Raising Questions

Would the Phillies benefit from a six-man rotation?



After the Phillies acquired pitcher Clay Buchholz from Boston, it lockedVincent Velasquez down what was probably the final piece to solidify the rotation. The Phillies now employee two seasoned veterans in Buchholz and Jeremy Hellickson and are still taking long looks at Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez to round out their five-man rotation.

Nola confirmed with CSN’s Michael Barkann that “my arm is good to go. One-hundred percent.” Elbow injuries, in the case of pitchers, sometimes lead to the infamous Tommy John surgery, but Nola was able to dodge it this time. Still there’s doubt the 23-year old will ever return to his 2016 April-May form, where he led the team with a 2.88 ERA. A top priority for Nola and Phillies fans should be finishing the year in one piece.

Velasquez has an injury history of his own, including shoulder troubles, Tommy John surgery (2010), and most recently a biceps injury – sidelining him in 2016. For years, the dark cloud hanging over Velasquez has always been related to durability.

Newly acquired Clay Buchholz is no stranger to the disabled list. Over the 32 year old’s 10-year career, he has made seven trips, battling back, hamstring and elbow issues.

Sixty percent of the starting rotation has a shaky injury history. Of course injuries are part of the game, but Hellickson and Eickhoff leave the least concern, as each made a full complement of starts last season.

What can the Phillies do to limit the chances that their pitchers – and most importantly Nola and Velasquez – get hurt? They can try a six-man rotation.

Experimenting a six-man rotation will benefit the Phillies in three ways.

  1. Innings will once again be at a premium for both Nola and Velasquez. Coming off an elbow injury, it’s possible that Nola will be on an innings limit for 2017. After Velasquez was capped at 130 innings for 2016, he may not be out of the woods when it comes to restrictions. A six-man rotation automatically limits the innings with more rest between starts.
  2. A six-man rotation allows each starter to taste September baseball. Instead of a grueling 33 start-season, a six-man rotation will cut down each starter to roughly 27 starts. An average of six innings per start would put all starters at 162 innings by season’s end. Instead of being shut down in early September, it’s important for Nola and Velasquez to pitch late into the season.
  3. While limiting major-league-ready arms, a six-man rotation gives an opportunity for another young, deserving pitcher. Jake Thompson, Alec Asher and Zach Eflin all showed promise in short stints with the big club last season. In my opinion, it’s time to see what one of these guys can do for an extended period. All are 25 years old or younger, and they too will most likely be capped at a specific number.

Baseball is constantly changing and ever-evolving, especially for pitchers. Pitchers used to throw complete-games on 150 pitches. That’s certainly not the case anymore.

The last team to utilize a six-man rotation? The Chicago Cubs did, late in 2016, “just trying to keep guys fresh for the rest of the year,” as Joe Maddon put it. The Phils are not the Cubs, but hey, we all know how it worked out for Chicago.

Worst case-scenario for the Phils: it certainly can’t hurt.

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