By: Noah Wright
Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
The starting rotation has been a part of baseball for a long while now. But this season, you could make an argument that the rotation is fading out of baseball. Many teams are now relying on a very strong bullpen over a strong rotation to win games. Let's first look at why this is happening, what teams are using it, and if the rotation is truly losing relevance in baseball.
To start, I think one reason some teams are doing this because of the price of top tier starters. One of the biggest name on the free agent market in is going to be Clayton Kershaw, who could potentially get upwards $300 million contract if he opts out of his current contract. The next large pitching name that will likely be heavily sought after is Dallas Keuchel, who could reach $150-$200 million. Patrick Corbin, another higher tier pitcher will also be a commodity that multiple high spending teams will be bidding on. Even some mid-tier guys like Gio Gonzalez, Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Richards, Trevor Cahill, Drew Pomeranz are likely going to be looked at by a handful of clubs. This makes it much harder for smaller budget clubs to acquire big name talent.
Now let’s look at some teams using this strategy. The team that is performing the best with it is The Oakland A’s. Their current rotation houses one guy that could be considered an ace in Sean Manena, but even then he may be a #2 or even #3 on other teams. Outside of Manena, The A’s don’t really have any ace level starters, but that’s where their bullpen comes into play. They currently have the 6th lowest bullpen ERA in all of baseball, and 4th lowest in The AL. Along with great bullpen performance, they also have plenty of depth. Behind all-star closer, and probably the best performing closer this year, Blake Treinen, The A’s have Lou Trivino, Yusmeiro Petit, Emilio Pagan, and Ryan Butcher. Then they added Jeurys Familia, Fernando Rodney, and Shawn Kelly in mid/late July/early August. Another team that is using a heavy bullpen strategy is The Rays. The Rays are most known this season to be using an opener, a guy who pitches an inning or two to start the game before passing it onto the ‘starter’ or long relief guy. And they have reason to use this. After trading away Chris Archer and Nathan Eovaldi, The Rays have one true and semi-proven starter in Blake Snell. The Rays just won bullpen of the week this week, and for good reason. Closer Sergio Romo has pitched like an all star since Mid-May, and he’s been accompanied with solid seasons from Chaz Roe, Jose Alvarado, Ryne Stanek, Diego Castillo, and Ryan Yarbrough.
However in the end, I don’t think starting rotations are becoming endangered. There are still plenty of teams like The Astros, Diamondbacks, Red Sox, and Cubs who have both a good rotation and reliable bullpen. Even some teams that aren’t necessarily big spenders like The Braves and Cardinals have a decent overall pitching staff. So overall; the rotation has nothing to worry about, it should still be a big part of baseball for many years to come.