You read that correctly. The Astros will go with a strategy that is not often used in today’s baseball world. Jeff Luhnow announced today that the Astros will go with tandem starting pitching in their minor league system. This strategy will stretch from Triple-A Oklahoma City, all the way to Low-A Quad Cities.
Luhnow hinted at the idea earlier this offseason, and decided to make the move after evaluating his players this spring training. Luhnow said,
Pitchers who pitch well get the same amount of innings as they would get in a five-man rotation. It enables you to guarantee all eight of those starters innings. What happens in a five-man rotation a lot of times is middle relievers get a whole lot of innings. And we feel like these eight starters at all four of our full-season (minor-league) levels are the priority to get the innings. The primary purpose is to allocate your innings to your starters and not limit it to your starters. We’ve got more than five. You could argue we have nine. We’ve really got nine (AAA) starters.
The nine starters Luhnow is referring too will all be paired with each other, with the exclusion of Edgar Gonzalez. Gonzalez who was sent to Triple-A earlier today, will be put in a long relief role. The other eight “starting pitchers” at OKC will be; Jordan Lyles, John Ely, Jarred Cosart, Rudy Owens (L), Paul Clemens, Brett Oberholtzer (L), Dallas Keuchel (L), and Jose Cisnero.
Luhnow said this strategy will allow these pitchers to pitch more frequently. He added, “The person that starts the game the first time around will not start the game the second time around. So in other words, group one, the starter will either go five innings or 75 pitches, whichever comes first. The second starter will go four innings or 60 pitches, whichever comes first.”
Since it seems like the starters will play most of the game, it makes fans wonder what will happen with the relievers. Luhnow acknowledged that relievers won’t be used as much as usual. They will be put into games to “bridge gaps” or to close out close games.
According to Luhnow, the Astros are going to this strategy because of their depth at starting pitching in their organization.
This was based off our current situation in 2013 and the number of starting pitchers that we acquired last offseason, that we acquired during the trades the past season and that we have signed through the draft. Starting pitching is something that we want to be very good at developing. Not that it’s a one-way street. But once you take a guy out of the rotation and put him in the bullpen, it’s harder for them to get back. And so we want to delay that as young as possible and give them all an opportunity to show us whether or not they’re starting pitchers over the long haul. This is the best way to do it.
Luhnow has seen this method used in St. Louis, and thought it would be best to bring it to Houston. Although there are other reasons (as previously mentioned) to go with the tandem pitching, Luhnow also wants to protect his young arms from injuries. With many young arms in the system, only allowing these pitchers to go 4-5 innings within the first few weeks or month(s) into the season, should keep the pitchers with relatively low innings pitched for starting pitchers.
For now though, the Astros will go with this tandem starting pitching, and it will be interesting to see if any starters emerge. Obviously injuries can change plans pretty quickly, and Luhnow did mention that the Astros will not go with this strategy for the whole year. Expect at least a few weeks of the strategy, and it will definitely be interesting to see the results.