Should the Yankees consider a six-man rotation?

The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

With a pitching staff filled with age and durability concerns, should the Yankees go with six starters in 2014?

If your gut reaction to the question posed in the headline was "of course not, that's stupid," then you're probably not alone. With many fans still not totally warmed up to the now thirty-plus-year old concept of five-man rotations, it's no surprise that teams who've tested the waters with an extra arm before have met with some pretty harsh reaction. These guys are paid how much money? And they can't pitch every fifth day? Rabble, rabble, rabble. You know the deal. When the Atlanta Braves entered six-man territory in the second half of 2012 for the purpose of giving an aging Tim Hudson more rest, MLB.com's Terence Moore wrote:

"[Six man rotations] ruin the timing of starting pitchers who normally rest four days between starts. They don't allow your ace to pitch as often as he normally would. They cause issues with your bullpen. They force you to choose between playing with either one less reliever or one guy on the bench. And, for all we know, they could be the reason for that hole in the ozone."

Alright, hold up there, Terence. Six-man rotations are not responsible for the decimation of our atmosphere - everyone knows that's A-Rod's doing. And some of the other points made here aren't especially valid either. Pitchers don't always pitch on four days' rest so it's hard to believe that going on an extra day more often would really throw them off that much. Most teams, the Yankees included, don't usually skip their fifth starter in weeks with off days to keep everyone else on regular rest. Of the 2,429 games started by American League hurlers in 2013, only 1,210, just under fifty percent, were made by one working on four days' rest. The chart below shows that last year, the performance of the Yankees' top three returning starters and of the AL as a whole either got better or didn't change much after a five-day hiatus.

4 Days Rest GS Innings Inns. Per Start ERA WHIP OPS vs. K:BB
American League 1,210 7209.2 5.96 4.22 1.34 .745 2.55
CC Sabathia 16 111.0 6.94 4.30 1.32 .753 3.22
Hiroki Kuroda 16 94.0 5.88 4.21 1.36 .770 3.00
Ivan Nova 10 57.0 5.70 4.11 1.53 .786 1.75

5 Days Rest GS Innings Inns. Per Start ERA WHIP OPS vs. K:BB
American League 742 4,425.1 5.96 4.14 1.31 .731 2.56
CC Sabathia 13 84.1 6.49 4.59 1.25 .729 2.42
Hiroki Kuroda 12 85.0 7.08 2.54 0.98 .597 4.40
Ivan Nova 5 40.1 8.02 1.56 0.89 .516 4.57

At least based on 2013's results, there doesn't seem to be any evidence that an extra day is a detriment to a pitcher's rhythm. Meanwhile, the Yankees have a rotation chock full of guys who could benefit from less strain and more rest. Sabathia is a 33-year-old whose velocity suffered a steep dive last season, Kuroda wore down late, Masahiro Tanaka is adjusting from a league that actually features six-day intervals between starts and Michael Pineda will be on a strict innings limit coming off shoulder surgery and two lost years.

Probably the most legitimate complaint about a six-man rotation is that it takes starts away from your best pitchers and hands them to guys who aren't as good. That's surely a concern if you have Clayton Kershaw or Felix Hernandez as your number one, but are we even sure who the Yankees' so-called ace actually is? On a typical five-man staff, a healthy pitcher starts between 32 and 34 times a season. Dividing 162 games equally six ways leaves you with 27 starts, but things don't have to work exactly that way. Passing over pitcher number six around off days would keep everyone else on five days' rest consistently, giving them 29 or 30 turns each. With so many age and durability related question marks in the rotation, keeping everyone fresh would be worth ceding a handful of starts to David Phelps, Adam Warren or Vidal Nuno.

A six-man rotation really should have no negative effect on a bullpen. For the Yankees, it might take some pressure off a highly untested relief corps. Last year Kuroda got nearly four more outs on average when working on five days' rest and Ivan Nova, albeit in a small sampling, got seven extra. Career splits also favor Kuroda's longevity on five days' rest - 6.46 innings-per-start to 6.12 innings on four days and Sabathia and Nova last slightly longer on an extra day as well - 6.79 to 6.74 and 6.15 to 6.04 respectively. The Yankees would have one less arm available in the pen during weeks when the sixth rotation member started, but that guy could also be used as a long reliever on off-day weeks. How often do teams use their last reliever or their last player off the bench anyway? For long stretches last year, Adam Warren sat in the bullpen without sniffing the mound. And would anyone shed a tear if there was no room on the roster for Eduardo Nunez?

Going forward, the Yankees have at least $248 million invested in Sabathia and Tanaka. They need another solid year from Kuroda and they'd like to see steps forward from Nova and Pineda. Every one of those guys besides Nova will need to have their innings managed this year, at least to a degree, and slotting an extra starter into the mix seems like a far less awkward way to achieve that than some of the methods the Yankees and other teams have chosen in the past - swaps to and from the bullpen, maddening pitch counts and late season shut-downs. I'm certainly not suggesting that six starters would be the right course for every team, but for the Yankees who feature a mixture of older starters and younger guys who'd benefit from less work, it has to be something worth considering.

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