In a world of change, baseball's five-man pitching rotation has been a given. In fact, for those under 40, it has been that way, well, forever. For decades, we've had a few assumptions when it comes to a pitching staff. First, healthy hurlers should make 30+ starts. Secondly, every member of a rotation should start at least once per week. And, finally, every team in baseball uses such a system.
Now, as the 2016 fantasy season emerges on the horizon, we may be witnessing the dawning sunrays of a new trend. In fact, over the upcoming decade, we may all have to assume a new way of life ... the 6-man rotation. And, it will have an effect on your fantasy leagues.
But, let's start with a little history.
Our friends at SABR presented a 2011 article which disputed the common perception about the advent of what we would term the 'five-man pitching rotation.' Generally, many had assumed it was a mid-20th century creation. But, as writer Frank Vaccaro laid out, you can actually cycle all the way back to the 1910s to discover the use of true five-man rotations. The 1920 pennant-winning, Brooklyn Dodgers, went heavy on with a five-man look. The 1922 World Series was the first time that the league-leaders in five-man usage faced off. Every season, from '22 to '27, the New York Yankees led the league in the number of times they used a five-man revolving door. Finally, the Chicago Cubs of 1929 made a giant push into five-man territory and, in effect, made it the norm.
So, in all reality, we're staring at a system that has been in place for nearly 100 years. Naturally, the usual gives way to the unusual and that's where we are in 2016.
Just last week, the New York Mets' front office went on the record that a six-man look could get a lot of leash for the upcoming season. The Mets are loaded with young pitching talent and for just that reason, they (and, so many other teams in baseball) are hesitant to 'over-work,' 'over-use,' or 'over-extend.' Another team brimming with youth in the rotation, Houston, has also added to the chorus, saying it will go '6-man' from time-to-time 2016.
Think of these two organizations. New York has what nearly everyone considers to be the best collection of young arms to arrive at the same time since perhaps the Braves of the 90s. Houston is on the cutting-edge of player selection, development, and usage. If these pair of teams are investigating such a plan - and, if there's any measure of success that follows - many other teams will latch on.
In both cases, the Mets and Astros are working under the assumption of injury prevention. Hurlers earn top dollars, but they also smoke the field when it comes to landing on the disabled list. Currently, accepted thought says you can limit some of those DL stints and missed starts with proactive, restrictive, and careful decision-making. The six-man rotation is a short-cut to this goal.
Specifically, let's look at the Mets' situation. Last season, their top five pitchers in terms of starts made (Bartolo Colon, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Jon Niese, and Noah Syndergaard) combined for 143 starts. That total tied them for the 2nd-most in all of baseball (the average MLB team got just 126 starts from their top five hurlers). Overall, their starters (they used a total of 10 throughout '15) fired over 1,000 innings. That was the most of any starting staff in baseball. Then, October rolled around, and the team tacked on another 85 innings to the foursome of deGrom, Harvey, Syndergaard, and Steven Matz.
Forwarding to 2016, New York is most concerned with the workloads for Syndergaard and Matz. If you combine their minor league and major league work (including, the postseason), Thor ends up with 198 total innings in '15, while Matz comes in at 155 total innings. For Syndergaard, his jump from '14 to '15 was nearly 50%. A true red-flag. Matz, on the other hand, had about a 10% jump from work in '14 to '15, but remember, he missed a load of time with a lat tear and a late-season back injury.
The Mets no longer have Niese on the team (traded to Pittsburgh in the offseason), but Colon is back and should start the season in the first five. Later in the summer, Zach Wheeler, should be back and ready for regular work. Before he returns, the Mets will likely find ways to hand spot starts to youngsters Logan Verrett and Rafael Montero. Are those guys deserving of starts over the regulars? Not on the skill-front, they aren't. But, again, the goal is to limit in-season innings so that the Mets can still have post-season innings in reserve for their most talented and valuable slingers. And, again, they believe it will help them avoid long-term arm injuries.
So, back to our original question ... 'What does this mean for fantasy players?'
My early read is that if you draft Syndergaard or Matz, you should expect frustrations. Even without the very real possibility of missed starts because of injury (did you know that the average MLB team uses nearly 11 different starting pitchers over the course of a season?), I think that both could lose five to six healthy starts over the course of the year. In other words, it may be their turn to go, but the Mets may choose to give a spot start to Verrett, Montero, or someone else entirely.
Those decisions hurt your chances for wins. They hurt your chances to rack up strikeouts. And, they limit the overall impact of the ERA and WHIP that both pitchers produce. Oh, and what if you're in a weekly league where you set your lineup on a Sunday night? You could easily find yourself in a situation where Syndergaard is in line for a two-start week, but then on Wednesday, Manager Terry Colliins, could announce that he's going to rest his right-hander, instead. You just lost a huge advantage in your weekly head-to-head and there's nothing you can do to correct things.
To conclude, this is not a write-up to dissuade you from drafting Syndergaard or Matz. I've put the column together so that you know what you're getting into when you add them to your team. We usually say that a pitcher should get 30 starts ... as long as he's healthy. With the Mets (and, Astros) threatening to periodically insert a sixth man into the equation, Syndergaard and Matz, may be lucky to get more than 26 starts even if they are totally healthy.
Big picture, I think we're on the precipice of many more teams heading in this direction. As we all know, each season seems to provide us with more and more hard-throwing, young pitching. It's the one thing in baseball that seems to just keep coming and coming and coming. As I noted earlier, these guys also earn the big bucks. Contracts will keep growing. The idea of protecting those investments will keep growing. And, the use of the six-man rotation in baseball will also keep growing.
You can hear Kyle each weeknight on 'The SiriusXM Fantasy Drive' from 7-10 ET, Sirius 210, XM 87.
Draft Advisor: bring our winning strategy (Serpentine / Auction) to your draft. Our player rankings adjust as players are selected, adhering to the changing dynamics of your draft. After a player is selected/drafted, the software will display/suggest the best players remaining. Purchase Today!