Whether we like it or not, come Saturday Ubaldo Jimenez will be back with the Orioles giving Buck Showalter the tough task of deciding who should be the five in the starting rotation. Along with Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Bud Norris, Kevin Gausman, Wei-Yin Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez give the Orioles six starting pitchers to fill five spots. Or why not just add another spot; why not go to a six-man rotation?
Below are some reasons why most teams rightfully shy away from a six-man rotation. And after I state why most teams shouldn’t do it (Reasons Against), I tell you why this doesn’t apply to the Orioles and the Orioles should go with a six-man rotation (Reasons For).
Reason Against: A team’s best pitcher pitches fewer games.
If Felix Hernandez was in a team’s rotation, then that team would never consider going with a six-man rotation because they want Hernandez pitching as many games as possible and another starter would mean Hernandez would be waiting an extra day to start. Teams with aces should not consider a six-man rotation.
Reason For: The Orioles best pitcher is… who is it now?
The Orioles don’t have Felix Hernandez, not even close. They do not have a single pitcher who stands out as the clear number one or even number two starter on the team. All six guys are currently pitching relatively equally. There’s no clear number one nor his there a clear number five. What we have his a whole lot of three’s.
Reason Against: Forces a team to shorten its bullpen.
Traditionally, a ball club will have twelve pitchers: five starters and seven bullpen arms. If a team adds another starter to give them six, then the manager will have to either go with a short bench, which managers hate to do because it limits their options, or and probably more likely, go with only six bullpen arms. With only having six bullpen arms, they are more likely to be overworked and it gives a manager fewer options with matching up pitchers with hitters.
Reason For: The Orioles bullpen is good, deep, and full of options.
If the Orioles went with a shortened bullpen it would fine. Assuming TJ McFarland was optioned to make room for Jimenez, the Orioles would still have Brad Brach in the pen with options. Let’s say the bullpen is overused one game, the Orioles could easily send down Brach and call up either Ryan Webb or TJ McFarland, and they are able to do this without seeing a significant drop off in performance. Furthermore, this will be a non-issue in a few weeks as rosters expand on September 1st.
Reasons Against: Finding six quality pitchers is hard.
It’s really hard to find good starting pitching (just ask Andy MacPhail). Teams constantly struggle to get five starters who are major league quality; to find six starters is even harder.
Reasons For: Orioles have six quality starters… for now.
Due to Jimenez returning from the DL, along with Gausman’s emergence as an above average starter, has left the Orioles in the unique position of having six quality pitchers. However, this won’t last. A starter will get hurt or have a couple bad outings and it will become clear which of the six guys should not be in the rotation. The six-man rotation is a temporary solution, but for now it makes sense.
The Orioles are currently five games up in the AL East and currently stand (amazingly enough) sixteen games over .500. Worst-case scenario for the six-man rotation, a pitcher struggles and Showalter has to make the difficult decision to option or move that player to the bullpen. Worst-case scenario Showalter’s having the players decide who deserves to stay and who doesn’t. This is what makes this situation so difficult, nobody ‘deserves’ to be removed from the starting rotation. Post-All star game, outside of Kevin Gausman, the highest ERA amongst the starters belongs to Miguel Gonzalez who has an ERA of 2.92. All the starters are pitching well, so let’s continue to have all the starters pitch well. If/When things change, Showalter can adjust accordingly, but now is not the time to rock the boat.