It has been reported and speculated upon that the Baltimore Orioles and Manager Buck Showalter will likely go with some sort of six man rotation in September down the stretch, but is it the right way to go? Since rosters expand in September, the added players can allow the Orioles to do some maneuvering with their staff.
Before we get into it, a six man rotation does not simply mean every pitcher will pitch on five day's rest and all six will pitch in order. Guys such as Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Tillman and Bud Norris would likely still pitch every fifth day with other guys such as Scott Feldman, Miguel Gonzalez and Jason Hammel getting extra rest and serving as an extra bullpen arm for their side work sessions.
Now that the definition is all clear, let's examine if this would be the right move as opposed to sticking to a five man rotation and one pitcher being relegated to the bullpen full time.
Baltimore has one off day remaining the rest of the season and the starting pitching is already struggling as they have posted a 4.65 ERA this season, good for third worst in all of baseball, as opposed to their 4.42 ERA last season, that was ninth worst. We have already seen Showalter use off days to incorporate extra rest for certain guys, especially Gonzalez who is still working his way to finding the every fifth day rhythm as a big league starter with 2013 being his first full season in a MLB rotation. It is also easy to see Showalter doing the same with Hammel once he returns from the DL to ease his arm back into the swing of things.
Gonzalez has greatly benefited from extra rest as his ERA and WHIP are lower than when pitching on normal rest. Other guys such as Tillman and Chen actually perform worse when they have extra rest, thus would likely stick to the five day rotation.
A six man rotation, as we defined earlier, would be hugely beneficial for the Birds as it would allow them to rest Gonzalez an extra day or two, ease Hammel back into things and overlooked in all of this is the ability to have that starter use his side work session in a game to perhaps save an inning from a bullpen that has been severely over worked.
Baltimore's bullpen has appeared in every single game the Orioles have played this season as their starters have yet to throw a complete game. Baltimore's bullpen has five guys with over 50 appearances this season and Jim Johnson and Darren O'Day each have 60 which places them in the top 17 of most appearances by a reliever in all of baseball. Tommy Hunter has thrown 69 1/3 innings this season out of the pen, which is fourth most among relievers in the big leagues.
Whether or not a six man rotation helps the pitchers involved or not is one thing, but if Baltimore wants to make a playoff run, the starters and bullpen alike are going to have to perform much better than they have over the course of the season. The final 32 games are going to be playoff like, and if there is one thing we know about playoff baseball, it is that pitching is the biggest key to victory. The Orioles pitching staff cannot give up five, six, or more runs and expect this offense to be able to bail them out like they did earlier in the season. Teams in the playoff hunt are going to begin to look at starter vs Baltimore matchups when setting their rotation and 21 of the Orioles 32 remaining games are against teams in the playoff hunt.
Six man rotation, five man rotation, four man rotation, seven man rotation, none of it will matter if the Orioles cannot keep the other team from scoring a boat load of runs.
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