A six-man rotation is something that has been discussed by many baseball analysts. Whether or not it can be effective on a division winning team is still up in the air, but I think the 2016 Cardinals should be the first ones to go all in with the idea. It's been done by some teams for parts of seasons, but I think the Cardinals are well suited to try it out from the day pitchers report to Spring Training. There have been many arguments as to why a six-man rotation is not ideal for an MLB team, but I'm going to try to explain why these alleged short comings shouldn't be worried about.
First, I'm going to make some assumptions that need to happen from now until Spring Training, or else there's really no point in making this argument.:
- Jaime Garcia will finish the season healthy (fingers crossed), and his 2016 option will be picked up.
- John Lackey will be re-signed, either with a Qualifying offer or a 2 year deal.
- The rest of the rotation (Lynn, Wacha, Martinez, Wainwright) will be healthy for Spring Training.
- Each pitcher will make 27 starts and the entire pitching staff will pitch 1450 innings.
Now, I'm going to break down how I think the rotation can be used optimally without leaving the bullpen over exposed. I'm going to include my projections of how much fWAR each pitcher will accrue, along with their innings pitched. (Note that my projections are not meant to be 100% spot on, but they will be fairly reasonable)
Adam Wainwright - 190 IP, 7 IP/GS, 4 fWAR
John Lackey - 180 IP, 6.2 IP/GS, 2.5 fWAR
Lance Lynn - 170 IP, 6.1 IP/GS, 3 fWAR
Jaime Garcia - 170 IP, 6.1 IP/GS, 3fWAR
Michael Wacha - 170 IP, 6.1 IP/GS 3.5 fWAR
Carlos Martinez - 170 IP, 6.1 IP/GS, 3 fWAR
Total - 1050 IP, 19 fWAR, 3.62 fWAR/ 200 IP
This leaves us with 400 IP needed from the bullpen...
Maness, Siegrist, Rosenthal - 200 IP, 3 fWAR (pitching in their normal roles)
Walden/Tuivailala/Socolovich/Harris - 100 IP, 0.5 fWAR (6th inning, mop up)
Cooney/Lyons/Gonzales - 100 IP, 1 fWAR (long man, LHB matchups)
Total Pitching Staff - 1450 IP, 23.5 fWAR (that's really good)
I envision that the pitching staff will normally carry 12 pitchers, but can take 13 if necessary. We have enough depth in the minors that this bullpen construction could work, as long Mozeliak and Matheny use the players in the proper roles. There isn't any room in the bullpen for a strict LOOGY, but the trio of lefties from Memphis can still be used outside the long man role.
Now that I've explained how I think the six-man rotation can work, I'm going to give some reasons why the Cardinals should do it. Many of the Cardinals starters could benefit from a reduced work load, while staying on a set schedule. If the Cardinals want Adam Wainwright to stay an effective top of the rotation pitcher, they need to stop making him pitch 250 innings every year. Jaime Garcia's and Michael Wacha's shoulders would probably benefit from an extra day's rest each week. John Lackey will be 37 next season, so a reduced workload could slow his inevitable fall of a cliff. Carlos Martinez and Lance Lynn don't have any injury issues at the moment, but reducing their workload could keep them more fresh and consistent.
Many baseball writers have rattled off a million different reasons about why a six-man rotation wouldn't work in the MLB, but I'm really having a tough time seeing how this couldn't work for the Cardinals. I understand a couple long term injuries to a starting pitcher could derail this entire plan, but isn't that the case for a five-man rotation too? We don't have any pitchers that are likely to contend for a Cy Young, and the reduced workloads for the young starters could increase their appeal when (if) they hit Free Agency. Even in the playoffs, the team could use a four-man rotation and everyone would still be able to pitch on their normal schedule. Japanese leagues use a six-man rotation and their pitchers are less likely to get Tommy John surgery. Yu Darvish spoke out last year about the issue, and ironically had to get Tommy John surgery this spring. If the coaches and training staff can get all the pitchers on board, I legitimately think the 2016 Cardinals are the perfect team to go all in with a six-man rotation. It could be a ground breaking idea that changes the way teams manage their pitching staffs.