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White Sox Wed May 18 2011
Phil Humber's start last Friday signaled the beginning of an experiment for manager Ozzie Guillen and the Chicago White Sox.
While Guillen is anything but conventional at the helm of the White Sox, his decision to go with a six-man rotation for 20 days seems especially unusual. But with no off days until June 2, it works for him.
With Jake Peavy's successful comeback start on Wednesday, his first since undergoing surgery to repair a detached lat muscle near his throwing shoulder last July, the White Sox are blessed/cursed with too many pitchers Guillen wants in his starting rotation.
His solution? Let them all start.
"I hope all those guys throw the ball good, so we keep it there," Guillen said. "The only reason we change it is if somebody struggles or we need more help in bullpen or that thing don't work. But we have a pretty tough stretch of 20 days. The way the starters throw right now, it's a perfect time to do it. We'll see after that how that works. We have a Plan A and Plan B if everything don't work. We'll figure out what to do."
But some would argue that the decision to have a six-man rotation, even for a limited time, is a bad one.
With the six-man rotation, half of the rotation will have one fewer start, which equates to (on average) seven fewer innings pitched this month. Over the length of the entire season, it would be around 56 innings of lost pitching. But is limiting fatigue for a major-league pitcher a good thing?
Former Cy Young winner (and Ph.D in kinesiology) Mike Marshall was very critical of the decision in an interview with the Tribune.
"The more an athlete rests, the weaker he becomes," Marshall told us. "The body does not get stronger by sitting around doing nothing. You lose bone density, you lose muscle fitness. ... It's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. ... The research is clear in swimming and track, where they do meaningful research, that rest is the worst thing you can do for the body if you're trying to be a high-quality, high-intensity athlete."
With the six-man rotation set up, a setup these starters have never faced, there's a possibility that they fall out of routine and struggle more during their starts. And more rest doesn't necessarily equal better health -- there's no real correlation between more rest (beyond 4 days) between starts and injury prevention.
With the six-man experiment, the White Sox ignore their biggest issues: the instability of the bullpen and their spotty offensive performance.
Of the 40-man roster, 12 of those are pitchers. Of those 12, six are now starting pitchers, removing the possibility of an extra bullpen arm or an extra bat that could help with run support.
Though the White Sox finally have a closer in Sergio Santos, who is 6-for-6 in save chances and hasn't allowed a run in 20 innings this season, most of the bullpen remains in distress. Matt Thornton, Will Ohman and Tony Pena all have ERAs over 6.00 and Chris Sale isn't much better.
But with a struggling bullpen, and a plethora of starters, wouldn't it make more sense to convert one of the six starters to a long-relief position? But then the question becomes, which pitcher should make the transition?
Hopefully after this 20-day experiment, the answer becomes clearer, but with Ozzie you never know.
Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd and John Danks will keep their slots in the rotation, unless they are injured. The $8 million dollar man Edwin Jackson will also remain as a starter. That leaves Humber and Peavy vying for the last rotation spot.
Humber's early-season success comes as a big surprise as he moved to 3-3 with a 3.18 ERA after a solid six-inning win against the A's on Friday. His success this season was what prompted the six-man rotation in the first place, and it seems as long as he's being productive, he'll remain in the rotation as well.
Then there's Peavy. His White Sox career has been plagued by injury ('09 ankle injury, '10 shoulder injury), but he would make a lot of sense as a long-reliever in the bullpen.
A lighter workload could keep his lethal arsenal of pitches refined and effective -- and having a pitcher who can work pitches and get strikeouts like Peavy would be a strong asset to the sinking bullpen.
So for now, it's a six-man rotation where the best pitchers start less, the worst pitchers don't move to the bullpen, and the starters learn to make adjustments to a new routine for this 20-day experiment.
But if the six-man rotation turns out to be effective, what does Guillen do?
His unconventional management style makes it likely that could continues the experiment longer, as the White Sox try to make up a 10-game deficit in the AL Central.
Cee Angi writes about baseball at EssenceOfBaseball.com.