Why not trade Westbrook?
Posted by disappointmentzone on 25 July 2006
The Arizona Diamondacks have been scouting Indians pitcher Jake Westbrook for the past week, starting with his start in Los Angeles ending two days ago with his start against Minnesota, according to numerous reports. Westbrook is under contract through next season, when he is owed $5.6 million, and due to his reasonable price and fairly decent pitching ability (not to mention a weak pitching free agent class) should be worth a decent player in return if he is traded. At least someone closer to MLB-ready than Max Ramirez. The Indians want a power outfielder, and Diamonback Carlos Quentin fits that bill nicely, ranked the top outfield prospect in Arizona’s organization. The Diamondbacks would likely balk at trading Quentin for Westbrook straight up, but it is not unreasonable to assume that through some combination of prospects and Westbrook the Indians could land Quentin and a prospect or two.
That would leave Sabathia, Lee, Byrd, and Sowers in the rotation. Sabathia won’t be traded. Lee might be traded, but if Lee is traded then Westbrook won’t be traded and visa versa. Byrd won’t be traded, either, since he, too, has a very favorable contract. And Sowers won’t be traded. So heading into next season the Indians will likely have Sabathia, Byrd, Sowers, and some combination of Lee/Westbrook (one or both). Who might the Indians tap to replace Westbrook, assuming he’s traded?
I don’t know.
But with the weak crop of free agent pitchers this offseason, I’d like to propose a solution to the missing pitcher problem Shapiro and Wedge would face if Westbrook were traded (this solution really isn’t mine; it’s the solution men with more astute baseball minds than I propose).
Instead of alloting 20% of the games next season to a pitcher (or pitchers) who probably won’t be as good or experienced as Westbrook, why not distribute those 30-35 games to the other four starters–Sabathia, Lee, Byrd, and Sowers–and acquire a relief pitcher to take Westbrook’s spot on the roster rather than a starter? This may sound unusual, but it’s not unprecidented. It’s called a four-man rotation, and it was the standard for most of baseball until the late 1970s.
Managing a four-man rotation is arguably more difficult than managing a five-man rotation, since a manager must pay very close attention to how many pitches his starters are throwing while tired (this is key: the number of pitches thrown does not matter; it’s the number of pitches thrown when tired that damages a pitcher’s arm and reduces his effectiveness.). Instead of allowing each starter 100-110 pitches each start, a manager might only allow 85-95 pitches. But one fewer starter means one more relief pitcher, which means less bullpen fatigue.
This is what the Indians ought to do: Trade Westbrook for the power outfielder the organization needs. Take the $2 million saved by trading Wickman to the Braves and apply it to picking up a quality long-relief man. Allow the remaining four pitchers to throw fewer pitches each start, but give them more starts.
Of course, these pitchers are going to throw more innings for this strategy to work, and a bigger concern among managers than pitches per start is innings per season. But Eric Wedge need not worry. While all of the starters are going to pitch more innings, a higher percentage of the innings pitched will come from the first few innings of a ballgame—when pitchers are freshest—than later innings—when pitchers are tired and are at the highest risk of injury and ineffectiveness. The number of innings pitched matters, but when those innings are pitched (start of the game, middle of the game, end of the game) matters, too. The Indians will pitch about 1450 innings next season, and Wedge should do everything in his power to make sure that his best pitchers are pitching the most innings they can. Moving to a four-man rotation ensures that a higher percenage of the 1450 innings will be pitched by the team’s best pitchers. And in so doing will enable the Indians to win more games.
Or so the theory goes.