Will a six-man rotation work?

Byline MattChris Tillman came into the 2014 season as the Orioles’ definitive ace; something Baltimore had not experienced since the days of Mike Mussina. Tillman finished 2013 at 16-7, with a 3.71 ERA, prompting Orioles fans to envision him leading the club for years to come.

Adding onto a strong front of the rotation, Dan Duquette pulled the trigger on Ubaldo Jimenez on Feb. 17, signing him to a four-year, $50 million deal. Jimenez made a ridiculously good No. 2 starter behind Tillman. That, in turn, made No. 3 Wei-Yin Chen, No. 4 Miguel Gonzalez and No. 5 Bud Norris seem like a lot better options in their respective roles.

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The Orioles pitching rotation had high hopes going into this season, yet here we are. The pitching ranks 24th in the league with a 4.23 ERA. Gonzalez and Chen have higher ERAs than Jimenez and Tillman. Gonzalez owns the best ERA among the starters at 4.71.

That’s not good enough.

Add in the fact that Gonzalez could be looking at a DL stint for an oblique injury and Tillman’s 1+ inning appearance against the Texas Rangers last night, and fans and media are worried.

A rotation the should be improved from last year has a higher ERA than the year before. So what’s the answer to all of these pitching woes? An interesting idea popped into fans’ heads this past week, as rumors swirled about Johan Santana rejoining the club.

Would it help our staff if we went to a six-man rotation? My answer: it will help the staff. There’s no pitcher on our staff like Justin Verlander, where a start every five days is essential to the success of a team.

Tillman can wait another day to pitch, much like any of the starters in the rotation. Who knows, maybe less frequent starts may turn into less frequent injuries.

Another aspect of a six-man rotation is the idea that even if a pitcher gets injured, the rotation could easily convert back to five men. It wouldn’t be a very difficult process and the Orioles would not have to rely on a Norfolk pitcher like Kevin Gausman to spot start and deliver.

While we’re thinking about it, let’s look at how each pitcher fares with five and six days rest:

Pitcher ERA-5 days rest ERA-6 days rest
Chris Tillman 4.56 3.82
Ubaldo Jimenez 4.31 4.74
Wei Yin-Chen 3.89 3.32
Miguel Gonzalez 2.77 3.31
Bud Norris 4.49 5.07

I am surprised that three Orioles pitcher do better with five days of race. However, the rotation ERA is relatively equal. In five days’ rest, the starters record a 4.00 ERA, while in six days rest, they stand at 4.05 ERA. This stat is more telling of a staff that doesn’t seem like it is affected by an extra day of rest.

With a potential injury for Tillman and a definite one for Gonzalez, more depth at the starter role is needed. Will it be Johan Santana? Kevin Gausman?

That remains to be seen. My money is on Santana, who will need extra rest because, at 35, his shoulder injury could flare up at any time. But when he was at his best, Santana posted a 3.95 ERA against the AL East. That’s better than any of starters’ ERA through the season.

Santana has his fastball back up to the high-80’s and his change up in the mid-70’s, which are both just a few miles per hour less than the velocity in his prime. It seems as though Santana will at least be solid contributor to the rotation, with the potential for more.

Even if the Orioles did bring up Santana in lieu of a pitcher currently in the rotation, who would it be? Bud Norris or Miguel Gonzalez? Gonzalez may be our pitcher at the moment, and Norris has shown flashes of greatness.

The worst pitcher in terms of ERA is Tillman, and I don’t think Buck would sit him.

Signs are pointing toward a six-man rotation. The stats show a contrasting story, but I believe it will help the team in the push for the playoffs. What do you want? Agree or disagree? Feel free to comment.

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