Whoa: Cubs Not Ruling Out Six-Man Rotation When Matt Garza Returns

matt garza shockedWhat do you do when a big-time starting pitcher returns from the disabled list, and you’ve got a rotation of five good starting pitchers, each of whom has a very good case for staying in the rotation (be it performance, long-term role, or trade value)?

Well, the obvious answer isn’t so obvious in baseball, because six-man rotations aren’t really used for a variety of reasons. When folks have suggested it in the comments, my response has largely been, “Yeah, this is one of those situations where it’s as close of a call as it comes for using six, but I still don’t think they’ll do it.”

I could be wrong. Today, Dale Sveum told reporters that the Cubs might use a six-man rotation when Matt Garza returns from the disabled list, which could happen as soon as five days from Thursday. That is to say, the Cubs haven’t formally ruled it out, apparently, even if they also haven’t discussed it extensively.

Garza has at least one more rehab start left, on Thursday with AAA Iowa, but he could be ready to rejoin the rotation for his next start. That has put the Cubs in something of a good bind, what with Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson seemingly un-bump-able from the rotation, given their track records, and each of Travis Wood, Scott Feldman, and Carlos Villanueva pitching extremely well to start the season. The prevailing wisdom was that the Cubs would bump Villanueva to the pen, since he’s been in a swing role before, he’s cooled a bit in his last few starts, and the move would likely be temporary.

Surely it’s better to inconvenience one starter a great deal than to inconvenience six starters a little bit, right? But maybe the “little” inconvenience is so little that it doesn’t really matter?

I’m going to let this play out a little bit before reacting too strongly (not that I necessarily have a strong reaction either way), as Sveum may have just been shooting the breeze. My gut says I don’t like it, mostly because there are only so many starts to go around before the Trade Deadline, and I’d rather the Cubs focused those few starts on getting the right guys the ball. It also really puts a squeeze on the roster, because it’s one less arm available in the bullpen, or one less player available on the bench.

On the other hand, who knows? Maybe the extra day of rest for everyone enhances the starters’ individual performances, and the Cubs either succeed wildly over this six-man stretch because the pitching is crazy good, or at least the individuals with trade value outperform what they would have done without extra rest.

I suspect we don’t actually see a six-man rotation, and, if we do, it would just be for a couple weeks while things sort themselves out. Either way, it’s nothing to get worked up about. It sure is a fun discussion piece, though.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

69 responses to “Whoa: Cubs Not Ruling Out Six-Man Rotation When Matt Garza Returns”

  1. bob

    Maybe they could call it a three man rotation with three swing-men. No one specific starter goes to the pen, and the three swings are all told to be ready for relief duty between starts.

  2. corey costello

    I love it. It makes perfect sense, when you want to trade your pieces for other players, why not put them all on display? On top of that, it gives them another day of rest, which in the long runis better, if the cubs are somewhat competitive miraculously and decide not to trade anyone.

    1. TWC

      Because pitchers tend to perform better on 4-5 days’ rest, as opposed to 5-6 days of rest.

      1. Southern Cub

        Any stats to back that up?

        1. TWC

          See pgs 188-191 of The Book.

          The net benefit of a 50-man rotation vs a 6-man rotation by itself is fairly small, really (I think it’s only a couple of clicks of wOBA), but it also depletes your bullpen by making the guy that would formerly be your swingman/spot starter out of any bullpen duty. This is where the trouble really lies.

          1. TWC

            Derp.

            5-man rotation, not 50-man, and “taking”, not “making”. Stupid edit button.

      2. bob

        I’m old enough to remember 4 man rotations, when 3 days rest were enough. And a couple of years the White Sox were so thin on starters that Wilbur Wood and Eddie Fisher (knuckleballers) went on 2 days rest! There are a lot of Hall-of-Famers on the four-man rotation list…

        1. jt

          The 4 man rotation was used more often in the 154 game schedule that had more “travel” days and double headers. The double header often saw the spot starter and the travel day gave an extra day off.
          Some of the best pitchers saw close to 40 starts a year but when you look close you realize that was still quite a feat.

          1. jay

            And back then, players were cheap and there were more of them to go around so teams didn’t care as much if they blew their arms out. And the pitchers came up with that workload and were used to it. And they threw less breaking stuff back then as a rule.

            1. jt

              yeah, spitters were easier on the arm than sliders. lol

      3. corey costello

        There’s no way to 100% say that.

        1. TWC

          Yeah, actually there is. Many seasons’ worth of pitching data pointed to that exact conclusion. Pitchers have a demonstrable, but small, decrease in their wOBA when pitching on 5 days’ rest as opposed to 6 days.

          If I said that “it’s a 100% proven fact that every single pitcher everywhere will perform better on 4-5 days’ rest as opposed to 5-6 days’”, you might have a leg to stand on. But I didn’t.

          1. Scotti

            There’s a HUGE difference between a guy who gets his regular routine disrupted by being bumped to a sixth day because of weather or to jump the #1 or #2 guy ahead of him (as the VAST majority of six day situations historically are) and a systematic six-man rotation where the pitchers can get into a groove (and, more importantly, give their arms regular, extra rest). The later has really been given little, if any, real shot.

            Further, a true six-man rotation is the type of advantage that a very large market team can aspire to take advantage of. The smaller, mid and even regular large markets simply couldn’t afford the quality sixth man to make it work. Only the Cubs, NYY, Dodgers and, possibly, BOS would have a shot at that.

            1. TWC

              “There’s a HUGE difference between a guy who gets his regular routine disrupted by being bumped … and a systematic six-man rotation where the pitchers can get into a groove …. The later has really been given little, if any, real shot.”

              You’re certainly correct. But a six-man rotation also means your #1 and #2 guys are making 4, 5, 6 fewer starts per season at the expense of someone inferior. I think that’s important to keep in mind, too. Think of those dominant pitching teams (mid-90′s Braves, for instance), where their #1-3 starters made 34+ starts/season. Their #4 & #5 guys made 20-ish starts. Would you really want to take even *more* starts away from Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz? How would that help things?

              1. Scotti

                Odds are great that you aren’t going to wind up with three HOF caliber starting pitchers so that point is rather moot. Also, certain HOF guys (Maddux, Nolan Ryan, etc.) were genetic freaks–not just from a gifted standpoint but also from an injury standpoint. Most starters (like Smoltz) could IMPROVE their overall production for their team by staying healthy (and not just not missing starts but also by being closer to 100% in each given start). For the Braves rotations how much more value would a healthy Smolz have added–a Smoltz who actually started instead of missing games and then closing?

                So, yes, if adding a sixth man (who could be as decent as a typical team’s #2 because your team has extreme resources) means my top two guys get a handful of theoretical fewer starts while decreasing the odds that they miss huge portions of the season (or the whole season, or the rest of their careers) while allowing them (and the #3-6 guys) to A) be fresher and B) go deeper in the starts they do take (including higher pitch counts in a safe fashion) then sign me up.

                1. TWC

                  Well, Smoltz was a 200-inning guy for most of the 90s (as were Maddux and Glavine for almost 20 years). I don’t think it’s fair for you to presume that his 2000 Smoltz’s TJ surgery was due to his overuse.

                  But beyond that, I suppose I understand your premise — that fewer innings pitched leads to healthier pitchers — but I’m just not sure the evidence is there to support that conclusion. In fact, I’m certain that of late I’ve read more articles indicating that there’s *less* of a correlation between innings pitched and injuries than might seem intuitive.

                  Beyond that, I think it’s pretty ludicrous to suggest that of a team’s 6 starters, the #6 guys is going the be as high quality of a starter as the #2 guy. “Extreme” or not, a team has finite resources. You need position players, too.

                  1. They're Alouing

                    I believe the debate on pitch count needs to not just look at total number but, how they are throwing. Struggling through 45 pitches can be worse than throwing 110 free and easy. When pitchers struggle they try harder placing extra strain with injuries to follow (also bad habits which lead to injuries).
                    I speak from experience pitching in front of a crappy college infield and feeling like I needed to strike everyone out. I’ve read a few articles and I believe MLBnetwork did a piece on this concept. I’d look them up but I have a three week old son and I’m just too tired.

                  2. Scotti

                    “Well, Smoltz was a 200-inning guy for most of the 90s…”

                    To be factual, six of ten years but a couple of those years were shortened because of the strike. Those shortened years could actually have helped his career

                    “I don’t think it’s fair for you to presume that his 2000 Smoltz’s TJ surgery was due to his overuse.”

                    TJ happens because of poor technique. Heavy workloads, w/out the chance for adequate recovery, causes poor technique (the reason pitchers use steroids is for quicker recovery). In ’97 Smoltz faced a career high 1056 batters in 35 starts. The next year he was limited to 26 starts (681 batters). The next year he was limited to 29 starts and the next year he missed altogether. The four subsequent years he was a reliever. Five plus missed YEARS of starts.

                    “But beyond that, I suppose I understand your premise — that fewer innings pitched leads to healthier pitchers…”

                    Not my premise at all. My premise is that longer rest periods between starts, just like in any workout regime (and similar to college starters), decreases injury. A given pitcher could possibly pitch more innings in fewer starts by going deeper into each start.

                    “Beyond that, I think it’s pretty ludicrous to suggest that of a team’s 6 starters, the #6 guys is going the be as high quality of a starter as the #2 guy.”

                    RIF. I never suggested any such thing.

                    ” ‘Extreme’ or not, a team has finite resources. You need position players, too.”

                    The four national teams (and especially the two international teams-Cubs, Yankees) have far more resources (or potential access to those resources) than even “large market” teams have. Adding one guy (who is the equivalent to “a typical team’s #2″) leaves plenty of millions for position players, relievers, back-up catchers, ball boys, shoeshine boys, etc. Honest.

              2. bbmoney

                TWC makes what is the biggest point here. 6 man rotation takes the ball out of your best pitchers hands several extra times a year and gives it to….. Well your 6th best starter…..who is you # 6 for a reason. The extra resource argument doesn’t hold water as its not true for any team in baseball and may only be true on a video game.

                Granted if you’re pretty sure you’re only doing it for a couple weeks well ok. That seems to be the case if it even happens so, no big deal. But I could never get behind it for n extended period of time.

                1. hansman1982

                  I think Villanueva is making this a non-decision.

                  1. jdblades

                    And we really need an extra arm in the bullpen. And with C Ville’s contract through next year, even if he wasn’t struggling as of lately, he’s the man. Hell, it’s only for a short while until we start trading off one or two of our SP anyways and he’ll be back in the mix (SP). But you never know, he may be on the trading block as well, ex. Malholm last year.

                    1. bbmoney

                      Yeah it was never really worth worrying about too much. Good problem to have. Someone will get hurt again or get traded.

                      It’s actually nice that Feldman & Villanueva have some experience in the sing type role. Even before his struggles bc of the contract status Carlos seemed to make sense for now. For now.

  3. Chaz Mulherin

    I see Carlos pitching poor again tonight and him ultimately going to the pen.

    1. willis

      I have that bad feeling too.

      I’m not opposed to a 6 man really. It’s kind of whatever because even if it comes to be, I doubt it lasts long and I don’t think it’ll hurt things too much. A few more days to see what plays out.

      1. Chaz Mulherin

        Looks like our feeling was right

  4. Jan Forty-Two

    In the original “Baseball between the numbers” book by Baseball Prospectus, it is argues that even the additional day of rest in a 5 man rotation (compared to 4) isn’t really paying off. However, since then, the 5 man rotation has been the standard configuration and some argue the day will come the 6 man rotation will be the norm. Will the Cubs be spearheading this move? I don’t really think so, they might just stick with 6 until they found out who to remove from the rotation. I’m eager to find out and Garza’s return is just one more reason to closely follow the Cubs again after some disappointing weeks in April.

  5. JulioZuleta

    It’s long been established that Dale/Jed/Theo read the comments. Clearly, I convinced them this was the right move.

  6. North Side Irish

    Put Villanueva in the pen and have him available to piggy back Garza’s first few starts. That strengthens the bullpen in the short term and within a few weeks a hole will open up in the rotation through trade or injury. Villanueva has had a good start to the season, but historically he tends to wear down as the season progresses, so this could potentially benefit him in the long run this season.

    1. mudge

      I agree. & it’s possible a guy like Villanueva who proves he can be both a competent starter and long reliever may be exactly what a trade partner is looking for.

    2. ssckelley

      Exactly my thoughts, the bullpen could use a good arm. Then if another starter struggles or gets hurt then put him back in the rotation.

      1. willis

        I’m down with that too. I don’t think there is a wrong answer here. Which is nice for a change. I’m all for bullpen depth, especially while Garza gets back to the top of his game. But if Sveum goes with 6 for a couple weeks, I don’t think it hurts either.

        IF Garza gets through his next start, and is ready to get back at it, this is a good problem to figure out.

  7. Rich H

    If they do go with a 6 man rotation it will only be for a couple weeks. June 1st (when a trade of Feldman or Villanueva can happen) is just a week or so after Garza gets back. If you are going to try and move a starter with DeJesus to KC and get their supplemental pick and boot then why move a guy to the bullpen right before the move?

  8. another JP

    I love this kind of thinking- just because it doesn’t “seem” to be effective isn’t a reason that a six man starting staff can’t work in the short term for this team. Consider that Shark is still only one season removed from being a converted relief pitcher (who was shut down last Sept.), Feldman & Villy both not pitching a full season as starters, and Garza returning from a stress injury and this is a very plausible solution. Not only could the starters be able to be stronger and pitch further in their starts, but less reliance on RP like Camp or Marmol wouldn’t be a bad thing either. If a starter is injured or ineffective, we still have a sound starting five as back-up. It’s an advantage the Cubs have that should be exploited… and since we’re a sub-.500 team what do we have to lose by trying it?

    1. TWC

      “…and since we’re a sub-.500 team what do we have to lose by trying it?”

      More games.

      1. another JP

        Great analysis. Real thought-provoking.

        1. TWC

          You asked.

          1. another JP

            “…and since we’re a sub-.500 team what do we have to lose by trying it?”
            More games.”

            Which- according to many people around here- is a totally acceptable outcome in order to gain a higher draft pick in 2014. Unlike you, I’ll post an argument for using a 5-1/2 man rotation:

            http://metsmerizedonline.com/2013/01/the-5-%C2%BD-man-rotation-a-healthier-and-winning-formula-for-future-mets-teams.html

            And I’d argue the same arguments used in this piece would apply to a six man. Where’s your empirical data of why a five man is the most effective rotation?

            1. TWC

              Hey, JP, you wanna crawl down outta my ass for a sec?

              About a half hour ago — you can see this if you scroll up a bit — I answered a couple of folks’ inquiries on why I claimed a 6-man rotation is less effective. I’m not gonna bother retyping.

              You’ll also note that I haven’t gone off all guns-a-blazin’ about why I’m 100% sold that a 6-man rotation is bad-bad-bad or anything of the sort. The Mets argument that you linked is a nice anecdote, but it’s clearly only an anecdote. The evidence presented in The Book is much more than an anecdote based on a season’s worth of a two pitchers’ starts.

              There’s no evidence that a 6-man Cubs rotation *wouldn’t* work. But the data shows that pitchers tend to perform better as part of a typical 5-man rotation. Furthermore, a 6-man rotation also depletes your bullpen by taking the guy that would formerly be your swingman/spot starter out of any bullpen duty.

    2. Kyle

      You could ruin the rhythm and routine of guys like Jeff Samardzija and Matt Garza, possibly leading to injury risk and ineffectiveness.

      You don’t screw with those guys just to keep a Scott Feldman or Carlos Villanueva in the rotation, no matter what their ERA in May is.

  9. Rcleven

    Why is everybody assuming Garza will be on top of his game when he returns? Garza is at the point where I think he will be a little rusty coming back into the rotation. His AA starts have not been exactly lights out over competition he should have dominated. It will probably take at least three or four MLB starts before the rust is shaken off and he can find his groove.
    Show case everyone you expect to move at the trade deadline. It will only be a month and a quarter till the deadline and then go back to five.

  10. cubchymyst

    If they do a 6 man rotation how many that leaves 6 arms in the bullpen (unless they plan on dropping a position player which I don’t think is do able with all of the platooning). The bullpen arms will be up a lot more often then.

    1. TWC

      Exactly!

  11. Die hard

    Agree–6 man rotation should save bullpen as each should be rested enough to go 8 innings and 125 pitches

    1. mudge

      but they won’t.

    2. Rcleven

      No way any Cub pitcher will go 125 pitches in a game.
      Sveum has been pulling his starters at around 90 pitches. Only twice this year has he let a starter go over 110.

    3. cubchymyst

      Don’t pitchers tend to get hit harder the 3rd time through the order? If they allow a few hits or walks your asking them to go through the order a 4th time now.

  12. 5412

    Hi,

    What I don’t like is it essentially turns things into a 24 man roster by removing a current member of the bullpen. What happens when you need a long relief guy and your #6 started yesterday?

    Regards,
    5412

  13. Kramden

    Funny thing is that Epstein & Hoyer are getting most of the credit for recognizing value within a scrap heap, but nobody seems to be giving the Cubs’ pitching coach any credit for the work he’s put in polishing up these discarded gems to where just about all of the current starters have so much more value now than they did less than two months ago.

  14. Voice of reason

    This is just more proof that the Jackson signing was a waste.

    I’m not saying that Jackson is bad. He is what he is. He eats innings and is a solid number 3.

    What I’m saying is the cubs don’t need him right now. When they are ready to compete there will be another Edwin Jackson available to sign.

    Now we are stuck with too many starters which is stupid. We need to develop the next Edwin Jackson on our own and it could be Feldman or Villanueva, but Jackson is taking valuable starts away from younger, cheaper starters.

    1. jdblades

      We signed Feldman for one year, essentially for trade value. Garza is on his last year and the free agent market for starting pitching is thin for next year. So signing Jackson wasn’t necessarily for this year, but the future when the team should be competing.

  15. Voice of reason

    And, we will lose 95 plus games with or without Jackson.

  16. Dean

    Has anyone every tried a rotation using four full-time starters and having the fifth and sixth starters take turns taking the “fifth start, followed by each of them supplementing the bullpen for two or three games between their starts. If it works great, you showcase the guys you want to showcase and get everyone some starts, without killing the bullpen. If it doesn’t you just keep the weaker of the two “fifth starters” in the bullpen.

    1. Voice of reason

      Some great starters of the past started in middle relief. Pedro Martinez comes to mind.

      But, that was with the dodgers who have always been pretty solid and he had to earn his way into the rotation on a good team.

      That’s not the case with the cubs.

      These reclamation projects and young starters need to throw every fifth day so we can see if they will be part of our future.

      Jackson, while solid, is just taking innings away from a young kid or reclamation project who could turn out to be just as good or better than jackson and at a better price.

      I said it when we signed him and I will continue to say it. The Edwin jackson signing was not needed. When we are ready to compete there will be another average Joe starter like Edwin Jackson. But, for now, were stuck with Edwin Jackson and it’s impeding the progress of developing a team for thenfuture.

      1. jdblades

        And which youngster in the minors is he impeding. We don’t have anybody in the minors ready for the show. The closest one is probably the #2 pick in the draft. We will possibly have only 2 SP left Shark and Wood, if we don’t trade Villanueva.Feldman, Garza, and Baker’s contracts are up after the year, so Jackson was needed for depth. He’s not an ace, but has been steady and you know what your getting with him. He’ll be back to mediocrisy in no time, solid 3/4 guy.

        1. Voice of Reason

          Re-read my post. I’m not talking about just youngsters, I’m also talking about the reclamation projects. Having Jackson in the rotation is taking the ball away from other starters who could be part of this teams future and at a much cheaper price than Jackson.

          The Jackson signing wasn’t needed this year. When the Cubs are ready to compete there will be another Edwin Jackson type starter waiting to be signed if, in fact, the team needs one at that time.

  17. Dean

    ever

  18. Bilbo161

    Why does everyone think that if they have the complete statistical evaluation of things they have the right answer. Statistics are good to point out something you are missing. Like OBP being undervalued for so long. But, every play and every pitch is situational. Stats don’t tell you what to do in every instance. Only what usually works or doesn’t. The pendulum has to swing back.

    1. DocPeterWimsey

      This is a difference between strategy and tactics. One thing that many successful teams have done lately is largely abandon “situational.” They work under general principles on all counts, outs, etc. In a way, this is analogous to what happened in WWI. Generals initially argued that if their soldiers charging enemy trenches would just shoot more accurately and take more bullets before they died, then their tactic of charging machine guns should work just fine. I.e., clutch infantry men should prevail if they just fought situational war. That made a lot of poppies happy, but not anybody else…..

      Baseball really is similar. It’s not like a SWAT team where you win consistenly with exact execution. It’s like trench warfare where you win consistently by overwhelming and out-shelling the opponent.

      1. Bilbo161

        I like your post. But I guess I’m just rebelling from the emphasis on pure statistical decision making. I have no problem with the statistically correct approach at the plate, but you must consider changing from the statistically obvious in many situations if for no other reason that you will be too predictable.

  19. DARRRRRR

    Thats funny because I’d be super happy if they just stuck Jackson in the pen. Acknowledge Theo made a mistake and put him where he belongs. the guy consistently lasts 2-3 innings without giving up a run and then just gets shelled for an inning. Sounds perfect.

  20. Dustin S

    Lots of strong thoughts on this from everyone it seems. To clarify though, Dale’s quote was “Maybe you go to a six-man rotation for a week just because of matchups.” So that sounds more like something where they might throw an extra SP in here or there, but not really use a full 6 man rotation. Looking at it that way, it’s not that unusual for teams to do that to give the regular rotation an extra day of rest once in a while for injury reasons or matchups.

  21. TommyK

    Villanueva is making this question moot.

  22. CubsFaninMS

    My comments on Villaneuva’s performance tonight: “We have a squealer!!!!”. I bet Epstein is looking at Hoyer tonight saying “Well, looks like we have our answer. Five-man rotation it is.”

  23. Bilbo161

    I’m not just thinking of the stash. Stats are great for directing approaches but you have to be willing to do what will work based on the situation as well. As an example: Folks that say Castro should never bunt because stats say its better to hit away, just don’t understand that there are situations where bunting would be the perfect play. All because they rely on only statistics. If we need one run to win and Castro is facing Garza with a man on second and the infield is back. I tell him to bunt.

  24. Anonnifan

    Well at least SOMEBODY reads my posts. Your welcome Theo.

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