Six-man rotation becoming a dangerous trend
It's an epidemic. Atlanta is just the latest team to lose its mind by going to a six-man pitching rotation. Then again, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said their insanity is only temporary.
They all say that, though.
According to Gonzalez, the Braves will begin their six-man rotation after Tommy Hanson returns from the disabled list for a home start Friday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Then, Gonzalez said he plans to return to a conventional -- by today's standards -- five-man rotation at the end of the month, after his team finishes its current streak of playing on 20 consecutive days.
"With our situation right now at this stage of the season, and some of our health concerns -- with [Tim Hudson's] ankle and Ben Sheets, with his history the last two years [of elbow problems], he hasn't really pitched -- we're going to do it," Gonzalez told reporters on Monday at Turner Field. His reasoning was logical, but only to a point.
Here's the biggest point: Six-man rotations aren't good.
They ruin the timing of starting pitchers who normally rest four days between starts. They don't allow your ace to pitch as often as he normally would. They cause issues with your bullpen. They force you to choose between playing with either one less reliever or one guy on the bench. And, for all we know, they could be the reason for that hole in the ozone.
Gonzalez is going with a six-man rotation anyway.
In addition to the combination of that 20-game stretch and pitchers healing from injuries, Gonzalez has the Kris Medlen dilemma. Medlen has operated mostly out of the bullpen during his career with the Braves, but the team has won 16 of his last 17 starts, and that includes his 2-0 record with a 1.62 ERA in three starts this season.
"We need to be able to go into September with all cylinders hitting and everybody healthy, and this is one way to keep those guys healthy," Gonzalez said.
This also is typical in sports, where you get one team enamored with a newfangled strategy, and then a bunch of teams follow. Then they all become sheep, either on the way to grazing in postseason glory, or dropping over the cliff with the rest of the herd.
There was the debut of the "point forward," which came out of nowhere in the NBA during the early 1980s out of necessity. Milwaukee Bucks coach Don Nelson watched starting point guard Nate Archibald pull a hamstring before a playoff game, and Nelson adjusted by telling forward Marques Johnson to bring the ball up the court.
The point ... well, you get it. So did everybody else, because the concept spread beyond Cheesehead Country, and it remains prevalent today through somebody named LeBron James.
In 1976, the Oakland Raiders kept losing defensive linemen, so they began to depend heavily on a 3-4 defense, with three defensive linemen and four linebackers instead of the NFL standard at the time of four linemen and three linebackers.
The Raiders eventually won the Super Bowl.
The next season, teams switched to the 3-4, and even now, a slew of folks will change their defenses from the previous year. They'll keep the 3-4 until somebody grabs a world championship with a 4-3 defense, and then they'll go that way for a while.
Now baseball has its version of the point forward, the 3-4 defense and the rest with its growing number of six-man rotations.
The Chicago White Sox just had one of them, and it looked like a highly questionable one after All-Star pitcher Chris Sale spent a 4-2 victory last week against the Kansas City Royals striking out seven without issuing a walk during his eight innings.
That followed a nine-day rest for Sale after his fastball resembled more of a slowball after the All-Star break.
Not coincidentally, the White Sox proceeded to acquire former Minnesota Twins ace Francisco Liriano, which accelerated their move to their six-man rotation. But then came Sale's gem against the Royals, along with questions about when he would pitch again in the six-man staff.
When would anybody pitch again in the rotation?
White Sox manager Robin Ventura suggested this week to inquiring minds that his six-man rotation is deader than Sale's left arm was near the end of July. He attributed his six-man strategy to Sale needing rest, along with veteran Jake Peavy and rookie Jose Quintana.
The White Sox are back to a five-man rotation.
The Pittsburgh Pirates aren't. Just like the Braves, the Pirates are maneuvering through 20 games in a row, and just like Atlanta, Pittsburgh is embracing the six-man concept.
This is the Pirates' second time through that rotation, and in case you're wondering, the first time was a disaster. More often than not, Pittsburgh's starters were pounded during the first inning. It all contributed to the Bucs entering their game Tuesday night at home against the Dodgers with nine losses in their last 14 games.
Even Pirates ace A.J. Burnett has been affected by the six-man rotation. He is the only one of the Bucs' six starters who has been treated like "Where's Waldo?" That's because Pittsburgh has moved Burnett around the rotation so he can maintain his normal amount of rest between starts, but it hasn't worked.
After going 7-0 and having the Pirates finish 10-0 overall in his home starts this season, Burnett was pounded last weekend at PNC Park by the San Diego Padres during a 5-0 loss.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.