Baseball has been slowly working its way toward more and more pitchers for years. It used to be that you started 40+ games a year, like Cy Young did. Even in the 1970s, special players like Nolan Ryan would break the 40 start a year barrier.
But teams have erred on the side of caution over the years, not wanting to burn out quality arms and in efforts to extend careers, they added starters to their rotation. Your aces these days will start 32 or 33 games if they avoid injury, and there has been some talk of teams adding a sixth man to their rotation to protect pitchers even further.
Not in Tampa Bay though. Often at the forefront of change and outside the box thinking, the 2018 Tampa Bay Rays will look to use a four-man rotation. It sounds like madness, but the Rays have done unconventional things with great success in the past. But can this strategy really work?
Who are the four?
Chris Archer, Blake Snell, Jake Faria, and Nathan Eovaldi. That isn't exactly the 1990s Braves, but it isn't awful. By most people's definition, Chris Archer is an ace. He has a career 3.63 ERA and strikes out more than a hitter per inning while logging 200+ innings. He won't compete at the level of a Clayton Kershaw or Corey Kluber, but Archer is pretty much as reliable as they come and in a good year can be downright nasty with a vicious slider and 95 mph fastball.
It is thanks to Archer that this process is an available option. He'll give you 32 quality starts, while Snell and Faria are solid options.
What happens on the fifth day?
All of this relies on the Rays starting four not getting blown up. If Eovaldi or Faria get chased after just 3.2 innings then the ability to roll through a bullpen day fairly regularly becomes a problem. Injuries will also cause problems due to their overall lack of depth with starters.
As with every inventive thing the Rays have attempted over the years, the return is not going to be earth-shattering. This move won't push them into a challenge for the AL East, but it may hand them an extra win or two. This is an experiment, just like defensive shifts, but there is sound logic to it. Why roll out a poor #5 starter 30 times a year when you can shuffle your better starters in more frequently and milk bullpen arms for innings?
It may not take on in the same way all the shifts did, but this may also be another case of a small market team attempting to find a new way of playing baseball that actually works and is soon adopted by the rest of the league. Either way, it certainly makes the Rays worth watching this season.