Thursday, May 19, 2011

Is a Six Man Pitching Rotation the Answer when Zito Returns?

Barry Zito is still out with an injured foot, but should be back before too long and when he does come back to the team, that leaves that Giants with a tough decision to make. What should they do with Ryan Vogelsong?

Vogelsong has pitched very well for the Giants this year in Zito's absence. In his four starts, he is 3-0 with a 2.86 ERA, a K/9 of 8.6 and a BB/9 of 3.3. It doesn't look like he is doing it with smoke and mirrors either. His tRA as a starter is 3.71, his FIP is 3.00, his xFIP is 3.33 and his SIERA his 3.55. Not too shabby.

So what are the Giants to do when they have a two guys who are serviceable fifth starters?

Well, Obsessive Giants Compulsive has an interesting idea. Why not let them both be in the rotation?
My proposed solution is one that I had advocated in the past for the Giants: going with a six man rotation.

There are numerous benefits to the six-man rotation. First of all, it allows the Giants to keep Vogelsong in the rotation when Zito returns. However, that would mean the Giants would have to DFA Moto to make space for Zito and Vogelsong. Not that I view that as a huge loss, but he's been good so far this season.

Second, it allows the Giants to keep their pitchers on a similar schedule as the early season when starters got six days of rest when there was five starters and a day off. Teams seem to like that regularity early on, and

Third, it would reduce the pitching load on our playoff starters' arms, a concern since the off-season began. For example, if Zito is back in around a month, say, Monday June 20, after 72 games played, that leaves 90 games left. For a 5-man rotation, that is 18 starts each, but for a 6-man rotation, that reduces the load to 15 starts each. At that point, the playoff starters would have 15 starts roughly. Going to a 6-man rotation would reduce their currently expected 33 starts and 200-210 IP to 30 starts and 180-190 IP. And there are 8 days off in that stretch, so if you skip Vogelsong's turn 5 times, that adds one start to each, making it 31 starts and 185-195 IP.

Fourth, significant to me is the number of pitches a starter throws in a season. The PAP theorists rightly pointed out a problem with previous usage of starters but with most managers hewing to the 100 pitch limit, that battle is basically won. Something I've been writing about for a number of years is the overall usage of a starter's arm in terms of pitches thrown in a season.

Admittedly, I eyeballed the stats, but a nice annual, The Graphical Pitcher, provided the number of pitches thrown data on a graph vs. their proprietary measure of a pitcher's contribution, and, except for Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson, I noticed that within 0-2 years of a pitcher reaching roughly 3,500 pitches in a season, that pitcher's value metric fell drastically for whatever reason, whether injury or lack of performance. Of course, that is not scientific, but I note this because Lincecum and Cain have been above that in recent years and went way over with the playoffs last season.

Fifth, as long as Vogelsong pitches reasonably well, it does not matter much that the great starters gave up starts, as long as Vogelsong pitches well enough for the lineup to win with his performance. He has been great so far, but one must remember that he couldn't even survive pitching in AAA last season for two teams looking for simply adequate starting pitching. The wheel could fall off for him and some time soon.

However, I don't think so. He has been pitching great so far, striking out a lot while not walking many. That is not an easy thing to do. In addition, in four starts, he has three DOM starts and one DIS start (75%/25%), which is excellent.
I like the idea of trying to save the arms from over work and keep them fresh for later in the season. However, my main concern is about lowering the Giants chances of making the dance. If we get less of Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, and Bumgarner, the Giants are not as good of a team and with the offense struggling, the margin for error is very slim.

If the offense shows signs of life, I am all for this, but if the team continues to struggle to score runs, that could mean not making the playoffs, which is more important. It could be worth a shot, but with a quick hook if things don't turn out right.

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