5 Man Rotation And Pitch Counts

Halladay photo taken from Google Images

Is the five man rotation actually helpful? Do pitch counts help or hurt a teams chance to win?

It is my firm belief that the 5 man rotation does nothing but take starts from good pitchers and give them to guys who should be in the bull pen. The 5 man rotation came about in the early 70’s and since then the average number of starts by a teams #1 pitcher has also dropped. This means your best pitcher has less chances to win because he is sitting in the dugout. On top of less starts pitchers are throwing less complete games. Games are being shortened because of middle relief and closers but is this actually helping your team win? Why take the ball from your best pitcher and give it to a bull pen guy? People argue pitch count and injury prevention for the reason a 5 man rotation is a good thing. I don’t understand how people do not see both of these take the ball from your best pitchers and put them in the hands of guys who were not good enough to be starters. The chart below will allow you to see how pitching has changed over the years. It should be obvious to note that the number of starts per year directly affects the avg wins per season. This was a stat directly affected by the 5 man rotation. Another number to look at is the starts /win, this is how many starts a pitcher has to make to get a win. I was trying to see if complete games affect this number and could only see a very loose connection, I will note however the two players on this list with the highest percentage of complete games (Feller and Spahn) have the lowest start/win ratio. Also, please note these are not adjusted to the 162 game schedule, so a player like Bob Feller would have made two more starts per year and added roughly 20 more wins for his career.

So lets compare two players with a close start/win ratios, one from before the 5 man rotation and one from after. We will compare Warren Spahn 1.83 and Pedro Martinez 1.86. Spahn made 8.94 more starts per season then Pedro and averaged 5 more wins then Pedro, we must remember the first 14 years of Spahn’s career he played in a 154 game schedule not the 162 Pedro always played in. If you add 8.94 starts/season based on his 1.86 starts/win ratio Pedro would increase his average wins to 16.96 wins/season. This is a 4.8 wins/season lift in his average. You must understand that a lot of teams miss the playoffs by less then this margin, and you must also understand I did this stat for only the ace of each team, imagine what the number 2 starters stats would look like. Maybe he only adds 1-2 wins per season but add those to your number 1’s total and that is enough to go from missing the playoffs to winning the division. When looking at the chart there are a few outliers, most notably Nolan Ryan who only averaged 12 wins per season despite 28.62 starts/season, but remember how awful his teams were, for more on that check out this link:


Look at 1987 and notice Ryan had a sub 3.00 ERA and was 8-16. This is why his numbers are so messed up. Although Zack Greinke has a bad start/win ration his team is also awful and I think everyone knows he should get the ball more.

The five man rotation is keeping teams from winning more games, perhaps instead of worrying about the extra day of rest they should worry about pitch count per start with the goal of keeping each pitcher around 105 to 115. There is currently a system called PAP in which most major league teams follow. PAP stands for Pitchers abuse points, in which pitchers are given a point for every pitch they throw past number 105 in a given game. Also, the system takes into consideration the pitchers age and how long they have been in the league. The system eliminates issues of simple pitch count because if a pitcher throws 180 pitches in two games you may think that is OK because he is averaging 90 pitches per start, but after further evaluation you realize he threw 130 in his previous start and 50 in the following because he had not recovered yet and got shelled. This is where pitch count and arm issues come into play. The 4 man rotation will allow for more starts from your best pitcher and if the team keeps a close eye on pitches thrown per start 3 days rest will be plenty to get you through the season.

For more on PAP check this link out:

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