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In favor of a true six-man rotation

Forget spot starts and swingmen — why it’s smart to keep a sixth starter stretched out, starting STAT.

MLB: New York Yankees at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It’s all in the headline, y’all.

This one is simple. The Yankees have a plethora of quality starting pitchers. They do not have a plethora of durable quality starting pitchers. The best ability is availability, as they say, and that only rings more true in October after a six-month grind of a season. Health is a fragile thing, but a six-man rotation — not just having a long reliever or two who can fill in, but employing an extra starter in rhythm from the first week of the season on — could go a long way towards preserving that availability. It just takes a peek beyond the top of the Yankees’ rotation to see what I’m getting at.

There is Gerrit Cole, of course. No issues with Cole. The exception that proves the rule, etc. He has exactly one IL stint (of less than two weeks) since the start of the 2017 season, in which time no other pitcher has made more starts (173) or thrown more innings (1070.2). Cole gets the ball every five days. Next.

MLB: Houston Astros at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

You might be able to give Nestor Cortes the ball every fifth day too, actually. Pitching is dangerous, but with relatively non-violent mechanics and a fastball that peers above 93 mph only on the best of days, he isn’t in danger of a rapid-combustion arm explosion in the same way we’d be worried about with more electric heat-slingers. He blasted through his career-high in innings in 2022 with few ill effects, and should be able to handle a full workload again this upcoming season. Even in this case, though, more built-in rest via an extra starter could be beneficial — it may be worth noting that he appeared to be wearing down in the weeks after the All-Star Break, only to return with an utterly shutdown September after a three-week IL layoff for a leg injury. Correlation, causation, etc. Food for thought!

Here’s more food for thought: what’s our bar for success for Luis Severino? We’re now more than a full presidential administration removed from the last time Sevy managed even 20 starts in a season, much less 30. At this point, it may be prudent to simply ask less of him, rather than repeating the process of 2022, in which he threw on a standard four or five days’ rest in eight of 10 starts after his season debut. Let’s try something different and not wait for the bumps and bruises to pile up before mixing in extra recovery time.

MLB: New York Yankees at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to forget, but remember: Carlos Rodón is in tow, and barring a Gallo-esque turn for the frightful, Frankie Montas will be with the Yankees for the duration of 2023. Domingo Germán and Clarke Schmidt are nothing special, but they’re more solid than what most teams have in their sixth and seventh starter slots. The team is also as likely as not to have an additional useful swingman-type pitcher emerge from the high minors at some juncture during the year, or even spring training. The depth is there — now use it. Again, it’s been five years now since they’ve been able to count on a locked-in Luis Severino in any capacity after July. The Yankees should be doing everything in their power to make sure he gets across the finish line next season, even if it means accepting a few extra starts from lesser pitchers throughout the year.

Rodón and Montas aren’t anywhere close to as injury-prone as Severino, and I even wrote recently about why Rodón’s clean bill of health the last two years is probably worth buying into. But even though his second-half results the last two years have been excellent, there’s little doubt he’s run low on gasoline in both instances, even if he managed to make it much less drastic in 2022 than the year prior.

Montas doesn’t have the extensive injury history of Severino or Rodón, but he hasn’t been a scion of durability: Between an 80-game PED suspension in 2019 and 2020 being what it was, he enters his age-30 season having broken 30 starts and 150 innings just once. As with Cortes, injury isn’t the main concern, but the ability to make it through six months without a breakdown in performance as the innings pile up.

Some of these concerns could be addressed in the traditional way of using Germán or Schmidt primarily as long relievers capable of making a spot start when Severino gets extra rest or someone else is dinged up. Ultimately, though, it’s still a reactive strategy. A six-man staff is proactive — instead of waiting for an injury to force Germán or Schmidt into the rotation, keeping one stretched out as a starter from day one gives them flexibility to adjust other starters’ workloads as necessary and pick up slack where it’s called for.

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Put another way, the nature of pitching and health dictates that we’re almost certainly in line for a decent chunk of starts from Schmidt, Germán, and other depth pieces. Why not try to plan for those starts as intentionally as possible, especially if it helps keep other pitchers healthy?

These things are always simpler said than done, but the tradeoff being made is also simple. Ignore how made up these odds are and consider two choices. First, a 75 percent chance that Cortes, Severino, Rodón, and Montas all make between 25-27 starts, with Germán/Schmidt/other soaking up another 25 or so. Alternatively, you can have a 25 percent chance at those four all make it through 30+ starts, but with the caveat that the other 75 percent includes multiple injuries and even more Germán/Schmidt/other innings? If we’re playing for October, I know which one I’m taking. The Yankees should have one of the game’s deepest pitching staffs in 2023. Let’s make sure they can use it when it counts.