Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Zito Quandary Yields Vogelsong Solution: Six Man Rotation

The success of Ryan Vogelsong encouraged the champagne dreams of some Giants fans that Barry Zito would be released of his contract to allow Vogelsong to continue as the fifth starter.  While I love Vogelsong, I neither want to lose him nor see a still useful asset like Zito simply tossed away:  while Zito is not worth his salary, neither is he worth nothing, as he is still producing good value if he is pitching like he did the past two seasons with the Giants.  The only way the Giants release him is if he's still throwing at 83 MPH and isn't effective in the majors anymore.  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. 

He has been very lucky with his BABIP, .247, and the vast majority of pitchers regress to the .300 mean.  So things will get worse at some point as the hits catch up with him.  But if he can maintain that K/BB ratio and strikeout rate up above 2.0 and 6.0 respectively (currently at 3.0 and 8.1), he should be adequate in taking away starts from the playoff starters and not have the team experience a deep drop in performance relatively.

And with the other NL West teams not doing so well, which was what I expected this season, the Giants could focus more on getting through the season healthy and fresh, with a minimum of stress on their playoff pitchers instead of focusing on making the playoffs.  Going with a 6-man rotation would accomplish this.  And if they should fall too far behind, they could always move Vogelsong (or even Zito if performance warrants) into the long-relief role and go full throttle again.

Now, the Giants could simply move Vogelsong into the bullpen and become the long reliever.  However, at the moment, the Giants are on pace for having their playoff starters match the number of games started and thus IP roughly from last season.  An issue noted for the Giants during the offseason is whether the pitchers can hold up after pitching so many extra innings in 2010 due to the playoff games pitched.

Going with a 6-man rotation would reduce the number of starts they would have had this season by roughly the number of starts they probably would see in the playoffs, three.  Thus, instead of starting 33 games during the season plus 3-5 starts during the playoffs, a 6-man rotation could reduce that to 30 starts during the season plus 3-5 starts during the playoffs.

That helps in a number of ways.  One, starters will be fresher deeper into the season and playoffs.  Remember, Jonathan Sanchez petered out in the playoffs.  Two, you put less strain on the young arms, hoping to avoid problems in the future.  Three, this gives the manager flexibility in adjusting the rotation as needed during the season, to get our top pitchers, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, pitching against the teams we want to beat within our division.

Overall, there are many benefits to going to a 6-man rotation.  Chief is removing stress on the arms of the young pitchers and improving their chances of a long and healthy career.  But it also means that they will be fresher in the playoffs than other playoff teams' starters, both pitchers and hitters.  In addition, it allows the Giants to keep him in the rotation when Zito returns.  And, should he revert to career trends at some point, they could just return back to the 5-man rotation, riding out Vogelsong's hot streak.


  1. A 6 man rotation is intriguing. The main problem with it is it takes away starts from the ace and gives them to a lesser pitcher. The potential benefit is it may keep the ace fresh deeper into the season.

    One alternative might be to use the 6'th starter to give the top 5 starters rotating skipped starts during the middle season.

  2. I sincerely doubt the Giants would consider taking 3 starts away from Timmy, Chez, Cain, and Bum. The divisional race with the Rox will be too close to give up those starts.

  3. Good points DrB and Jewy.

    That is why I discussed the flexibility in being able to adjust the rotation, that would give some starts back to the playoff pitchers.

    Also, I think the rotation does not end evenly at ASB, so that could give another start to Lincecum, as the Giants would just restart the rotation after the break.

    I just don't think the division race will be that close. CarGon had a extreme BABIP season in 2010 and thus I predicted a fall back to more like his 2009 season for this year. That basically leaves Tulo as the only plus plus hitter in their lineup (I think the others will regress), so their offense will be scuffling to win with their pitching. Ubaldo too has been down as well. And their rotation is not equal to the Giants, whereas if Torres, Sandoval, Huff, and Posey can hit like they are capable, the Giants will have better lineup.

    Let's put it this way, Esmil Rogers is 3-1 with a 7.66 ERA, think that will continue? Take that away and they are below us. Even more, MadBum is 0-6, I don't think that will continue either.

    Plus, the Giants are even right now but is way behind in terms of home games where they have generally ruled, that will put some distance between them and others as the imbalance evens out, but that's long process for them since they are so far behind right now.

  4. I'm concerned too about the starters - just see Bochy leaving them in a bit too long, as of late, anyway. One has to remember pitching stress as well, the Giants are built to win close games.

    Bochy is pretty conventional. But I can see pushing starts back now and again, I know days-of-rest is generally meaningless, but it will add up in the same way by the end of the season. You don't want everyone except maybe Cain cooked by the end of the year.

    Shit happens, but I don't see a division race either. I have a higher opinion of the Rox than you do, OGC, but not enough that they're a threat. The Dodgers could be, but the dysfunction there is definitely costing them.

    I saw "elsewhere" you mentioning Huff at third - why was that? Am I missing something about Panda?

  5. I view Bochy as a sheep in wolf's clothing, someone to watch out for. He wears his conventionality but his differences leaks out.

    He is very uber-sabermetric in a number of ways. Going beyond (now) what other managers do with pitch counts. Going to his closer for multi-inning outings. Burning through his setup men in the 8th meanwhile. Using all 5 of his starters early on when most would skip the 5th starter due to days off. Dropping Zito from the playoff rosters. Avoiding asking his position players to sacrifice. Using the old saber-observation that lineup ultimately don't matter much for the most part, so he has Fontenot batting third. He don't steal much either, though that is probably because he don't have the talent to do that regularly either.

    I would say that I agree with you on D-Rox, perhaps I undersold them in my text, I think they are our biggest competitors with good players and will be tough in the future, but I think other people really oversell them because they have great players like Tulo, CarGon, Ubaldo, and I tend to want to counter thinking like that.

    I don't recall mentioning Huff at 3B, but my memory has been swiss cheesy lately, been a little sick. The way I see it right now, Panda is out to the end of June probably once you add in time in minors to get back into baseball shape.

    I might have been referring to Giants possibly playing Huff at 3B while playing Belt at 1B while both Sandoval and DeRosa is out, and how that could work since Huff was Panda-like on defense there circa 2009.

    However, if I remember right now, I think I was commenting about Belt and how people think he's a god now but ignores his very high strikeout rate, which will result in a very low batting average, and only someone who can walk a whole lot (he does it a lot but not a whole lot) can counter that and still have an above average OBP.

    I also mentioned that a lot of the same people thought that Posey was ready too last season but he was under 700 OPS at the end of June and he's a BETTER hitter than Belt in that he knows how to avoid the strikeouts as well as take walks, yet he has struggled up and down. Given Belt's clear struggles early on this season, that suggests to me that he's more on the path of a Matt Williams who struggles to find his way in the majors, resulting in ups and downs to and from the minors.

    So unless the team is struggling to win, which it isn't right now, they are doing fine, I would not bring Belt up until things got a bit more dire in the standings.

  6. So I would prefer to leave Huff at 1B for the moment and Belt in the minors. Only if we drastically need Belt - and at this moment, I don't, I see Huff, Ross, Posey, Torres, Schierholtz either heating up or hot enough right now - would I move Huff to 3B, defensively, he needs to play 1B for us to have best chances of winning.

    So the Belt coming up equation, to me, means that multiple OF have to be scuffling, Burrell, Rowand, Ross, Schierholtz, before I bring him up before the trade deadline.

    Afterward, play it by ear, position prospects are not like pitchers where you have a clock ticking, if anything, hitters benefit from more experience, but if he has nothing more to learn from the minors, and he appears to be approaching that, then you got to bring him up.

  7. "The only way the Giants release him is if he's still throwing at 83 MPH and isn't effective in the majors anymore."

    Well, one of those is true!



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