With less than a week to go until the regular season kicks off, the Rangers contemplate the use of a 4-man rotation as opposed to the traditional 5-man. Each can offer certain advantages but I lean to plead with a 4-man rotation and hope the Rangers don’t plead the 5th in days to come. The 4-man rotation protects the integrity of the roster and gives the Rangers the best amount of options for available bench and bullpen assignments.
The Injury Bug
Luckily, the off-season and the spring has been very mild on the injury front with little impact to the roster as a whole. However, of the about 10 likely rotation options, three are impacted by injury.
Andrew Cashner, who was diagnosed with bicep tendinitis earlier in the month on 3/2. The club was said to take things slow in Cashner’s rehabilitation but Cashner has progressed quite well in the relatively quick recovery process. I believe Cashner is due on an MLB mound no later than mid-April if there are no setbacks. Cashner is expected to begin the season on the 10-day DL and should hopefully be ready to pitch shortly after he is eligible to be taken off of the DL.
Chi Chi Gonzalez was also in contention for a spot in the rotation, but with recent (3/17) revelation of his partial UCL tear he will not be expected to impact any MLB games anytime soon, and his projection is cloudy at best. He will take the wait/rest/non-surgical PRP injection route for rehabilitation and won’t throw until the end of April/beginning of May. He is saying he already feels great after the injection, but Gonzalez will likely begin the season on the 60-day DL, freeing up a 40-man roster spot.
Tyson Ross is also on the road to recovery from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery (10/13/16) and so far has reached many milestones on-time or ahead of time and has given fans a sense of hope for the eventual 2017 rotation. According to Jeff Wilson, that will hopefully materialize sometime in early/mid May. Ross will most likely begin the season on the 10-day DL and use up most if not all of his allowable 30-game rehabilitation assignment.
From the recent news, we know exactly how 1 through 3 will look when the season begins:
- Yu Darvish
- Martin Perez
- Cole Hamels
- <Mystery Man>
Cole Hamels will be slotted in at #3 due purely to his ‘schedule’ for work out and recovery from his spring training starts. This is actually a great spot for Cole due to the 3 spot getting more 5 day rests in between starts in April and May which will be discussed in further detail.
Advantages of a 4-Man Rotation
There is too much here to pass up on especially when the opportunity presents itself. With 2 of the ultimate 5 on the DL to open the season and one of them expected to return 2 weeks into the season, the idea begins to seem more plausible. The last time the club had the option was....well I don’t really like to talk about that year, but this application for a 4-man rotation is indeed valid.
- The schedule allows for it (when does that happen?)
- Cashner is due back 2 weeks after season begins, and he slots in perfectly
- Ross is due back in early/mid May, and he too slots in perfectly
- The rotation ends up looking like Hamels-Darvish-Perez-Cashner-Ross after Ross’s debut
- The club only needs to decide on one stop-gap starting pitcher until May, instead of 2
- With 1 less off-day in May the front end still receives multiple 5 days of rest
- No longer does the club need to go with a short bench in order to get a deep bullpen
- Or the club could still go with a short bench, and get a deeper bullpen
I’m sure I’m missing a few but now you get the idea. In the club’s scenario where both Cashner & Ross are on the shelf, this option gives the club a workable way to optimize the rotation in the early months. I recognize that preserving the health and stamina of Hamels and Darvish are extremely important but there will be plenty of instances in the season where a spot start on numerous occasions from a low leverage long arm will be utilized. This has never changed, and would also be the case with a 5-man rotation to extend stamina of the rotation.
The 4th Man
So who will be the 4th man in the rotation? Here are the guys I believe the club views as in contention for the spot based off of primarily who is still in the major league camp and not injured:
- Mike Hauschild
- Dillon Gee
- A.J. Griffin
- Nick Martinez
This player will make 6 starts in April/May and needs to either slot into the bullpen to be a long arm/low leverage/spot-starting reliever or needs to be someone who can be optioned to Round Rock.
Hauschild cannot be optioned to Round Rock. However, I imagine he will make the club as the primary low leverage arm in the bullpen due to his rule-5 status. He will need to remain on the active 25-man roster all season long or returned to the Astros organization. Stashing him in this role will expose him less and increase the chances that the club is likely to keep him around all season long.
Gee, in a sense, can be optioned but since he has 5+ major league service years he is considered a ‘veteran’ and can decline a minor league assignment or option. Regardless, he gets his $2m once added to the 25-man roster so it makes picking him as an option troublesome as he is somewhat immovable. Gee was purely a depth move for multiple rotation impacting injuries. I believe the club asks him to stick around until his 6/1 opt-out as further injury depth for the rotation or bullpen. There aren’t a lot of clubs looking for TOS recovering former MORP/BORP types at the start of the season so I think there is a decent chance he sticks around.
Gamboa is a great option too and...has options too. Gamboa was previously on this list but was optioned yesterday so it’s official he is no longer an....option.
Nick Martinez has pitched well late in spring training. I could definitely picture Nick winning the #4 spot. He has one more major league option available and I could definitely see him grabbing the 4 spot or winning a bullpen role. However, Banister has recently mentioned the club visions him as a starter only. So that makes the decision of starter vs. bullpen quite easy.
However, there’s one guy who’s already on the payroll, the 40-man & fits both criterion above, and his name is A.J. Griffin. He checks off all the boxes in terms of flexibility once our 5 guys in the rotation are healthy and starting games. If Hauschild makes the opening day bullpen, then A.J. can be optioned back to Round Rock after Ross is activated, and will remain there if or until someone is injured or under-performing. Or he can move into a bullpen role. A.J. really does give the club the best flexibility. I hate using spring training stats, but Griffin in certain aspects hasn’t been any worse than either Gee or Gamboa. Both Gee and Gamboa have been hit a lot more than Griffin. Gamboa has put himself in bad situations but was able to pull himself out of them. Gee has been quite on or off and nothing close to spectacular. We don’t have Statcast for spring but Griffin looks like he’s getting quite a bit of swing and misses on his fastball which is the obvious case when he’s pitching well.
However, look for the club to promote Martinez if Griffin proves to be extremely ineffective in his first 2-3 starts. Once Ross debuts, Martinez could be moved into a bullpen role if the club’s vision on Martinez changes in a way to avoid using his option.
Theoretically, here is how the rotation will look like and how many days of rest each pitcher will get for the month of April and May.
The schedules are based on Andrew Cashner making his Ranger debut on April 15th in Seattle where he slots in between Perez and Hamels. Effectively the rotation is “1-2-5-3-4”, or Darvish-Perez-Cashner-Hamels-Griffin. The days rest look pretty grim in April. Darvish, Perez, Griffin and Cashner all receive one 5 day rest interval. Hamels ends up receiving two. But where the schedule lacks rest in April, is made up in May where there is a total of 11 intervals of 5 days rest.
Ross should be activated from the DL shortly after Cashner, and put on rehabilitation assignment. He should finish that assignment by or on May 12th which is the maximum days allowed for a pitcher rehabilitation assignment. Ross will make his Ranger debut on May 12th in Arlington against Oakland and slot in the rotation between Cashner and Hamels. This allocation gives the rotation the one-two-punch of Hamels and Darvish on back to back starts. You can essentially envision the rotation as Hamels-Darvish-Perez-Cashner-Ross from this point on. Every single pitcher in the month of May will receive at least two intervals of 5 days of rest with the exception of Griffin who will be bumped by Ross after one start in May. Also with this assignment, Hamels receives a very generous three intervals of 5 days of rest in May. Ross also receives back-to-back 5 days of rest intervals after his first two starts which could be of great impact to his recovery and return.
Who do you think would win the 4th spot?
This poll is closed
Multiple. Club ends up using a 5-man.