Could the Indians turn to a 6-man rotation featuring Zach McAllister? Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Should the Cleveland Indians Use a Six-Man Rotation?

The Cleveland Indians recently enjoyed a stretch with three off days in a two-week period.  This allowed the team to give a guy like Corey Kluber an extra off day here and there (including for last night’s start), and to skip a guy such as T.J. House in the rotation other times.

However, the Indians are now in the midst of a stretch that will see Cleveland play 30 games in the 30 days.  In fact, there is only one off day for the rest of the season for the Indians, and it comes on September 25 (with only three games left).  Once rosters expand on September 1, the Indians will likely call up a bullpen arm or two, and possibly (likely?) several over the weeks to follow as the Columbus Clippers’ season winds down.

Aug 21, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber (28) walks back to the dugout after the fourth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Minnesota Twins win 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

This should help out with the lack of off days to keep the pen fresh; however, an additional option could be adding a sixth pitcher to the rotation to give the starters more rest down the stretch as well.   Is this something the Tribe would consider, or better yet, something the team should consider?  There are several reasons for the Indians to consider a six-man rotation:

Reason #1:  Limit workloads down the stretch.

The Indians have a young starting rotation right now.  Of the five guys in the rotation, none are more than 28-years old. Kluber is currently the elder statesmen at 28.  Next is Carlos Carrasco at 27, House and Danny Salazar at 24, and Trevor Bauer is the baby at 23.  Even if you included the 29-year-old Josh Tomlin, who is back in the bullpen, you’re still talking about a very young rotation.  Not only are these guys young, but they do not have a lot of innings on their arms, especially in recent years.   Kluber missed time last year with injury, as did Tomlin, who missed nearly the entire year recovering from Tommy John surgery.  Carrasco was up and down, and coming back from Tommy John surgery himself last year.  House and Bauer were in the minors and didn’t pitch past early September when minor league seasons ended.

Aug 7, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher T.J. House (58) throws a pitch against the Cincinnati Reds in the second inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s a look at the innings each player threw last year versus where they are at this year (combined minor league/major league numbers):

Kluber:   159.2 in 2013, this year at 192.2
Bauer:   138.1 in 2013, this year at 164.1
Salazar:  145 in 2013, this year at 134.1
Carrasco: 118.1 in 2013, this year at 83
House:  164 in 2013, this year at 133
McAllister:  143.2 in 2013, this year at 133.1
Tomlin:  29.1 in 2013, this year at 139.1

While most are actually doing fine on inning totals, the top two guys in the rotation, Kluber and Bauer, have blown past their 2013 totals, and Kluber has passed his career high of 188.1 innings from 2012.  Bauer is a “to hell with pitch counts” kind of guy, but I’m not so sure the Indians feel quite the same way.

Kluber has been pitching like a Klubot all season long but have to wonder if at some point his arm couldn’t start getting tired.  No shame in giving him some extra time between starts to keep him fresh, as the Tribe is doing yet again tonight by not starting him on normal rest.  Kluber has carried this pitching staff and with it the Indians to the place they are.  It’s not a stretch at all to suggest that if Kluber struggles down the stretch that the Indians playoff hopes are dashed.  Getting the most out of him every single time out will be the difference between October baseball and starting the winter early.

The one drawback here is by giving a guy like Kluber an extra day of rest each time out you will potentially eliminate one start from him the rest of the year.  Kluber could get six more starts if he goes on normal rest the rest of the way.  However, if he goes on five days rest he may only get five starts.  Indians would need to decide, do they want that extra start? Or do they think extra rest makes him a better pitcher in six starts and that’s more valuable?  Only the Indians can really answer that.

Reason #2:  It lets the Indians matchup its best starters vs the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers.

One thing needs to be made clear, just because a team goes to a six-man rotation does not mean that you have to give every pitcher in the rotation an extra days rest every time through the order. Manager Terry Francona would have the luxury of giving a guy like Kluber an extra day off, but also can bump him up to normal rest if he feels it’s best for the team that day.  Lots can obviously happen over the next five weeks, but here’s how the schedule would appear to break down right now with the current rotation and sticking with a traditional five-man rotation:

Date Opponent Starting Pitcher Days Rest
28-Aug @White Sox Carrasco 5
29-Aug @Royals Salazar 5
30-Aug @Royals Bauer 5
31-Aug @Royals House 4
1-Sep Tigers Kluber 4
2-Sep Tigers Carrasco 4
3-Sep Tigers Salazar 4
4-Sep Tigers Bauer 4
5-Sep White Sox House 4
6-Sep White Sox Kluber 4
7-Sep White Sox Carrasco 4
8-Sep Angels Salazar 4
9-Sep Twins Bauer 4
10-Sep Twins House 4
11-Sep Twins Kluber 4
12-Sep @Tigers Carrasco 4
13-Sep @Tigers Salazar 4
14-Sep @Tigers Bauer 4
15-Sep @Astros House 4
16-Sep @Astros Kluber 4
17-Sep @Astros Carrasco 4
18-Sep @Astros Salazar 4
19-Sep @Twins Bauer 4
20-Sep @Twins House 4
21-Sep @Twins Kluber 4
22-Sep Royals Carrasco 4
23-Sep Royals Salazar 4
24-Sep Royals Bauer 4
25-Sep OFF OFF OFF
26-Sep Rays House 5
27-Sep Rays Kluber 5
28-Sep Rays Carrasco 5

And here’s how it could look if the Indians were to add a sixth starting pitcher to the rotation after rosters expand in September:

Date Opponent Starting Pitcher Days Rest
28-Aug @White Sox Carrasco 5
29-Aug @Royals Salazar 5
30-Aug @Royals Bauer 5
31-Aug @Royals House 4
1-Sep Tigers Kluber 4
2-Sep Tigers Carrasco 4
3-Sep Tigers Salazar 4
4-Sep Tigers Bauer 4
5-Sep White Sox McAllister 4*
6-Sep White Sox House 5
7-Sep White Sox Kluber 5
8-Sep Angels Carrasco 5
9-Sep Twins Salazar 5
10-Sep Twins Bauer 5
11-Sep Twins McAllister 5
12-Sep @Tigers House 5
13-Sep @Tigers Kluber 5
14-Sep @Tigers Carrasco 5
15-Sep @Astros Salazar 5
16-Sep @Astros Bauer 5
17-Sep @Astros McAllister 5
18-Sep @Astros House 5
19-Sep @Twins Kluber 5
20-Sep @Twins Carrasco 5
21-Sep @Twins Salazar 5
22-Sep Royals Bauer 5
23-Sep Royals McAllister 5
24-Sep Royals Kluber 4
25-Sep OFF OFF OFF
26-Sep Rays Carrasco 5
27-Sep Rays Salazar 5
28-Sep Rays Bauer 5

 

Zach McAllister is scheduled to start on August 31 for the Columbus Clippers, so he, in theory, could also be pushed back to September 1 and called up to Cleveland when rosters expand.  However, setting things up as shown above keeps McAllister away from the Tigers in the first series and on normal rest, yet it also allows Kluber to potentially come back for the final game of the year on three-days rest if needed.  Or it could put him in line to start a potential one-game playoff should things fall that way for the Tribe.  It’s really all about the options Tito would be afforded with the extra rotation arm.  He can choose when to give a guy extra rest vs normal rest as he sees fit and play a bit of a matchup game with the day’s opponents.

Reason #3:  Get looks at more starters heading into 2015.

Aug 8, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer (47) pitches against the New York Yankees during the second inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

While the Indians are only 4.5 games out of the final Wild Card spot, their chances of making the postseason remain relatively small.  Cleveland still has multiple teams they need to pass for the Wild Card and are now 6.5 games behind the Royals for the divisional crown.  The Indians will need a 2013-like run to make it, or a major collapse from the Royals and Tigers. The Indians should not give up on 2014, but it may not be the worst idea to get some looks at potential 2015 rotation arms.

McAllister is out of options following the 2014 season, so the Indians will need to decide if he’s a guy worth keeping around with an eye on him being in the rotation or if they need to move on from him.  It’s always good to have depth in the rotation so best course may be to keep him with idea of having Tomlin and House in AAA (as both have options remaining).

However, if McAllister were to get some starts to close out the year and really struggle, it may be what the Tribe needs to move on from him, be it go with one of either House or Tomlin, or by bringing in outside help.  McAllister has nothing left to prove at AAA.  He had yet another good start for in AAA going seven strong innings, striking out eight, and allowing just a single run to help the Clippers clinch the IL West Division title.  He’s too good for AAA, that much is certain, but is he the classic “AAAA” pitcher or can he be an effective big league starter like he was in 2012, 2013, and the beginning of 2014? Only way to know for sure, is to see more of him in Cleveland.

What about the Negatives?

While there are good reasons for going to the six-man rotation, there are also a few reasons pass on making such a move.  For starters, it limits (or potentially limits) the number of starts the Tribe’s best pitchers will make down the stretch, while also giving as many as five (potentially key) starts to guys who have struggled recently.  There’s also the fact that pitchers, and baseball players in general, tend to be creatures of habit. Giving a guy one extra day off every once in a while is one thing but doing it for a month or more could result in some poor pitching performances, especially for a guy such as Bauer, who relies heavily on a routine.

So what to do?

With the expanding rosters next week, the options Tito will have are pretty limitless.  He can turn to a guy like McAllister or even Tomlin. Hell, maybe the Indians make a move for a guy like Bartolo Colon before Monday, as has been suggested.  Or he can decide to stick with the five-man rotation, which has been pretty hot the last two weeks.  However, this route puts a lot on the shoulders of guys like Carrasco and House, who are pretty inexperienced in the rotation this year.  A six-man rotation may seem like a long-shot, but then again so are the Tribe’s chances at the playoffs. An outside the box idea may not be the worst idea.  So I ask again, is a six-man rotation something the Indians should consider?

Should the Indians Use a Six-Man Rotation?

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Tags: Cleveland Indians Corey Kluber Trevor Bauer Zach McAllister

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