With the Mets’ top free agent target now looking like Trevor Bauer, it’s encouraging to me to find out that one of the things he wants is to pitch in a four-man rotation. Now, that’s not going to happen with the Mets. But for the reigning Cy Young Award winner to actively campaign for the return of the four-man rotation is a good thing. There’s never been any study that shows that a five-man rotation keeps pitchers healthier. It’s my belief that a four-man rotation with logical pitch counts would produce similar, if not better, all-around results than a five-man setup. My hope is to see a team run it all season long one day in the near future.
First of all, let’s acknowledge that the days of the four-man rotation — at least the kind some baseball fans of a certain age remember from the 1970s — aren’t coming back. It’s not impossible to imagine some innovative club trying some kind of four-man rotation that involves strict pitch-limit parameters, but even if that were to happen, we’re not talking about a 21st century version of the 1971 Orioles.
We’re not even talking about Bauer becoming Mickey Lolich, either, because even if he were given the chance to start 40 or more games, he’s still not going to be allowed to complete 29 games and throw 376 innings, like Lolich did in ’71. He would be the analytics-fused, 2021 version of Lolich — the iteration of an old workhorse who is the product of a new direction of innovation, one in which no current front office has dared to set out. Yet.
Can he do it?
We have to start by taking his word for it. Should we?
Here’s more from Bauer in his free agency video: “I feel that I would be a better pitcher pitching every fourth day than every fifth day. Why do I feel that? Well, I collect data on myself every day and I can see the trends, how my body is trending. How do I recover after a start? How do I recover after a bullpen? How about a lift? How about after a conditioning session? What about the offseason? When am I at my peak? All these different things. I think, based on that data, the data tells me that I would be as good or better pitching every fourth day.”
Source, Bradford Doolittle, ESPN+ (Subscription required)