependable. Lerch won 10 games but posted an ERA over 5.00.

In this era, the relievers often worked 2-plus innings then had the next day off, plus complete games were frequent enough that a six or seven man bullpen would have been superfluous.

It's my recollection that the 10-man pitching staff was pretty standard well into the '80s. I like the idea of a four-man rotation but don't think the Phillies are set up for this, with them needing to be cautious with Hamels, with Myers being a guy who gets into high pitch counts a lot and Moyer being, well, 45.

A sinker-baller like Kendrick might thrive in this scenario, though.
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Postby JFLNYC » Thu Mar 27, 2008 4:22 pm

Let me make sure I understand:

Using your best pitchers more often will result in better pitching overall, so long as they're not abused when they pitch.

(***Smacks forehead***) Why hasn't anyone thought of this before?

All kidding aside, I've long been in favor of returning to a 4-man rotation. I think a good argument can be made that pitchers' joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments suffer more from extending the rest between starts. Pitching is a fairly violent experience on the arm. Extending the period of rest would seem only to heighten the contrast between a state of rest and the state of activity, thus stressing the body as a whole and the arm in particular even more. At least that's my theory.

Think of it this way: If more rest is better, why not give pitchers 5, 6 or even a full-week's rest between starts? The answer is that it would stress them more to to go through longer periods of inactivity, then pitch again. If longer rest were better, pitchers would be throwing 6 or 7 innings their first ST outing. The point, of course, is to find the optimum amount of rest. Having grown up in the days of 3-days' rest and lived through the entire period of 4-days' rest, I see nothing to convince me that the latter is preferable to the former. Certainly the overall effect has been diminished quality of pitching and I've yet to see any convincing study that pitchers' careers were shortened by working more often, at least when you take into account modern surgical techniques, which have only been developed during the days of the 5-man rotation.

I think the main fly in the ointment is that it would have to be a system-wide change in philosophy. You wouldn't want your pitchers to spend years in the minors pitching on 4-days rest and then change when they got to the bigs.
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Postby allentown » Thu Mar 27, 2008 4:48 pm

I don't believe Moyer is capable of 40 starts per year. Given his history of injuries, I'm not at all sure Hamels can either. Kendrick? Myers likely could do it.
We now know that Amaro really is running the Phillies. He and Monty seem to have ignored the committee.
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Postby Woody » Thu Mar 27, 2008 4:51 pm

What about if you only used the 5th starter every 2nd or 3rd turn around? That might be a fair compromise. My apologies if someone has posted this already, I haven't read the whole thread yet.
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Postby phuturephillies » Thu Mar 27, 2008 4:54 pm

allentown wrote:I don't believe Moyer is capable of 40 starts per year. Given his history of injuries, I'm not at all sure Hamels can either. Kendrick? Myers likely could do it.


What evidence do you have for this? There's no evidence, as pointed out in the original post, that pitching on 3 days rest is worse for you in terms of fatigue or damage to the arm. The damage to the arm and shoulder comes from pitching when your arm is fatigued, which generally sets in after 100 pitches. Pitchers have to get work in on the side now in between starts. If fatigue was an issue, wouldn't teams have pitchers throw less between starts? As the original article pointed out, Mazzone used to have guys throw twice in between starts to simulate pitching in a 4 man rotation. Those mid-late 90's Braves staffs were decent, weren't they?

I just see no reasoning that can be backed up with facts that says that Moyer and Hamels couldn't handle pitching on 3 days rest. Of course, its probably too late to do it now, since they'd have to be prepared for it.
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Postby smitty » Thu Mar 27, 2008 4:57 pm

allentown wrote:I don't believe Moyer is capable of 40 starts per year. Given his history of injuries, I'm not at all sure Hamels can either. Kendrick? Myers likely could do it.


Ted Lyons was a very fine pitcher for a lot of pretty poor Chicago White Sox teams in the 20s, 30s and 40s. He like Moyer pitched for a long, long time. He was known as Sunday Teddy because he only made 22 starts or so a year, on Sundays. He was a Sunday pitcher. Maybe Moyer could do that. It would be a fun thing anyway. It will, of course, never happen.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/l/lyonste01.shtml
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