The Reds – as they have shown us – can hit. The offense isn’t a problem now and isn’t likely to be a problem any time soon. The issue in terms of competing next year is going to be pitching. I know, surprising, right?

The challenge thing is always finding enough quality, healthy pitchers to fill out a five-man rotation. But what if they didn’t need five? What if they only needed four.

Once upon a time it was common to skip the fifth pitcher in the rotation frequently (I can certainly remember this, and I’m not that old). Most teams still do it from time to time. But this year, as you might have noticed, the schedule changed to include more off days. More off days means more chances to skip the fifth spot in the rotation and this could have extremely positive consequences for teams that are willing to use the schedule to their advantage.

The change is simple. With the off days, instead of insisting there be a five-man rotation, you now insist your top-4 pitchers go (as nearly as possible) every five days. I went through the Reds’ 2018 schedule and found that they could get through the entire season only using a fifth starter 20 times. That would leave 36 starts each for the top two starters and 35 each for the three and four guys.

Consider the possibilities here:

  1. You get more value out of your top pitchers without taxing them extra. Given how much shorter the typical start is across the majors, it makes extra sense to try and get a little extra from starters in this way.
  2. Because you only need a fifth starter periodically, it allows for more creative roster construction. For much of the season, you’ll be able to carry an extra man in the bullpen and still have a full bench.
  3. Because the fifth starter job is now more in flux, it provides a chance to audition starters in the minors who are likely to be rotation stalwarts in the future without making a demotion seem like a failure. Whoever came up would know he was only going to get two or three starts before going back down. This is somewhat akin to how rookies were sometimes asked to play their way into the lineup back in the olden days, but also keeps pitching prospects on a regular schedule.
  4. With a five-man rotation, the Reds probably need to add two pitchers in the offseason. With a four-man rotation, they only need one, which frees up additional money to spend improving other parts of the team.

I don’t really think the Reds will do this, but I see no reason they shouldn’t There will nearly always be some guys in Louisville knocking on the door but maybe not quite ready to hold a rotation spot on their own, and it allows a lot of roster flexibility.

9 Responses

  1. Shchi Cossack

    Spot on Jason. The Old Cossack has been a strong proponent of a 5-day pitching rotation rather than a 5-game pitching rotation since the schedule expanded with more off days. It’s simply too easy to have the 4 best starters on the mound for as many games as possible with spot starters used to fill the gap. Good fifth or sixth starters are a luxury the Reds maintained during their brief 2012-2014 run. It’s not a luxury the Reds can afford. In order to obtain a solid 5-6 man rotation, the Reds had to trade the bulk of their prospect future and draft a MLB ready starter, limiting their window of opportunity and resulting in everything crashing down in 2015.

    By focusing on a quality 4-man starting pitching staff and using young, along with young, unproven starters from AAA and good swing pitchers from the bullpen to fill the starting pitching gaps, the Reds MLB budget and flexibility would be greatly enhanced and their ability to maintain a long-term quality starting pitching staff significantly enhanced.

    That doesn’t even broach the routine used by starting pitchers. If starters are on a strict 5-day routine, they manage bullpen sessions and off days exactly the same, rather than on a variable 5-6 day routine. Other than changing the age-old practice, I really don’t see any disadvantage to a 5-day rotation rather than a 5-game rotation.

  2. Redlegs64

    When combined with Steve’s article on starters only going ~5 innings – this makes perfect sense. You get much more flexibility and pitchers stay sharp – both starters & relievers.

  3. Streamer88

    Good article Jason. A four man rotation is great on paper, just not sure it really matters. With injuries being a huge issue for every pitching staff today, including Cueto, Kershaw, Darvish etc, it seems to be a plan that reminds me of my favorite military tactics quote — “no battle plan ever survives first contact with the enemy.”

    Just not sure we’d draft, trade or manage any differently with this approach.

  4. Shchi Cossack

    “The offense isn’t a problem now and isn’t likely to be a problem any time soon.”

    As evidence, the Reds are now 5th in the NL in OPS and more importantly 5th in the NL in Runs Scored. The top 5 on OPS and Runs Scored have actually created a distinct separation from the rest of the 15 NL teams:

    .769 OPS & 409 Runs Scored => Chicago Cubs
    .756 OPS & 407 Runs Scored => Atlanta Braves
    .738 OPS & 388 Runs Scored => Colorado Rockies
    .744 OPS & 380 Runs Scored => LA Dodgers
    .737 OPS & 379 Runs Scored => Cincinnati Reds

    .719 OPS & 362 Runs Scored => 6th
    .698 OPS & 361 Runs Scored => 7th
    .728 OPS & 360 Runs Scored => 8th

    How good has the Reds offense been in June?

    .281 AVG (1st in NL)
    .367 OBP (1st in NL)
    .446 SLG (3rd in NL)
    .813 OPS (2nd in NL)
    119 BB (1st in NL)
    211 SO (3rd in NL)
    146 RUNS (3rd in NL)

    The really impressive thing about the Reds offense is that as good as the offense has become once everyone was healthy, it could be even better with proper utilization of the exiting roster personnel. The only valid reason for not maximizing the production of the existing roster personnel would be consideration for utilizing the roster personnel who would be contributing to the next competitive Reds team. Unfortunately that’s not the case with the current Reds management group. The primary consideration for the current Reds management group is appeasing BC and WJ rather than maximizing the current and future success of the team.

    Now let’s get the starting pitching sorted out with an eye on the 2019 season going forward. That includes the minor league starting pitching prospects being promoted as justified rather than simply letting them continue to dominate in the league where they’ve already proven they can dominate.

  5. Phillip Borden

    Hit the nail on head. This makes a player like Lorenzen even more valuable, as you can hit him in the lineup in a double switch, then switch him to outfield for a batter to bring in a specialist, then switch him back to the mound again and get another bat in the lineup.

  6. Hanawi

    Well, Harvey is certainly adding to his value right now. Could end being a pretty shrewd move by the Reds if he can keep this start going and add a couple more.

  7. Colorado Red

    What would it take to get syndergaard.
    I am sure it would start with Nick, but who else?
    Get Noan, and sign dallas and we got the start of a good team next year.

    • Bob Purkey

      Yes, the Mets are rebuilding, supposedly. The Reds have ammo in the minors. Syndergaard or deGrom with Disco, Mahle, Castillo would look pretty good,

  8. SF Reds Fan

    Jason, in your and the RLN team’s opinion, what would it take to trade for Blake Snell from the Rays? That guy is under team control/arb through 2023 and is currently sitting at 11-4 with a 2.24 ERA!

    Here would be my proposal (I’m going to the theory that if Reds fans aren’t screaming that it is too much, it probably isn’t enough):

    Their top needs are OF and relievers. They have a bigger infield glut that we do.

    ESPN predicts that if the Yankees trade for him it will require Sheffield (#39 MLB prospect), Frazier (#27 in ’17), and Erik Swanson (not a top 20 Yankee prospect…pitcher)
    1. One of Winker/Duval/Schebler
    2. One of Lorenzen or Amir
    3. Rookie Davis and Finny
    4. Cash (I think the limit under MLB rules is less than $1M without league review).
    5. We pay the remaining salaries for the rest of the year for all of the Reds players as well as Snell (this is the Rays we are talking about)
    6. Any of our #10-25 prospects

    This would certainly help clean up some of our log jams, would be a nice package to the Rays for one player, and all of these guys on both sides are affordable.

    IF we absolutely had to, I would throw in either Sal or BobSteve.