It's Brett Tomko's chance to impress tonight, as the three-part battle for the 5th spot in the rotation continues. It'll never happen in a million years, but the whole mess has again made me think that this season is setting up as a perfect scenario to try a four man rotation. To writ:
- The Royals don't have five good pitchers.
- Competitively, nothing major is at stake.
- The Royals should have a strong, deep bullpen.
- The top of the rotation features three guys who should be able to adjust to a new situation, aren't max-effort fastballers anyway, and should be able to handle the workload intelligently.
- The Royals have a new manager who seems vaguely open-minded.
It's interesting that the old-school set still has to say good things about supposedly traditional baseball strategies, but that for some reason only the offensive ones. As for pitching, the closer-centric bullpen, actually a recent development, is also sacrosanct, as is the five man rotation. The benefits of a four-man rotation seem fairly obvious: your better pitchers pitch more, your bad pitchers pitch less. If monitored closely, there's no reason to believe there'd be any additional injury risk. Recent research and medical thinking suggests that the number of days rest isn't so much the issue, as how you pitch on the on-days. In fact, some believe its actually better for the arm to be worked more consistently.
Baseball-wise, since the Royals have a deep bullpen, they should be able to aggressively monitor each start anyway. Ideally, Gil Meche shouldn't be throwing pitches 105-120 in a regular season game much anyway, especially with solid options behind him in the pen. Moreover, with the increased number of off-days and lack of scheduled double-headers, with a little bit of pre-planning you'd be able to implement a 4.5 man rotation with some ease, if you wanted to insure extra rest here and there. Since we're going to be dragging Tomko along anyway, make him a long man and the "Sunday starter" if you want, but don't set in stone that every fifth day we're going to field a AAA pitcher.
Just something to think about... I understand that, perhaps practically, if you've invested $55 million in Gil Meche's arm, you aren't going to do anything that potentially might carry risk. But if we're being honest, considering most large contracts also are insured, the real risk is simply criticism. And a fear of criticism drives most of the non-decisions we see currently.