FanGraphs, Bless You Boys and elsewhere..."/> FanGraphs, Bless You Boys and elsewhere..."/>

The Importance of the 6th Starter

2 of 2

To address the second question, there were a number of teams in the AL who used rookies at their 6th starter last year.  Jake Arrieta made 18 starts with a 4.66 ERA for the woeful O’s last year.  If that doesn’t sound impressive, it was better not only than the man Arrieta replaced David Hernandez (who was pushed to the bullpen) but also better than original rotation members Brad Bergesen and Kevin Millwood.  True rookie Josh Tomlin game the Indians a 4.56 ERA and, amazingly, managed to win more games than he lost.  David Pauley gave the Mariners a 4.07 ERA in 15 2010 starts, after making only 9 major league appearances from 2006 through 2009.  I would argue that these compare favorably not only to Scott Kazmir but also the performance that the Tigers got from veteran starter Armando Galarraga.  And, again, Galarraga (the Tigers’ 6th man) was better not only than Dontrelle Willis but also Jeremy Bonderman and Rick Porcello.  Of course the best performances from 6th men in 2010 were from young non-rookies who did not make the original starting 5 solely because of the depth of the rotation, Trevor Cahill, Brett Cecil, Tommy Hunter & Brian Duensing.  Whether we count Tim Wakefield or Matsuzaka himself as the Red Sox 6th man, neither compares to those four in terms of their performance in 2010.  Royals veteran insurance policy Bruce Chen was ‘average’ for a 6th man with a 4.26 ERA, but that was better than he had pitched in years.  Any production we could reasonably expect to get from a pitcher like Jeremy Bonderman next year would leave him among the worst 6th men in the AL (as they pitched last year, at any rate).

That isn’t to say that signing veterans as insurance doesn’t make sense for some teams.  The Yankees, for example, can afford to pay for players who might not be needed.  The Yankees were blessed last year, in a sense, with an original five that accounted for more than 88% of the team’s starts despite including aging vets Vazquez, Pettitte and Burnett.  That’s good, because they lacked depth entirely.  Their 6th man wound up being Dustin Mosely, with a career 5.28 ERA (5.57 as a starter).  There is a genuine rationale for a team in such a position to sign a player like Freddy Garcia, even if they expect an ERA no better than 5.00 from him.

Does it make sense for the Detroit Tigers?  I disagree fundamentally with the argument that any injury to any of the Tigers starting 5 dooms the season.  6th starters made an average of 18 starts last year, and could very well be the difference in a pennant race.  Certainly we are unlikely to survive a lost season from Scherzer or Verlander, but we could very well weather a lost month or two from one of those or even a lost 5 months from any of the other 3 – provided we got a solid performance from a 6th starter.  However, I disagree just as strongly with the argument that by trading Armando Galarraga or not re-signing Jeremy Bonderman (or a comparable player) the Tigers have assured themselves the worst potential 6th men in baseball.  Andrew Oliver is the presumptive 6th man as of now, and he has performed very well in spring training.  I have no doubt that if Penny had not been signed and Galarraga remained with the team, we would be discussing the battle brewing over that 5th slot.  Again, if Penny had not been signed (and Coke promised a rotation spot so early and so firmly) we would probably be considering Jacob Turner as a long-shot but real candidate to make the rotation out of camp a la Verlander and Porcello.  He is our presumptive 7th man – who could very well make 15 starts for Detroit after a mid-season call-up.  Bonderman or any other veteran filler would not compare to the potential they offer.