CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – There is a reason you don’t see six-man rotation in baseball for more than a stretch at a time.
Generally, teams do not have six capable starters, but in a six-man rotation, any start shorter than five innings each can be damaging to a bullpen.
With Saturday’s return of Danny Salazar, Terry Francona will employ a six-man look, at least for one rotation. After that, however, someone will have to be the odd man out.
“I can’t see us staying like that forever,” the Manager said. “We may do it for the time being. My guess is that there will be a need arise that we have to get back to five just because if you’re going six, there’s no room for someone to have a hiccup, or you kind of get into your bullpen too much. So we’ll see how it goes and if we need to, we can always do something. Or maybe it happens organically.”
At this point, three of those arms are set in stone. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger are for sure a part of the normal five-man look that will be employed.
It is also safe to say that with the return of Salazar, he is also in the mix, even independent of his dominant start. The organization has conditioned him back as a starter, they view him as a starter, and no implosion his next time out would stop Salazar from making a third start.
With that decision all but coming down to Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin, Francona says the team will play it by ear. That may be an indication of how close the competition for the final starting spot really is.
Or maybe the team already has a decision made.
Sending the sixth man to the bullpen is most likely the option employed, rather than demotion. Bauer is out of options, while Tomlin still has two.
However, choosing which pitcher goes to the bullpen is not just a matter of performance, rather a question of fit.
“You can’t just take the five that are maybe doing the best at the moment and shoveling one guy to the bullpen,” Francona said. “That may not help over the course of the next month. Those are all things that we would certainly think about. It’s not just who’s making the start.”
So, what are the indicators that say who would be better out of the ‘pen as opposed to the rotation?
The general thought process assigns velocity towards the top of that list, as you rarely see soft-tossers coming out of the bullpen, while hard throwers who cannot sustain the velocity are normally moved to the ‘pen at some point in their career.
Advantage, or perhaps disadvantage, Bauer.
Pitchers out of the bullpen are more likely to pitch in higher-leverage situations, and a comparison between the two is not pretty.
In 2016, Bauer was above league average in high leverage situations despite a fairly gaudy .340 BABIP. In 2017, Bauer’s OPS against in high leverage spots was a certainly gaudy 1.186. Tomlin’s OPS against in high leverage situations was .833 in 2016 and is at 1.113 this season.
Baseball America lists a fringe-average fastball and a lack of a clear third pitch as other indicators of starters to move to the bullpen.
As far as results against, both starters qualify as having a “fringe-average” fastball, though Bauer’s has the velocity, and the ability to add velocity to his heater could add to the value if he were moved to the ‘pen.
Bauer is also primarily fastball-curve at this point, while Tomlin has an array of fastballs, an effective curveball and a spotty changeup.
As for any advanced metric, RE24 is a run expectancy measurement commonly used to measure relievers, and though the results are somewhat skewed because of their roles, the two pitchers as starters have a microscopic difference. Bauer’s RE24 comes in at -13.78 in 2017, while Tomlin’s sits at -13.69.
If these indicators are driving factors, then Bauer would seem like the obvious candidate to make the move, at least in a vacuum.
The situation is muddied when considering future value, which would tip the odds considerably in Bauer’s favor given his age.
If past overall value is considered, Bauer has also been the better pitcher. Factor that in with age, and the decision to make him a reliever increases potential for lost value that much more.
Moving Bauer to the ‘pen does not mean he has to stay there, and for the Indians to go the rest of 2017 without an injury to a starter seems highly unlikely. In the moment, it seems like the easy choice.