Last week, Andy wandered into The Ray Area from The Sweet Spot and commented:
For one, they could get creative and find some way to keep them all. It might not be the best baseball move but if they are intent on doing it they could.
When I read it, those two old-timey cartoon guys from the Guiness commercials popped into my head: GENIUS! The Rays CAN keep David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, and Matt Moore on the big league roster. It doesn’t even require that much creativity. If an early, value-reducing announcement is the anti-Extra-2% move, isn’t a 6-man rotation the exact opposite of that?
First, we know Joe Maddon is open to a 6-man rotation because he has done it more than once the last few years. Second, it helps protect young arms, thereby meeting the Rays near obsession with innings worked by their prospects and keeping their vets fresh for another stretch run. Third, it makes the Rays the first team in the history of baseball to be both buyers and sellers at the trade deadline. The only downside I see is pushback from the pitchers (they’ll get over it) and the loss of a bullpen body (which can be overcome). This might actually work.
The innings savings is the biggest advantage. Teams average about 27 games per month. With a 5-man rotation, that is 5.4 starts per month, per pitcher. That number goes down to 4.5 starts with a 6-man rotation. In 2011, the Rays starters averaged 6.53 innings per start. So, adding a sixth starting pitcher would save each pitcher about 5.9 innings per month, which would be a big help for the Rays’ innings eaters (Shields and Price) who seemed to fade in September.
Last year Matt Moore threw 174.1 innings between the minors and the big leagues and Jeremy Hellickson threw 189 innings. The Rays have a well-known internal rule that pitching prospects may not increase their inning load from one year to the next by more than 20%. Assuming that rule still applies to Hellickson, then Moore and Hellickson are slated for 209 innings and 227 innings respectively. If the Rays go to the 6-man rotation through July, then Moore and Hellickson would be at, roughly, 117 innings each. That leaves them with plenty of flexibility to trade a starter and use Moore and Hellickson at will down the stretch.
To achieve this inning savings, the Rays have to give up a bullpen arm. That almost certainly would be their long-man (who, coincidentally was non-tendered last week…hmmm). With a 6-man rotation, each starter becomes their own mop-up man because, they have an extra day of rest. And, if the bullpen is truly needed early, Joe Maddon has shown that he will call up one minor-leaguer per day to rest the pen (remember that wild trip to Seattle and Oakland last year?). So, giving up the long-man (who almost never pitched anyway) doesn’t really hurt the Rays substantially.
Does that mean this whole thing makes sense? I don’t know. I know it is totally Maddon-ish because, no one else would do it. And, Maddon is probably the only manager in baseball that could convince his pitchers to do it without complaining about their routine. I say we go for it. What do we have to lose?