The six-arm solution

The starting rotation will go a long way towards determining how good of a season the 2010 Mets will have. Right now the best we can say about the rotation is we have no idea how good or bad it will be. Each of the five spots has question marks and to expect the majority of those to be answered favorably is the textbook definition of fanboy optimism. And with that said, I think the Mets should use a six-man rotation in 2010.

Your initial reaction might be – If we don’t have five starters, why on earth should the team buck tradition and go to a six-man staff? Before I answer that question, I also want to state that the club should look to sign one more pitcher and I think they should dip into their recent past and bring back fan favorite Pedro Martinez.

Back in the old days, before clubs instituted a rigid five-man rotation, virtually every team employed a swing man that they dubbed a “Sunday Starter.” This person would move back and forth between the bullpen and rotation, making one start per week and spending the rest of the time as a reliever. I think Martinez would be a perfect “Sunday Starter” except I would eliminate the bullpen part of the job description.

Rule 1 – Martinez starts every Sunday. It is pretty clear that Martinez is still a good pitcher. Last year with the Phillies he went 5-1 with a 3.63 ERA. It is equally clear that Martinez can no longer pitch every five days. Last year he signed late and made only nine starts. Martinez has not made 30 starts since 2005. If he starts every Sunday, he would have more rest and make around 25 starts. Plus, think of the added advantage for the owners and the marketing department. Martinez is still a drawing card and the Sunday ticket plans would be more desirable knowing that you would get to see him pitch each week.

If the Mets are going to contend in 2010, they need Johan Santana to be the dominating pitcher he was at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009. I think people forget just how good Santana was for the Mets in that span. In 27 games over the two seasons, he was 16-2 with a 1.98 ERA with 51 BB and 189 Ks in 186.2 IP. There’s little wonder why Martinez is not ready to cede the title of division’s best pitcher to new Phillies import Roy Halladay.

Rule 2 – Santana pitches every five days. This is five days, not five games, unless that schedule would put him on pace for a Sunday start. The rotation should be jiggled to give Santana two starts on six days rather than one start on seven days. If Santana is scheduled to go on Tuesday, that would make Sunday his next start. But since Martinez pitches Sundays, Santana would go on Monday. But if Monday is a day off, Santana would pitch on Wednesday (six days) and the following Tuesday (six days).

No one knows what to expect from John Maine, Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez, to say nothing of whoever gets the last rotation spot. Maine and Perez are coming off injuries while Pelfrey is coming off a season in which he would have been sent to the bullpen under normal circumstances. Extra days off for these pitchers would be a good thing. Maine seems to be another pitcher that cannot handle 30 starts in a season, having done it just once in his career.

Rule 3 – Juggle the remaining starts among the other four starters with Maine and Perez getting top priority. Perez should be used whenever possible against teams like the Phillies that have multiple lefty threats in the lineup. Maine should be accommodated at other times. These two are to be used strictly as starters while Pelfrey and sixth starter float to the bullpen if they miss a turn or two in the rotation.

Ideally this would lead to the following games started:

Santana – 35
Martinez – 25
Maine – 25
Perez – 25
Pelfrey – 20
6th SP – 20

This still leaves 12 starts missing to be filled in by pitchers 7-10 who always seem to get starts no matter what rotation plan you have. Hopefully going to a six-man staff would limit the number of starts pitchers 7-10 have to throw by keeping last year’s injured pitchers healthy.

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