Blue Jays: Could We See A Six-Man Rotation Used In 2021?

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 18: Nate Pearson #24 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles on August 18, 2020 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 18: Nate Pearson #24 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles on August 18, 2020 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /
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Coming off a shortened season where Blue Jays pitchers logged less then half of their usual inning totals, it’ll be interesting to see how teams manage their workload this coming season.

Pitching may be one of the most physically demanding tasks in all of sports.  Injuries are bound to happen, forcing teams to use ten or more starting pitchers in a season.  Coming off of one of the most unique baseball seasons ever, where only 60 games were played, teams may have to get creative with how they handle pitcher’s workloads next year in order to keep them healthy.

If a pitcher is able to stay healthy for an entire season, he’s asked to throw anywhere from 150 to 200 innings.  Last season, Lance Lynn of the Texas Rangers led the MLB in innings pitched with only 84.  In Lynn’s nine year career, he’s averaged 196 innings pitched in each season.  This is more than double what he threw last season and it will be a lot to ask of him to add 112 innings in just one season to get back to that number.  Lynn has it easier than other pitchers though, as he led the league in innings last season, so he is closer to his normal total than most.

There were only three pitchers that surpassed 80 innings last season and only 17 that hit the 70 inning mark.  This means that like Lynn, every starting pitcher is going to have to more than double their work load to reach a league average inning total.  Teams are going to be hard pressed to ask five guys to do this, which means they’re going to have to get creative in how they manage innings.

The Blue Jays are a team that’s going to get hit hard by this, as they really under-used their starters last season, relying heavily on their bullpen.  If you look at every potential starter on the Jays’ 40 man roster, their inning totals are unimpressive.

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Hyun Jin Ryu led the way with 67 innings tossed.  Following him was Robbie Ray with 51 ⅔, Ross Stripling with 49 ⅓, Tanner Roark with 47 ⅔, Thomas Hatch with 26, Shun Yamaguchi with 25 ⅔, Anthony Kay with 21, Nate Pearson with 18, Julian Merryweather with 13, TJ Zeuch with 11.1 and Trent Thornton with 5.2.

Now obviously some of these guys pitched out of the bullpen and some got extra innings in Rochester, but all of these guys could be in the starting rotation next year and none of them logged more than 70 game innings last season.

Managing innings is something that isn’t discussed a lot at the big league level, as pitchers are pretty consistent with their workload.  Inning management is a lot more common in the minor leagues, especially at the lower levels, as you have guys who are coming out of high school and college and aren’t used to the workload that a pro starter has.

The Jays have done this with many minor leaguers, but some of the more prominent ones were Alek Manoah, who never worked more than four innings in his six starts in Low A in 2019, and Nate Pearson, with whom the Jays used the 2-5 rule for the first half of the 2019 season (where he would throw two innings one start and then five the next to manage his innings) before opening him up once he got called up to AAA. The Jays may have to take some of the tactics they’ve been using in the minors and implement them into their big league club next season to help keep pitcher’s innings down.

I think the way to do this is by going to a six-man rotation.  The six-man rotation has already been normalized in other leagues around the world, like the NPB in Japan.  Using a six-man rotation would help teams cut back on innings for their starters since in a 162 game season, there would only be 27 starts for each rotation spot instead of the normal 32 or 33.

Last season the average start was 4.2 innings (which is way too short, but that is a whole different topic) so if that number holds then a starter will throw around 124 innings.  This is still a big jump for most guys, as they would be adding roughly 70-80 innings from their total last year, but I think that doing this is the best way to keep them in their normal flow of being in a rotation and limit innings.  The problem for the Jays is they really don’t have the personnel to pull this off right now.  If the Jays went with a six-man rotation, it would look like:

1.Ryu
2.Ray
3.Roark
4.Stripling
5.Thornton

6.Merryweather/Hatch/Kay/Zeuch

I didn’t include Nate Pearson, as he is kind of a wild card.  There’s always a chance that he could start out in AAA this season to get him back on track and so the Jays can do even more inning management with him, and there’s no guarantee that he’ll be on the Opening Day roster.  As you can see, there is going to have to be some serious work done if the Jays are going to use a six-man rotation, although going that route would make Pearson’s inclusion over the full season a lot more feasible.

They’ll probably have to add at least two legit MLB starters if they want to have the personnel to pull this off.  Thankfully, there are plenty of bargain options available for the Jays to potentially bring in, such as James Paxton, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi or Joe Musgrove via trade.

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With about a month left until pitchers and catcher report, the Jays still have a lot of work to do to construct this team.  They’re definitely going to have to think about how they want to manage pitchers workloads, and I think a six-man rotation would be the best way to do that.

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