Six men in the rotation? The Braves say yes; I say, ‘I wouldn’t’

Is keeping Medlen in the rotation worth the risk of meddling? (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Is keeping Medlen in the rotation worth the risk of meddling? (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

For half a season the Braves couldn’t find enough good starting pitchers. Now they have so many they’re planning to deploy a six-man rotation. They’re not doing this because they’re desperate. They’re doing it because they think it’ll make a rotation that has finally begun to function work even better.

Here we return to a fairly key phrase: “A rotation that has finally begun to function.”

And here we note: The Braves are tinkering with what, to get ungrammatical, not only ain’t broke but what, not so long ago, was a mess.

The Braves see it this way: Tommy Hanson is due back from the disabled list, and it would make no sense to ship him to the bullpen or Gwinnett. Hanson has proved he’s a big-league starter. (Even in this lesser season, he has won 12 games.) Kris Medlen, deputized as Hanson’s replacement, has won two of his three starts with an ERA of 2.16, and the Braves like that, too.

Tim Hudson is a rotation fixture. The retread Ben Sheets has made himself one (five quality starts in six tries). Paul Malholm was imported to be a starter, and he’s 2-for-2 in quality starts since his arrival and 8-for-8 over his past six weeks. And Mike Minor left after six innings Monday night against San Diego with the Braves trailing 3-0 but having posted his sixth quality start in his past seven appearances — this after managing four in his first 15.

Say it again: The five-man rotation is working. The Braves have the National League’s best ERA since the All-Star break. Not coincidentally, they also have baseball’s best record since July 5. But rotations can be capricious things: Starting pitchers are conditioned to take a turn every five days, not six. One more day mightn’t seem a big deal to us laypeople, but you shudder at the thought of a starting five that struggled to gain traction losing its grip because somebody got too cute.

Even as he was announcing the move Monday, manager Fredi Gonzalez acted as if he was knocking on wood. In baseball, gluts tend to work themselves out, he kept saying. The Braves are going to the six-pack, he said, “as of 5 o’clock on Monday, but it could change at any time. When I walk back and talk to Bubba [head trainer Jeff Porter], it could change.”

About here, you’re saying: “They’re only planning to do it through Aug. 29. What can go wrong in 2 1/2 weeks?” Well, we return to August 2011. The Braves had won six of seven and were headed to New York for a weekend series against the Mets, whereupon Hurricane Irene forced the Saturday and Sunday games to be postponed. The Braves were already scheduled to be off on Monday. General manager Frank Wren believes that unplanned long weekend threw his team off its stride and led into the Epic Collapse of September.

Yes, there’s a chance this six-man rotation will do no harm and actually keep the Braves’ arms fresher for September (and presumably October), but why take the chance at all? Medlen has made three strong starts, yes, but he’s not by trade a full-blooded starter. He’s a spot guy, and he has value as a reliever. It might not be fair — and I’m aware that Medlen is a fan favorite — but fairness shouldn’t be the first consideration with a playoff berth in play. Unless/until Hanson proves he can’t win games, Medlen should return to the bullpen.

These next 2 1/2 weeks are apt to tell the tale of this regular season. After lately beating up on lesser lights, the Braves now must face the second-in-the-West Dodgers here, the division-leading Nationals and Giants at their places and the Padres, who have been rather good since the All-Star break, both here and there. The Braves are in great shape today. But they were in great shape last August.

I’m not predicting the six-man rotation will blow this. (Then again, I didn’t think anything could blow it a year ago.) I’m just saying: The Braves worked all season to get this rotation into shape. It’d be a shame to have anything mess it up.

By Mark Bradley

128 comments Add your comment

Sorry Tommy

August 13th, 2012
6:44 pm

Mark, I have to agree. Tommy Hanson just doesn’t have it this year. Let him work it out in the bullpen. Medlen has worked himself into the rotation and hasn’t shown any reason why he can’t handle it. He’ll be back in the pen by playoff time in a short series.

Stat Bully

August 13th, 2012
6:45 pm

Will you and Schultz come to blows over this issue?

Matt

August 13th, 2012
6:46 pm

It’s not for the whole season, it’s for a couple weeks. Settle down, it’ll be fine. Sheets, Hudson, Hanson could all use the rest.

Sir Stealth

August 13th, 2012
6:46 pm

Pitchers routinely have an extra day between starts due to the usual off days in the season. There will be no off days during the brief time that the 6-man rotation is employed, so that can’t really be called a factor. I wouldn’t normally be in favor of this, but there are just so many factors coming together in its favor that it makes sense for 2.5 weeks. Good outside the box move by the Braves.

gtguy

August 13th, 2012
6:48 pm

misterwax

August 13th, 2012
6:49 pm

first, and let it ride…. a six shooter will win.

Paddy

August 13th, 2012
6:51 pm

Leave it at 5, please!

Dave

August 13th, 2012
6:54 pm

Enter your comments here

M

August 13th, 2012
6:56 pm

I predict that no matter what happens, there will be plenty of people in here saying it was obvious that the Braves should have done the opposite of whatever it is they decide to do.

Dave

August 13th, 2012
6:57 pm

Sorry about that. So from your piece, Medlen sits just beyond the outfield fence, when over the same period of time he’s better than Hanson? Or, offend Hanson and demote him to the pen? Either even put off by going with six guys until proven wrong. Seems to me there isn’t a downside to a six man rotation other than fear of last year.

Hillbilly D

August 13th, 2012
6:58 pm

Hard for pitchers to stay sharp in a 6 man rotation. But I still believe pitchers ought to try to pitch complete games, so what do I know?

Leroy

August 13th, 2012
6:59 pm

I agree that the Braves should not go to a six-man rotation, but Hanson is the odd man out. Of the six he gives you the least chance to win.

Medlen has proven he’ll do what the TEAM needs him to do, Hanson needs to prove he’s about more than just his go/next contract. If he’s not willing to move to the bullpen Gwinnett would love to have him.

Larry

August 13th, 2012
7:12 pm

In just a matter of weeks now, both Hanson and Jurrjens will no longer be Atlanta Braves. So why bother with what’s working with what isn’t part of our future…and for good reason?

UPGRAYEDD

August 13th, 2012
7:17 pm

The very pitchers you fear will become ineffective because of the extra day off are the ones that most need the rest. Sheets hasn’t pitched in years and no one knows when he’ll hit a wall….last night he showed us a glimpse of that. And if Hanson fails to perform in his starts….drop him to the bullpen. We need Minor’s left arm in the rotation, and the rest are fixtures.

SlowBall

August 13th, 2012
7:19 pm

ESPN crew last night, especially Hershiser, made a big deal out of scouting reports that Sheets may be on the verge of “dead arm.” Velocity dropping, fastball command fading. Hudson is no longer automatic as his last start might suggest. Who knows what Hanson will look like when he gets back? The Braves have no off days for a few weeks; can’t see where the extra rest will harm the rotation at all. Go with six.

G

August 13th, 2012
7:20 pm

You condridict yourself Bradley. You say don’t tinker with what’s working but then say send Medlin to the bullpen. How has Hanson showed he can be relied on after the end of last year and after the all star break this year?

George Stein

August 13th, 2012
7:22 pm

Was this Fredi or Frank’s call?

Bravesfan

August 13th, 2012
7:24 pm

20 games in 20 days with no off day
Let it ride bro because it’s ok to take a chance
It will work it’s way out with any injury or poor performer in the 6
You people worry too much

Mark Bradley

August 13th, 2012
7:29 pm

Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.

Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

G

August 13th, 2012
7:33 pm

Isn’t that what you are saying? And why is Hanson immediately back in based on his last few starts?

Medlen

August 13th, 2012
7:40 pm

Medlen by trade is not a starter, so that is reason enough to write off his success starting games? He’s been one of our best and most consistent pitchers, and personally I don’t care about what his “trade” is. We need arms getting it done, and statistically, Minor has been our worst pitcher (by FAR). You want to keep a 5 man? Send Minor to the pen.

And if you believe Wren that one scheduling snafu during a hurricane can lead a team to lose a 9 game lead with only a month to play, then I have a bridge to sell you. Of course Wren is going to blame the collapse on nature. If it’s nature’s fault, then it can’t be the team he put together or the manager he hired to blame for a monumental collapse. Leave Medlen in the rotation, be it 5 or six man. If someone has to go, send Minor. He is not that good, and certainly hasn’t shown the consistency that Medlen has. I don’t care if he is a lefty.

Send WHO to the 'pen?

August 13th, 2012
7:43 pm

Nice of Prado to bail out Minor. Minor is terrible. Plain and simple. You want to hear a joke? Have someone read aloud Mike Minor’s FIP. You’ll laugh so hard that a little pee might even come out.

Mark Bradley

August 13th, 2012
7:43 pm

It’s my belief that you’d get more from Medlen in the bullpen than Minor or Hanson.

MarvelGoose

August 13th, 2012
7:45 pm

I think Mark’s just jealous that Shultz thought of it first and then talked Freddie into it.

Ken Stallings

August 13th, 2012
7:46 pm

You and Schultz should now have a point-counterpoint type thing — like the old deal on 60 Minutes!

Send WHO to the 'pen?

August 13th, 2012
7:49 pm

Ok then send Minor to Gwinette, because Medlen will give you more as a starter AND reliever than Minor. So you’d rather have Minor getting knocked around every fifth day (expecting a loss and wasting arms in the pen) than Medlen taking his spot and WINNING games? I understand Medlen can bridge the gap, but Christian martinez has been good this year and if oft overlooked.

My point is keep the best pitchers on the staff. Minor is not in our top 5.

Brent

August 13th, 2012
7:50 pm

The glut of starting pitching won’t last. We’ll be lucky to have 4 legitimate starters by the time October rolls around

Hillbilly D

August 13th, 2012
7:51 pm

What was Walt Whitman’s view on a 6 man rotation?

Brent

August 13th, 2012
7:53 pm

Or count-pointercount as in Saturday Night Live. Mark you ignorant slut.

Moy

August 13th, 2012
7:53 pm

Wouldn’t the Nats like to have this problem as they look to shut Strasburg down. Fresh arms to the extent they exist at this pout in the season may allow team to catch Nats. Some hot hitting by the ugglas of the world wouldn’t hurt either.
Showed heart last night in 9th as mets horrid pen almost coughed up lead.

If Mark managed the braves

August 13th, 2012
7:58 pm

his best pitchers would be in the pen, so they can bridge the gap from the 4th inning to the 7th. Nevermind the starters that come in first and put the team down a bunch of runs, as long as you have a guy that can come in if a below average starter gets a bit tired in the 3rd inning; and by some miracle the braves aren’t down by 5 just yet.

More important for medlen to hold a hypothetical lead mid game than to be one of our top 3 starting pitchers. Especially if we are talking 5 game series.

Time

August 13th, 2012
8:01 pm

At least one AJC columist has got half right. Medlen should be in the rotation, Maholm should go to Gwinnett to be emergency starter. Was a bad trade two weeks ago, gets worse by the day.

Pitchers

August 13th, 2012
8:02 pm

Why not. We will have better rested arms than Nats as they are gettiting ready to shut Strasburg down. Don’t they wish they had this problem.Plus there are no off days over next few weeks. Now if only some bats got hot. uggla etc…..
Gutty performance last night as Mets almost choked 5 run lead with 2 outs in ninth. Man their pen has problems

Sonny Clusters

August 13th, 2012
8:03 pm

It is mostly Jeff’s fault for bringing this up because Fredi said he “Never thought about it” and we believe him. This is fun with Ol’Jeff touting the six-man and Mark saying “no way” . . . it reminds us of the days of Bisher and Outlar and the AFL or NFL dialogue. Yes or no. Right or left. Up or down. Covers Dixie Like the Dew The South’s Standard Newspaper. Clear and concise and whatever. One man’s opinion. Goose and the Gander. T!t for tat. Can’t say that.

docsbro

August 13th, 2012
8:08 pm

I wonder if this was the same discussion they had when they went from three man rotations to four, or four to five? It can’t hurt I don’t think. All our pitchers are pitching well but we also know that they are VERY fragile. Extra day I say could be good for these guys, but we will never know unless we try. I say DO IT!! Six man rotation…

Brian

August 13th, 2012
8:08 pm

Medlen deserves to start and you know he wants to start. Hanson may be able to work through this and get better soon. Hudson and Sheets, as many have pointed out, could use the extra rest. I like the idea by Fredi.

Brian

August 13th, 2012
8:13 pm

I could see the argument for Hanson in that he was a pretty solid pitcher the last couple of seasons and just because he struggles some we let a guy pitch who has never started a full season in the majors. Medlen also would be great in the bullpen as well. However, we have seen how well Kris has pitched in his starts, so why not go to six and keep them both as starters?

Radio GaGa

August 13th, 2012
8:25 pm

I like this move. The Braves are showing some imagination for a change. It’s quite a contrast from Bobby’s annual bullpen blowout.

Josh

August 13th, 2012
8:31 pm

This move makes sense from a health perspective, but the guys who give us the best chance to win (Hudson and Sheets) are now pitching less often.

Mark Bradley

August 13th, 2012
8:51 pm

Meanwhile, here at the game: The Braves are down 2-0 through five cantos.

sleeze

August 13th, 2012
9:17 pm

Well, Mark, as you know, you ARE the baseball expert. Must be nice to have an opinion on everything..

Sid Slid

August 13th, 2012
9:25 pm

Mark, I love the Whitman quote. I use it often.

Matts Pythons

August 13th, 2012
9:27 pm

Who do you take out of the rotation, Medlen? Are you crazy? He might be our best starter. Basically we have 6 guys who can start, we have 20 straight games, once this run is over, the person who needs to be dropped will be apparent, if they are all even healthy….unless they all pitch lights out, and that would not be a real bad thing.

Mark Bradley's Fan Club

August 13th, 2012
9:34 pm

Mark… please re-think your opinion. The Fan Club is currently at loggerheads with the focus of its adoration.

Zing

August 13th, 2012
9:38 pm

Respectfully, Mr. Bradley… it’s not about what’s “fair.” Baseball can be a cruel game– why? Precisely because it’s NOT fair.

Medlen deserves to start because… he’s good. He deserves it, not in a “aw, shucks, let the boy play! Rudy– I mean, Medlen–never misses a practice! The boy’s got heart!”

No, that’s not it. He’s good–really good. He’s easily our no. 2 or no. 3 starter. Why in the good green earth would you banish him to the bullpen for a less effective player? You don’t.

OTP

August 13th, 2012
9:52 pm

It might be time to worry more about the offense, (or, lack thereof), again.

One Long Eyebrow

August 13th, 2012
9:55 pm

Will Uggla end the night hitting .214?

Mark Bradley

August 13th, 2012
9:59 pm

Braves lose 4-1. It felt worse than that.

Padres pitched great, though.

One Long Eyebrow

August 13th, 2012
10:01 pm

Nope. Uggla is now hitting .213.

SG10

August 13th, 2012
10:04 pm

Here is one thought..if the Braves starter go every 6 days for the next three weeks, returning to every 5th day would make it a ’short rest’ for them? :) it seems you can always see the cup half full or half empty. Right? :)