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A six-man rotation makes too much sense for Oakland A’s

Much has been written about the uncertainty of the A’s rotation. Could expanding it to six men be the solution?

MLB: New York Yankees at Oakland Athletics
Sean Manaea is one of many young Oakland starters with durability concerns.
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Due to this historically slow offseason, Oakland’s rotation has been a hot topic as of late. Alex analyzed the market for rotation additions and whether the team should add or stand pat, while Nico took a look at the many degrees of possibly the most puzzling candidate, Andrew Triggs. Both pieces highlighted a common concern - durability.

In his piece, Alex noted that not one of the A’s rotation candidates for 2018 has ever thrown 200 innings in a season. Likely Opening Day starter Kendall Graveman leads the way with his 186 IP in 2016, but was limited to 105 13 innings in 2017 due to concerning shoulder injuries. Nico also pointed out durability as Triggs’ main concern, as the righty has had each of his past two seasons end with injuries suffered while in the rotation.

Up and down the entire depth chart, it’s more of the same. Most notably, Sean Manaea and Jesse Hahn have had trouble staying healthy throughout their entire careers. Even Daniel Mengden, the rotation’s most popular breakout candidate, was limited to only 18 starts (89 IP) in 2017. Not a single candidate for a rotation spot could be comfortably projected for even 180 IP. And even if starters like Hahn or Triggs were able to hit that mark in 2018, the question becomes whether they should - it would be a drastic increase from their previous career highs in innings pitched, and could have consequences down the line.

In short, the A’s have eight rotation candidates for Opening Day 2018, and for most, the differences in talent and track record are barely noticeable. As Alex pointed out in his piece, only Daniel Gossett was healthy for all of 2017 - and he had, by far, the worst MLB stint of the bunch.

The A’s also happen to have a revamped bullpen, with most candidates capable of throwing more than one inning at a time. Recently acquired righties Yusmeiro Petit and Emilio Pagan threw more than an inning in 51% of their appearances in 2017. Candidates Raul Alcantara, Frankie Montas, Liam Hendriks, and Chris Bassitt are each former starters capable of throwing more than an inning per outing as well.

Furthermore, MLB as a whole is changing. Only 15 starters pitched 200 or more innings in 2017, compared to the 36 who did so as recently as 2013. Meanwhile, the success of pitchers like Chad Green and Petit himself have led to the rise of the super-reliever, capable of throwing multiple high leverage innings in a game on a somewhat regular basis.

The stars have aligned perfectly, and one solution makes way too much sense to ignore - the A’s need to implement a six-man rotation for 2018, and possibly beyond.

One of the biggest problems with a six-man rotation is what it means for roster construction. However, with the A’s having multiple relievers capable of throwing more than one inning at a time, they can afford to run a seven-man bullpen and three-man bench (or even six-man ‘pen and four-man bench?).

Another concern - the trade-off of quality innings from your best starters in exchange for sub-par innings from your sixth starter - also shouldn’t be too much of an issue for Oakland. While Manaea and Graveman have unquestionable talent and have each shown flashes of upside, neither has shown any kind of consistency over a full season. Asking for 27 starts from each rather than 32 could mean avoiding five of those fatigued late-season outings.

Running with a six-man rotation allows the team to give one final chance to Hahn, who is out of options. It will also allow the team to more easily introduce prospects A.J. Puk and Grant Holmes to the major leagues, once ready. It should help keep the team’s young arms fresh, and set them up well for future success.

Ideally, the six-man rotation would allow at least a few of the A’s starters to stay healthy, and throw anywhere from 150-170 innings. Struggling starters could be replaced with those waiting in Triple-A, including Puk and/or Holmes. Petit, Pagan, and the other flexible relievers would pick up the slack for a smaller bullpen. The strategy could then be re-evaluated after the season, to determine whether the team should continue with the six-man or if it can trust the five-man.

Should the A’s still add a reliable veteran arm? In my opinion, probably. However, I strongly believe that switching to a six-man rotation will help alleviate what is possibly the 2018 rotation’s biggest concern - durability.


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