Bullpenning was all the rage in 2018, but the Yankees may go against that trend by transitioning to a six man rotation in 2019.
As a franchise, the New York Yankees are much more committed to tradition than innovation. That may change a little bit in 2019. Aaron Boone and company are at least toying with the idea of going with a six-man pitching rotation to begin the season.
The team’s ability and willingness to commit to the unusual tactic will depend greatly on what pitchers they can acquire this offseason. At the moment, four spots in the rotation are spoken for. Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia all return from last year’s team. James Paxton was acquired from Seattle to slot somewhere toward the top of the rotation as well.
There can be no question that the Yankees are firmly committed to the idea of bringing in one more big name starter. Patrick Corbin is arguably the team’s top free agent target. He and his wife personally visited with team officials on Thursday. He left the Bronx without agreeing to a deal, but most believe the Yankees enjoy a slight lead in the race for his services.
According to Jayson Stark, the team might not stop at just signing Corbin. Instead, several agents have informed him that the Yankees might follow up a move for Corbin by inking another top-quality starter. Specifically, J.A. Happ and Nathan Eovaldi would still be of interest to Cashman and company.
The idea of going to a six-man rotation isn’t entirely new. The Angels toyed around with the idea last season to protect Shohei Ohtani from pitching too many innings. Clearly his injury relieved the Angels of the need to commit to the tactic, but they might have stuck with it if Ohtani had remained healthy.
It’s particularly interesting that the Yankees would choose to employ this strategy at the same time that other teams are gravitating toward using multiple relievers to piece together nine innings. New York may be trying to zig while the rest of MLB zags.
The real attraction of going with six starters for the Yankees would be to reduce the pitching workload on everyone involved. At his age, Sabathia will definitely struggle to stay healthy for a full season. If the Yankees get 25 starts out of Sabathia this season, they should be very pleased.
Paxton has a pretty extensive injury history too. He threw 160.1 innings for the Mariners last year, but that was his career high. The organization would be foolish to think he’s going to suddenly become a consistent 200 innings per year pitcher when he arrives in the Bronx.
Tanaka and Severino also can benefit from more rest. Tanaka missed substantial time last year after injuring himself on the base paths. Severino didn’t miss a lot of starts, but a week or two off down the stretch could have helped him once October arrived. Some baseball purists may rebel against the idea of going from five to six starters, but it makes a ton of sense given the rigors of today’s game.
The simple truth is that every team needs at least six starters to make it through an entire season. For reference, the Yankees used 12 different pitchers to start games last season. If the market allows Cashman to acquire six good starters, there’s no reason Aaron Boone shouldn’t begin the season by using every option at his disposal.