Rethinking The Rays Pitching Staff And Why It Could Work

Since 2005, the first year Sternberg took over the Rays, the organization has embraced a lot of unorthodox things that have now become norm. To name a few–the shift, the super utility man, and the platoon. They always seem to be among the league leaders in shifts, always seem to have at least one player who fits the super utility build (pioneered by Ben Zobrist), and at least one platoon situation. These platoon and utility players used to have a stigma. ‘He’s not good enough to play one position,’ ‘He can only hit righties.‘ When the Rays started winning with these ideas, the league adapted, and suddenly every team saw their value.

But what if there was another position the Rays could innovate? A position where they have tons of depth, even at the major league level? They could use this innovation to not only keep the starters fresh and healthy, it could also perhaps, strengthen the bullpen as well the bench.

The idea? The 7 man starting rotation.

Now, I don’t mean a rotation in the familiar sense. Slotting every pitcher every seventh day instead of every fifth can really hinder the top of your rotation’s value. Obviously, you want Chris Archer pitching every 5th day. You also probably want your No. 2 pitcher slotting every 5th day as well. Maybe even your No. 3 if he gives you enough value over a replacement player (2.0 WAR or higher is ideal). Your 4th and 5th guys on the other hand, are almost always replaceable, and are really just innings eaters. It’s also possible that they are just not always the best matchup for the team they are facing. A left handed No. 5 starter probably isn’t going to fare well against a heavily right handed lineup, per se.

But what if, instead of running out a below league average at best pitcher 2, maybe 3, out of every 5 days, they just platoon them, based on the opposing lineup, their platoon splits, how the part plays, or simply the pitchers strengths? So in other words, It’s still a 5 man rotation, but you carry 7, 8, maybe even 9 major league starters.

From a practical standpoint, it makes a ton of sense. It lightens workloads, which could prevent injury, gives you an extra swingman, and most of all, it can help you win more games. After all, winning is what it’s all about right? For the Rays to do it,  the only caveat is that they would need at least 7 major league starters on the roster. Oh, wait, they do.

Here is what this system could look like:

  1. Chris Archer, RHP
  2. Nate Eovaldi, RHP
  3. Jake Faria, RHP
  4. Matt Andriese, RHP/ Blake Snell, LHP
  5. Jose De Leon, RHP/ Anthony Banda, LHP

Others who could slot in: Yonny Chrinos, Ryan Yarbrough

Seven pitchers, 5 spots, with the potential to move guys up or down to give a guy at the top an extra day of rest if need be. This will give the Rays the flexibility to put themselves in better position to win, every game.

For example, Let’s say the weekend series includes a trip to Anaheim, and the 3, 4, and 5 spots in the rotation are coming up. The Angels, with a .649 team OPS, were the worst team against left-handed pitching. With this system, Slotting Snell and Banda gives them an undeniably better chance to win than Andriese and De Leon. It’s already commonplace for hitters, and we already see tons of pitching changes in any given game to take advantage of platoon splits, so why aren’t we doing it with starters?

While the benefits to the starting staff are apparent, this could also bolster the bullpen. We all know that a starter’s stuff plays better in the bullpen because they can pitch at max effort (Alex Colome was a starter at one point), and it could potentially add two lefties to the bullpen in any given week.

Here’s what the rest of the bullpen could round out:

  1. Andriese/Snell, longman
  2. De Leon/ Banda, longman
  3. Dan Jennings, LHP
  4. Daniel Hudson, RHP
  5. Sergio Romo, RHP
  6. Alex Colome, RHP

Others who could slot in: Ryne Stanek, Jamie Schultz, Jose Alvarado, many others

That’s a pretty deep bullpen. With this approach, The Rays could have a 7 man rotation, a 7 man bullpen, but only 12 pitchers. This would also give them a 4 man position player bench, which increases the offensive depth as well. This is the definition of efficiency.

Having 7 men in a starting rotation wouldn’t be anything new, by the way. It isn’t common these days for a team to use double digit starting pitchers throughout the season. Last year, the Dodgers and Astros used 10 and 11, respectively. But the biggest reason teams do this is to react to or prevent an injury. What hasn’t been thought of, however, is how using more starting pitchers can help you win more games and increase player value.

This idea, in a competitive division, can for sure give the Rays an edge, as well as another way to prove how they can continue to be at the forefront of roster innovation in baseball. It’s being done on offense, it’s already being done on defense, it’s already being done in the bullpen. Why not for starting pitching?

2 Comments

  1. Leave it to a starting pitcher to say a team should carry 9 starters LOL.

    If they carry 7, that leaves 18 slots remaining.

    You need at least 6 guys in the bullpen, so that’s 12 position players left. One basically has to be a backup catcher due to the nature of the position. Unless both remaining bench players are stupid high value super-U players it’s garbage and even then it’s like ehhh.

    Now, if you’re including “starters” 6 and 7 as part of bullpen, as 5 and 6, so basically they rotate regularly from bullpen to starter and vice versa, then you don’t have a roster issue, but that kinda sorta feels like what they’ve been doing anyway. They’ve been giving young kids spot starts here and there, and I think at one point last year the way they lined it up meant someone strained a rotator cuff and was out a month, but their spot never “really” came up in the rotation while they were out. Can’t remember who that was but it is only possible with the pitching depth TBR has.

    So really if you’re talking about a true 7+ man rotation, I don’t think it works practically. The platooning pitchers will be over or underworked as a rule, even if they get relief time in between long starts that’s just going to piss everybody off because its not consistent. Plus you have less room for position players.

    In a perfect world yes it is probably better, but that’s a world where you have 2 guys that sit the bench and can all play all 9 positions the same and a backup catcher that can play first base or something else.

    • So to be clear, it would be 7 starters, but still a 5 man rotation. The 4 and 5 spots would be a platoon, so there would not be a roster issue like you said. The Rays have carried more than 5 starters before, but they’ve kept the odd man out exclusively in the bullpen, usually Matt Andriese, poor guy.

      As far as morale, I don’t think that there’s much proof that guys would get upset about inconsistent work. Position players have embraced the platoon role because it, while limiting their playing time, increases their value. Platooning starting pitches would do the same, and give teams more chances to win more games.

      It doesn’t make sense to run out a starting pitcher who we know is a bad matchup because it’s ‘his turn.’ If a team has a position player who can’t hit lefties, he sits against a left handed starter and is subbed with a replacement level player, and vice versa. But if a lineup is stacked with left handed hitters with big platoon splits, they and all sit, right? So why not have a system that takes advantage of that.

      As far as players being over or underworked, that’s definitely a variable I’ve though about, but it’ll be up to the manager to make sure the off pitcher gets their work in, whether its throwing an inning or two on their ‘bullpen’ days, of splitting the starts if the the team they are facing has little to no platoon splits, or just simply looking at the schedule and slot guys in when the rest of the rotation could use an extra day of rest.

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