By Steve Kallas
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While you have to go back to the beginnings of Major League Baseball, once upon a time baseball pitchers pitched on two days’ rest.
For example, Cy Young began his career in the early 1890s averaging 47 starts a season from 1891-94. The great Walter Johnson, from 1912-1914, started 50, 48 and 51 games, respectively.
By the 1920s and 30s, however, teams had switched to having their pitchers start on three days’ rest (a four-man rotation), where, instead of starting somewhere in the high 40s or even 50 games a year, your top starting pitchers would “only” start 38 or 39 games a year based on a 154-game season.
After expansion in 1961, when the schedule was lengthened to the present 162 games, a regular season top starter in a four-man rotation who made every start would start 40 or even 41 games a season.
That all changed, according to pitching and broadcasting great Jim Kaat, in the late 1960s. When I interviewd Kaat in 2001, he said that the Mets of the late 1960s were the first team to go to giving their young pitchers four days’ rest between starts, meaning they went to a five-man rotation. Thus, your top starting pitchers, who didn’t miss a start, would start 34 or 35 times a season.
In 1969, for example, Tom Seaver and Gary Gentry each started 35 games. Jerry Koosman started 32 games. For you hard-core Met fans, Don Cardwell and Jim McAndrew pretty much shared the fourth spot, starting 21 games apiece, and somebody named Nolan Ryan started 10 games while also working as a reliever.
While all other teams didn’t follow immediately, by the 1980s the five-man rotation was here to stay.
WHICH BRINGS US TO 2014 (ACTUALLY 2015)
With pitchers young and old, good and bad, with poor mechanics (Stephen Strasburg) and supposedly flawless mechanics (Matt Harvey) seemingly dropping like flies in need of Tommy John surgery, one solution to at least stem the injury tide could be the six-man rotation. Based on the history of baseball, it’s coming.
The only question is when?
While you can’t yet compare the 2015 Mets to the 1969 world champion Mets, you can see a similar vein of young pitching coupled with a new-age need to protect all of these pitchers. Do you think the Yankees, for example, should think about pitching Masahiro Tanaka every sixth day when he returns to pitching this season or next?
We already know it can work. This season, Hyun-jin Ryu of the Dodgers is 7-1 (with one no-decision) when pitching with extra rest. A few years ago, Josh Beckett was something like 9-2 with an extra day of rest.
If the Mets keep all (or even most) of their starting pitchers, they will have enough to at least try a six-man rotation. A healthy Matt Harvey, an old Bartolo Colon, John Niese, Dillon Gee, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler and maybe Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero all could benefit from an extra day of rest.
If this goes against your “traditionalist” sense of baseball, it’s something that first was changed in the 1920s or so, and then was changed in the 1960s and ’70s and will eventually be changed in the 2010s or 20s.
Eventually, in another 40 years or so, we might see the Japanese way — pitch once a week.
While many will say there isn’t enough pitching to fill five-man rotations, the reality is the 2015 Mets might be able to pull it off.
Again, it’s not a matter of if league-wide, but when.
The team that is first to do it, assuming that you have enough starting pitchers to do it, will have an advantage until other teams follow suit. Take, for example, the proliferation of the infield shift this season, which happened a few years after Joe Maddon and the Rays were ahead of the crowd. That advantage they enjoyed is now diminishing.
The Mets might be the first to go six deep in the rotation — and enjoy all the benefits of doing so — as early as next season.
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