Friday, January 19, 2018

Jim Kaat and the end of the four-man rotation

The Twins announced Thursday that Jim Kaat is the latest "special assistant" in the organization.

As I said last week about Justin Morneau, the role of special assistant is generally vague and undefined. Kaat's addition appears to raise to 10 the number of former Twins with that title. Some are doubtless involved in scouting and coaching, and others are more, let us say, ceremonial. Kaat is 80, and he pulled back on his broadcasting career sharply some years ago (although he still does occasional games on MLB Network). I'll assume that his role is ceremonial, although from a public relations perspective his nostalgic appeal is probably limited to the oldest of Twins fans. (He last pitched for the Twins in 1973.)

He remains, however, vocal and articulate about pitching, and I've no doubt that that appeals to Derek Falvey in particular.

Did you know ... Jim Kaat was Pete Rose's first pitching coach in Rose's short-lived managerial career? The two were teammates in Philadelphia in the early 80s and apparently agreed that if and when Rose got to manage, Kaat would be his pitching coach. Rose got the Cincinnati job in 1984 and immediately installed Kaat, who left the post after 1985 and went into broadcasting.

I have it in my head that the 1985 Reds were the last team to use a four-man rotation for a significant portion of the season. I expected to find a citation for that assertion within minutes this morning, but it wasn't where I expected to find it.

But the Reds pitching stats sure look like Rose and Kaat were trying to go four-man. Tom Browning (38 starts), Mario Soto (36) and Jay Tibbs (34) all got more starts than they would in a strict five-man rotation. Another 40 starts were split up fairly evenly among Andy McGaffigan, John Stuper and Ron Robinson. The later two split the season between starting and relief, but McGaffigan was strictly a starter, and more than half his starts came on three days rest, all of them in the second half of the season.

Digging into it a bit more, I see Stuper was strictly a starter until June, at which point he had an ERA of 5.65 and was shifted to the bullpen. He never got another start in his career. Robinson was in the pen until July, when he got six starts, then returned to relieving, then got six more starts in September. For all these guys, there are a lot of three-days-rest starts.

So yeah, Rose and Kaat were trying to go four-man, but they couldn't really settle on a fourth. And then Kaat left, and Soto -- who had been a very good starter for six years -- collapsed in '86 and was never really effective again. The '86 Reds' starts numbers look more like a five-man rotation (with a heavy lean on Browning). And if anybody has tried to go with a four-man rotation since 1985 for more than a month or so, I missed it.


  1. I think I recall Colorado tinkering with the idea a couple years back. I am curious to see with the increased in "bullpenning" whether a team would go to a four man rotation and 8 man bullpen. The four starters would be limited to facing a line up twice through the order before turning it over to the relievers. Obviously, it would have to be an analytically based front office, leading a team in full rebuild mode, willing to accept potential losses to change the paradigm.

    The Falvey regime would have been the perfect front office to experiment with this concept, and in fact they still could, especially if they miss out on the Darvish sweepstakes. With a rotation of Santana, Berrios, Gibson, and Meijia, one could experiment with it. With May and Hughes returning from injuries, they could be utilized as bullpen piggybacking on a similar schedule as the starters. The rest of the bullpen could slot into their traditional roles.


  3. It's difficult to look at the 2012 Rockies and see any semblance of a four-man rotation. Nobody had more than 24 starts that year. Nine men had at least 10 starts. No matter what they called it, that's a team with no rotation.

  4. I think when a player has had a career with MLB HOF credentials, and performed at the highest level until an injury takes him out of the game early, HOF voters should evaluate that candidate based on pre-injury numbers.

    Twins players Oliva, Kaat, and now Santana are all in that category.

    All three of these players had long enough careers and played at a very high level before their injury.

    None would be the worst member of the HOF at their position if elected.