Should Blue Jays Consider a Four Man Rotation?


Could the Toronto Blue Jays consider using a 4 man rotation in 2016? It’s not as crazy as it sounds. They’ve done it before.

Now more than ever, teams have taken measures to ensure their pitchers’ arms are well rested, innings counts are down, and the words “Tommy John” are never mentioned in a Major League clubhouse. With high school pitchers overusing their arms to extents of over 100 pitches a game, there doesn’t need to be much explanation as to why Tommy John Surgeries have drastically increased, from a couple of players a year in the 1980’s, to nearly thirty every year (The 2012 season, Tommy John Surgery became a plague, with forty-six surgeries that year.)

Over the past few season, talk has been made about teams stretching their rotations to be six starters. Some teams like the Mets (Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Bartolo Colon, Steven Matz, and Zach Wheeler) could pull it off no problem. For years in Japan, teams have been using six man starting rotations, to increase the potential of every pitcher. The biggest complaint when pitchers like Masahiro Tanaka, and Hyun-jin Ryu came over to the MLB is the workload pitchers face.

Interesting to see that most notably Tanaka, Yu Darvish have had either Tommy John or Tommy John-like symptoms in Tanaka’s case, and while Ryu had Tommy John in High School, he has still struggled with his fair share of injuries since transitioning over to the MLB. Unfortunately most teams aren’t as blessed with the pitching depth that the Mets have, and teams like the Blue Jays are in the exact opposite of positions.

Trying to repeat what they accomplished last year, the Blue Jays biggest question mark still remains within their pitching staff, with questions surrounding Aaron Sachez and Roberto Osuna being stretched as starters, Drew Hutchison and Jesse Chavez bouncing back next year. Would it be inconceivable for the Blue Jays to break away from recent tradition, and move to a four man starting rotation? Teams stray away from the idea of a four man starting rotation because of the workload, and the risk someone says the ‘TJ’ word. It wouldn’t be the first time it had been implemented, and not even the first time the Blue Jays have used the four man system.

The 1984 Blue Jays, 1995 Kansas City Royals (borderline three man rotation), 2013 Colorado Rockies (Used the four man system part of the way through the season. 5th starters on the Rockies that season were; 0-3 with an ERA north of 15). These are just some of the past teams who have implemented the four man starting rotation. It’s seen as a desperation move, a team who is on the border of making the playoffs, gets into a little bit of injury trouble late in season, and has to make that final push towards the postseason. Those teams switch over to the four man system because they are forced too, but not in April.

The 1984 Blue Jays are probably the best example of a team using a four man starting rotation, since both 1995 Kansas City Royals, and 2013 Colorado Rockies had a ton of “spot” starts, the 84’ Jays stayed more consistent with their four starters. Not only are the 1984 Jays the most successful team to use the four man system (89-73- 2nd AL East) the 1984 Blue Jays used the four man rotation from nearly start to finish. Some eye popping numbers jump out at you when you look at the pitching numbers for that 1984 Blue Jays season:

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Four pitchers made well over 30 starts (that’s to be expected), but all four of those pitchers pitched over 200IP (That might be asking a lot in the more modern era of pitching, with average velocities rising etc), while Dave Stieb and Doyle Alexander pitched over 250IP! Four relievers pitched over 70 innings, of those four, three of them pitched 80IP, splitting 16 starts between the three of them. Obviously the work load increases for everyone on the roster, but with the right personnel it might just work.

2016 Four Man Starting Rotation:

  1. Marcus Stroman
  2.  Marco Estrada
  3. J.A. Happ
  4. R.A. Dickey

If we look at the 2015 numbers for all starters except Stroman, we will look at his 2016 projections, the personnel of the 2016 Jays would work. The teams average K/9 – 6.79 — BB/9 – 2.52. The Jays four starters have both a low K/9 and BB/9, since it take a lot more pitches to strike out and walk a batter, pitching for contact like the Jays pitchers do could help them achieve quicker outs and maximize low pitch counts. Relying on pitching for contact, and strong infield defense would be how you achieve at least 6IP per game from the starters.

The best asset to pulling this off, lies within the bullpen. With Aaron Sanchez, Drew Hutchison, Roberto Osuna, and Jesse Chavez all bidding for starting spots, having any of these pitchers make 10-15 spot starts, and pitching anywhere between 100IP-125IP wouldn’t be crazy to consider, since Hutchison has started for more than a season and a half of Major League baseball, the numbers could easily be attainable. The real secret weapon would be R.A. Dickey, with a knuckleballer in the lineup, throwing at 70% effort, pitching on short rest, giving guys days off in-between, R.A. is one of the only reasons why the Jays might be able to pull this off.

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It’s a risk, and it goes against what SABR metrics and injury prevention over the past ten years has taught us not to do. Can the Jays rely on if Drew Hutchison repeats last season? Becoming the ever-inconsistent fifth starter, the reliability of scoring twelve runs every start doesn’t sway in the Blue Jays favor. The simple answer is, you win with your best players on the field, the Blue Jays are thin right now when is comes to their pitching staff. One injury could really hamper this teams ability to string together wins, which might force them into a four man rotation. It might be an unlikely proposition, but sustaining a winning team will be very dependent on who’s on that mound every fifth day.