Red Sox Won't Hush Whispers of Six-Man Rotation, Possibly Colossal Mistake

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↵Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston has a really interesting look at Daisuke Matsuzaka's recovery, but the fascinating part of the story is the bit of baseball history it might entail for the Red Sox. ↵

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↵⇥⇥The club has not ruled out using a six-man rotation, (pitching coach John) Farrell said Sunday, but stressed that any discussion is purely hypothetical until Matsuzaka is ready. And that is still weeks away, as Matsuzaka tries to make up for time lost to what the team called an upper back injury.⇥⇥ ↵⇥

↵⇥⇥...⇥⇥ ↵⇥

↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥

↵⇥⇥"Where we go from that point, who goes to the bullpen, does it bring back in the thought of a six-man rotation? I know for the fan or a baseball person who looks at the situation, it's why don't you just do that? On paper, [a six-man rotation] seems to be the elixir that will answer everything."⇥⇥ ↵⇥

↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥

↵⇥⇥No team has used a six-man rotation over the course of a full season. Many teams have trouble finding three or four quality starters, never mind six. A six-man rotation would have a ripple effect on a team's bullpen, Farrell notes.⇥⇥ ↵⇥

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↵An elixir? The Red Sox might just poison their season this way. ↵

↵The problem with keeping Matsuzaka around as a sixth starter is that he's a magnificent enigma. He was decidedly bad in 2009, throwing 59.1 innings but only producing 0.5 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs. In 2007 and 2008, he was good, accounting for 3.9 and 3.3 WAR, respectively. But projecting Matsuzaka's performance going forward, with multiple nagging injuries and concerns about his conditioning mitigating his substantial talent, is a crapshoot. ↵

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↵It's not so hard to predict that the top of the Sox rotation will be excellent. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett have both been aces, each producing more than 5 WAR in both 2008 and 2009; John Lackey hasn't been as good over the last two years, but was over 5 WAR in 2005, 2006, and 2007, and has a lower career marks in ERA and Fielding Independent Pitching than Dice-K. The back end of the rotation is closer to Matsuzaka's level -- neither Tim Wakefield or Clay Buchholz is demonstrably better than Matsuzaka -- but that's not why this move would be bad. ↵

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↵It's because giving more starts to Matsuzaka at the expense of giving starts to aces is a colossally stupid idea. ↵

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↵Dividing the 162 starts available in a year by six starters would give each player 27 starts; dividing that same number by five starters gives each 32.4 starts. That assumes perfect health, of course, and it's probably more realistic to guess that Matsuzaka would come back in late April, if not later, which could mean he would get about 22 to 24 starts, while the other starters get closer to 28 each. ↵

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↵In any case, it's redistribution of innings from excellent pitchers to those who are merely very good. Are the Red Sox so confident in Matsuzaka's abilities that they want to take away 10 or more highly valuable starts from the Beckett-Lester-Lackey trio, possibly add stress to a six-man bullpen, and take their chances on a guy with a recent history of injury? ↵

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↵My guess is that they're not -- no one has called the Red Sox, under Theo Epstein, stupid -- but that the enormous price tag for Dice-K and the interest he draws from Japan will weigh heavily into the decision-making process. Giving Matsuzaka starts could also be a way of making sure he still has some value in a possible trade. ↵

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↵But it just doesn't make sense if the Red Sox want to compete for a playoff spot. They can't afford to give up starts from their best pitchers, because in a division with both the Yankees and Rays, one win might decide which team plays into October. ↵

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↵Unless, that is, this six-man rotation -- which serves at the point mostly as a hypothetical for Red Sox writers to scribble about and fans to hyperventilate over -- somehow gets Beckett-Lester-Lackey more of the starts in the more valuable games against the Yankees and Rays. If Epstein et al. can figure that out, it could be an all-time brilliant baseball stratagem. ↵

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↵Until that comes to pass, the hand-wringing in New England will be justified. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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