Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Joy of six?

Will going to a six-man rotation allow the Sox to blossom? Boooooo!! Boooooo!!! Terrible pun! Photo from this site.

Today is supposed to be the day the Red Sox announce what they’re going to do with John Smoltz and the challenge of working six starters into a five-man rotation. But Peter Gammons reported on Baseball Tonight last night that the Sox are likely going to remain in four corners mode, so to speak, for another week or so and that Brad Penny will probably start Wednesday against the Marlins while Smoltz makes one more start at Triple-A Pawtucket.

Gammons also indicated that keeping the status quo for another week will allow the Sox to “…wait and see what happens with Daisuke Matsuzaka, who hasn’t had the same stuff and could end up on the DL.”

But what if Matsuzaka pitches well enough against the Braves Friday to stay on the big league roster? That really wouldn’t do anything to solve the rotation in the long term, since regardless of how he fares Friday, Matsuzaka is still the weakest link in an otherwise sturdy chain.

Of course, as Tony Massarotti pointed out Monday, Matsuzaka’s contract makes it awfully difficult to send him to Pawtucket (or Portland, or Salem, or Greenville). And sending the $100 million man to the bullpen would be embarrassing, for both Matsuzaka and the Sox.

In addition, banishing Matsuzaka to the minors introduces another wrinkle: What do the Sox do if a rotation spot is created and Matsuzaka is pitching well in Pawtucket? Do they promote him and once again overlook Clay Buchholz, who is already tiring of life as The Best Pitcher Not Pitching In The Majors?

The Matsuzaka issue means the best solution—not a perfect one, but the least imperfect one—is going to a six-man rotation.

The problem with the six-man rotation, other than how the mere concept of it probably makes Nolan Ryan want to give anyone who suggests it the Robin Ventura treatment, is what a team will do if injury or ineffectiveness strikes a pitcher (or two). But the Sox are so deep that they could overcome multiple losses: Former starter Justin Masterson is in the bullpen and can either immediately become that sixth starter or make a spot start or two until the rotation can be realigned to the traditional five-man unit. And of course there’s always Buchholz in Pawtucket, as well as Michael Bowden.

Another problem unique to the Sox is that their no. 1 starter, Josh Beckett, doesn’t love the idea of a six-man rotation. Taking Beckett’s concerns into consideration (you’re welcome Josh) was a key factor when I mapped out a six-man rotation for the remainder of the season.

I don’t proclaim this to be perfect, but I think it could work beginning next Tuesday, the day after an off-day. The projected starters for the Sox’ final 99 games are listed at the end of this story, but here’s the rundown of the workload for the six Sox starters:

Josh Beckett: 19 starts (14 on regular rest***, two on five days rest, one on six days rest)
Jon Lester: 18 starts (nine on regular rest, four on five days rest, two on six days rest, one on seven days rest)
Tim Wakefield: 18 starts (five on regular rest, seven on five days rest, two on six days rest, two on seven days rest)
Brad Penny: 17 starts (seven on regular rest, four on five days rest, two on six days rest, two on eight days rest)
John Smoltz: 14 starts (one on regular rest, two on five days rest, two on six days rest, three on seven days rest, two on eight days rest, one on nine days rest, one on 10 days rest)
Daisuke Matsuzaka: 13 starts (none on regular rest, two on five days rest, two on six days rest, three on seven days rest, three on eight days rest, one on nine days rest)

***Regular rest is defined (well, by me, anyway) as a start made on four days rest or a start made on five days rest because of an off-day

Also, you’ll notice that each starter has two fewer starts listed inside the parentheses than outside them. That’s because I’m not counting the days of rest prior to his first start in this alignment, nor the days of rest prior to his first start after the All-Star Break (since it’s an obvious place to provide starters extra rest even for teams that aren’t trying to shoehorn six pitchers into five spots).

Beckett and Lester, not surprisingly, make the most starts on regular or nearly regular rest. Smoltz pitches almost exclusively on extra rest, which seems to be prudent given he’s 42, is coming back from shoulder surgery and was signed with October in mind. Wakefield, who has spent time on the disabled list in each of the last three seasons and turns 43 in August, gets more rest in the second half than he does the first though he still ends up with 18 starts, which is an acknowledgment of how solid he’s been most of the season.

I honestly intended for Penny to pitch with extra rest more often, but he’s pitched well enough—and, more importantly, seems healthy enough—to entrust him with mostly regular work. And Matsuzaka is the clear sixth starter because, well, he’s the Sox’ ninth-best starter at this point.

In addition, I’ve planned it so that the Sox have their three best starters—Beckett, Lester and Smoltz, the latter of whom is perhaps the best postseason pitcher of all-time—ready to start the first three games of the AL Division Series on regular rest, though it requires Smoltz making a tune-up start on three days rest on the regular season finale.

Obviously, there are tweaks that can be made. As well as Lester is pitching, there should be a way to make sure he makes as many starts as Beckett, but I do believe the Sox would love to find a way to somehow limit Lester’s innings in the second half so that he doesn’t end up throwing 230-plus frames for the second straight year. And the optimal six-man rotation would have Smoltz available out of the bullpen every time Matsuzaka pitches.

And crap, I didn’t even think about how rainouts could screw this up. Oh well. At least the Sox have already made their trip to Cleveland and therefore don’t have to worry about a game being postponed due to locusts.

Full disclosure time: I’ve had a crush on the idea of a six-man rotation since the end of the 2007 season, when I wrote a similar piece for Ye Former Employer. So all apologies if this sounds familiar, and I promise I won’t go to this well again this year. Probably.

The Sox have 99 starts to make, 99 starts to make…

June 16: Wakefield
June 17: Penny
June 18: Lester
June 19: Matsuzaka
June 20: Beckett
June 21: Wakefield
June 22: OFF DAY
June 23: Penny
June 24: Smoltz
June 25: Beckett
June 26: Lester
June 27: Wakefield
June 28: Matsuzaka
June 29: Penny
June 30: Beckett

July 1: Lester
July 2: OFF DAY
July 3: Smoltz
July 4: Wakefield
July 5: Penny
July 6: Matsuzaka
July 7: Beckett
July 8: Lester
July 9: Smoltz
July 10: Wakefield
July 11: Penny
July 12: Matsuzaka
July 13-15: ALL-STAR BREAK
July 16: OFF DAY
July 17: Beckett
July 18: Smoltz
July 19: Lester
July 20: Wakefield
July 21: Penny
July 22: Beckett
July 23: OFF DAY
July 24: Lester
July 25: Matsuzaka
July 26: Wakefield
July 27: Smoltz
July 28: Beckett
July 29: Lester
July 30: Penny
July 31: Matsuzaka

Aug. 1: Wakefield
Aug. 2: Beckett
Aug. 3: OFF DAY
Aug. 4: Lester
Aug. 5: Penny
Aug. 6: Smoltz
Aug. 7: Wakefield
Aug. 8: Beckett
Aug. 9: Matsuzaka
Aug. 10: Lester
Aug. 11: Penny
Aug. 12: Wakefield
Aug. 13: Beckett
Aug. 14: Smoltz
Aug. 15: Lester
Aug. 16: Matsuzaka
Aug. 17: OFF DAY
Aug. 18: Penny
Aug. 19: Beckett
Aug. 20: Wakefield
Aug. 21: Lester
Aug. 22: Smoltz
Aug. 23: Penny
Aug. 24: Beckett
Aug. 25: Matsuzaka
Aug. 26: Wakefield
Aug. 27: Lester
Aug. 28: Penny
Aug. 29: Smoltz
Aug. 30: Beckett
Aug. 31: OFF DAY

Sept. 1: Wakefield
Sept. 2: Matsuzaka
Sept. 3: Lester
Sept. 4: Penny
Sept. 5: Beckett
Sept. 6: Smoltz
Sept. 7: Wakefield
Sept. 8: Lester
Sept. 9: Penny
Sept. 10: OFF DAY
Sept. 11: Beckett
Sept. 12: Matsuzaka
Sept. 13: Lester
Sept. 14: OFF DAY
Sept. 15: Wakefield
Sept. 16: Beckett
Sept. 17: Smoltz
Sept. 18: Penny
Sept. 19: Lester
Sept. 20: Matsuzaka
Sept. 21: Beckett
Sept. 22: Wakefield
Sept. 23: Penny
Sept. 24: Smoltz
Sept. 25: Lester
Sept. 26: Beckett
Sept. 27: Matsuzaka
Sept. 28: Wakefield
Sept. 29: Penny
Sept. 30: Smoltz

Oct. 1: Lester
Oct. 2: Beckett
Oct. 3: Wakefield
Oct. 4: Smoltz

ALDS (if the Sox open on Tues., Oct. 6)

Oct. 6: Lester
Oct. 7: Beckett
Oct. 9: Smoltz
Oct. 10: Wakefield

ALDS (if the Sox open on Wed., Oct. 7)

Oct. 7: Beckett
Oct. 8: Lester
Oct. 10: Smoltz
Oct. 11: Wakefield

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.

No comments:

Post a Comment