Monday, June 01, 2009


It's been an idea floating on sports radio and on blogs. With John Smoltz two rehab starts away, and also with Clay Buchholz flirting with perfect games in AAA Pawtucket, could/should the Sox go with a 6 man rotation?

The answer is No! Nein! Nr! Non! Αριθ! いいえ! Não! Нет!

People who support this notion point to a stretch of games this summer. 19 games in 20 days. But this, to me, would be the worst time to shift to a 6 man rotation. It's true that starters would get additional rest, with older guys like Wakefield and Penny benefiting the most. But using up a roster spot for a starter will take one away from the bullpen. And during this 19 game/20 day stretch, the bullpen will need the most relief (pardon the pun).

A 6 man rotation with Beckett, Lester, Matsuzaka, Penny, Wakefield, and Smoltz will murder a shortened bullpen. Lester has always had trouble pitching more than 6 innings. Matsuzaka passes 100 pitches in the 4th inning. Penny gives 6 innings AT MOST, and Wakefield usually gets figured out by the 5th or 6th. Then there's Smoltz, who should hardly be counted on do go much deeper than 5 innings coming off the DL at his age.

Supporters of this idea also point to the insurance and risk management aspects of keeping 6 starters. If you keep Penny for a few weeks after activating Smoltz, for instance, you protect yourself in case Smoltz doesn't work out.

And that's nice. You can also bring up Buchholz, and if he struggles like he did in '08, you aren't stuck with him.

But at some point, a decision has to be made. It's sort of like football teams that rotate their quarterbacks. If you have 2 QBs, you really have 0 QBs. And if you have 6 starting pitchers, you really don't have 5 good ones.

Daisuke Matsuzaka can't be demoted to AAA, but he can be placed on the DL. And if he continues to struggle, another stint for arm fatigue won't be too heavily scrutinized.

There's also no pressing need to bring up Buchholz ASAP. In fact, a little Lou Merloni style "stuck in Pawtucket" frustration might be a good test of his ability to handle adversity.

And I wouldn't mind trading Buchholz for a big bat like Victor Martinez. Clay's value will never be higher.

There's also Wakefield. He's been roughed up a bit his last two times out. If he continues to struggle, he can be shifted to the bullpen. And I actually think he'd be a decent bullpen guy (again), with his knuckleball contrasting so much with hard throwers like Beckett and Papelbon.

My point is, that all the benefits of a 6 man rotation can be attained via alternative methods. A DL stint for a struggling starter, or a bullpen trip for Wakefield, and so on. But the costs of a 6 man rotation - shallow bullpen, and taking starts away from hot starters like Beckett (and now Lester) - are steep enough to want to stay with 5 starters.

I'm fine with adding Smoltz to the roster for his first start, without removing another starting pitcher. But more than one cycle with a 6 man rotation is one of the dumbest things the Red Sox could do.

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