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Should The Cubs Try A Six-Man Rotation?

It would be radical. But it just might work. See how the Cubs might work Carlos Zambrano back in the rotation ... by taking nobody out.

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This feature originally appeared on Bleed Cubbie Blue on May 24, 2010.

It's a fair question, though no team has ever done this on a longterm basis and Lou Piniella is hardly a manager who would try something innovative like this -- in fact, on Saturday he said he won't do it.

But I think it might be something worth examining as Carlos Zambrano returns to the rotation -- whenever that happens. Reportedly, Z is going to throw a simulated game today; he threw only 13 pitches in an efficient 1.1 inning outing on Friday night, but that hardly stretches him out enough to start. On the other hand, it's not as if it's been years since he has started -- it's only been a little over a month. So conceivably, he could be ready to go as early as this weekend.

Tom Gorzelanny, whose turn would have come up today except that it's an off day, instead won't go until later in the week (maybe Wednesday, or maybe not until Friday) with Ryan Dempster taking his normal turn tomorrow. Gorz has pitched well all year. So have the other four starters currently in the rotation -- through Sunday's game, their numbers are as follows:

258 IP, 241 H, 106 ER, 26 HR, 70 BB, 193 K, 13-14 W-L record (20-21 team record in games started by these five), 3.70 ERA

That's all starts made by pitchers other than Carlos Zambrano.

What, exactly, would be the logistics and results of a six-man rotation?

For the sake of this discussion, let's say Z returns to the rotation on Friday against the Cardinals and the Cubs start the six-man rotation then, although Lou now says the return might not happen until the next road trip. Let's further assume that the Cubs keep the six-man for the rest of the season, and not skip turns on off days -- that would, in fact, give each of the six more rest in June, because the Cubs have four off days in June.

Friday is the Cubs' 49th game of the season -- that would mean 114 remaining starts to be divided up among the six starters, and I chose that date for a reason. 114 divided by six is 19 -- that would mean exactly 19 more starts for each of the six starters.

So far this year, Cubs starters have gone six or more innings 36 times (through Sunday, and 29 of those are designated "quality starts," second in the National League):

Ryan Dempster: 9
Randy Wells: 8
Carlos Silva: 6
Tom Gorzelanny: 5
Ted Lilly: 5
Carlos Zambrano: 2

Of those 36 starts, 16 of them have seen the starter still in the game in the seventh inning or later:

Ryan Dempster: 6
Randy Wells: 3
Carlos Silva: 2
Tom Gorzelanny: 2
Ted Lilly: 2
Carlos Zambrano: 1

The latter is the key point. With more rest in between starts, there's no reason that the majority of the starts in a six-man rotation couldn't go into the seventh inning almost every time. Dempster currently leads the staff in innings pitched with 62.2 (and that ranks eighth in the National League). If every pitcher in this rotation went seven innings in every one of his 19 starts, that's 133 innings -- which would result in a little less than 200 innings for Dempster and around 180-190 for the rest of the starters (except Z, who has thrown only 30.2 innings so far this season).

More rest would, I believe, mean more starters going deep into games -- and that would allow the Cubs to reduce the bullpen by one. If you're going that deep, you really only need five relievers and one could be designated "long man," to go into games where a starter really gets pounded early. In fact, that has happened only three times so far this season -- and one of those was a freak, when Gorzo got hit in the shoulder on April 17 when he was throwing pretty well, and got taken out as a precaution. The others were Z's Opening Day meltdown in Atlanta and the thrashing Wells took in Pittsburgh on May 6.

That's it. Three really horrendous starts all season! The Cubs' starting pitching has been a strength. The bullpen has been a real weakness -- so why not take advantage of that strength? It's something that has never really been tried over an extended period of time. If Cubs management wants to really do something innovative that just might work given the personnel they have -- why not?

There's one more thing that this would accomplish. Reducing the pitching staff to 11 would allow the Cubs to recall Sam Fuld or Chad Tracy and have an extra bench player, giving Lou more flexibility off his bench... I believe most of you could think of several situations over the last couple of months where this would have helped. A lot.

It's radical. It's different. And it just might work. Do it, Cubs. Try it. What have you got to lose?