3 reasons the Braves should use a six-man rotation and 2 reasons they shouldn't

There's been a lot of talk about who the Braves' fifth starter will be, but have fans considered who the sixth starter could be?

Atlanta Braves Photo Day
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Coming into Spring Training, one of the biggest storylines to follow for the 2024 Braves is who will win the fifth spot in the rotation. The two biggest candidates to fill the fifth starter role appear to be Bryce Elder, who was an All-Star in 2023, and Reynaldo Lopez, one of the team's free agent acquisitions this offseason.

Additionally, the Braves have prospects Darius Vines, AJ Smith-Shawver, and Hurston Waldrep who could all play a role in the rotation this season.

But what if the Braves didn't have to choose between Elder, Lopez, and the numerous prospects and instead went with a six-man rotation to begin the season?

3 reasons why the Braves should use a six-man rotation

1. The Braves could use this to conserve innings for the older arms

The Braves enter the 2024 season with two starters who combine for over 28 years of MLB experience. The two starters, Charlie Morton and Chris Sale, have accumulated the seventh and 12th-most innings among active pitchers, respectively.

Although Charlie Morton has been remarkably durable since his late breakout with the Astros in 2017, he is entering his age-40 season, a mark that has historically been rare for a pitcher to even reach, much less succeed.

While Chris Sale is only 34 (turning 35 days into the season), he's lacked the durability that Morton has. Since 2021, the southpaw has only pitched in 151 innings, 102 of which came last season.

By using a six-man rotation, Brian Snitker and the Braves can give the two pitchers with the most mileage extra rest, saving their arms for later into the season.

2. It could lighten the load on players returning from injury

Although the jury's out on whether a six-man rotation can limit injuries going forward, the extra rest would benefit the the two lefties in the rotations, aforementioned Chris Sale and Max Fried.

It would be disingenuous to label Max Fried as "injury prone", but his 2023 was certainly injury-riddled. The lefty spent 16 days on the IL after straining his hamstring on Opening Day. Less than a month later, he went back on the IL with a forearm strain and missed nearly four months. He then went on one last IL trip to end the season but was back just in time for the NLDS.

Fried was certainly effective in the innings that he did pitch, achieving a 1.9 fWAR in less than 80 innings, That is nothing to scoff at – but whether he can stay healthy in what might be his final year with the club is certainly at the forefront of many minds.

Chris Sale, of course, hasn't had a healthy season since 2017 and the Braves are far more inclined to save his innings for the latter half of the season if given a choice.

Using six starters to begin the season could help limit the wear and tear on the two lefties and preserve them for a potential postseason run.

3. The Braves bullpen can handle the innings

One side effect of a six-man rotation is one less arm in the bullpen. For most teams, this could be a huge problem. For the Braves, it probably isn't.

ZiPS projects the bullpen to be worth roughly 5.0 WAR, and the first eight relievers including Reynaldo Lopez, who would be in the rotation in a six-man scenario, are projected to be at least league-average by ERA+, making it one of the deepest pens in the game.

Even with Raisel Iglesias, A.J. Minter, and Pierce Johnson repping the back end of the bullpen, the Braves will still have Joe Jimenez, Aaron Bummer, Tyler Matzek, Dylan Lee, Ray Kerr, and Jackson Stephens as options to cover the middle innings (and early innings, if necessary).

2 reasons why a six-man rotation is a bad idea

1. The Braves would be taking away innings from Cy Young candidates

FanGraphs estimates that a six-man rotation takes away roughly 30 innings from the other five starters. While Braves fans would love to get 160 innings out of Chris Sale, losing 60 innings from Spencer Strider and Max Fried (if 100 healthy) could hurt the team's success.

Bryce Elder and Reynaldo Lopez are certainly better than a typical starter, but is it worth unnecessarily limiting potential Cy Young candidates' innings?

2. Would the bullpen be managed well enough?

The Braves bullpen can handle the innings, but would the coaching staff manage it effectively? Brian Snitker has made huge strides as a manager since taking over the job in 2016, but he's still made some baffling decisions as recently this NLDS.

Could Snitker properly utilize a shorter bullpen and manage six starters' workloads effectively? Is going with a six-man rotation even worth the risk?

If the Braves want to benefit from giving their starters more rest early in the season, then going with a six-man rotation is a great option.

However, if the Braves front office doesn't believe that management can properly handle the bullpen while featuring a six-man rotation, and if they believe getting more innings out of their aces is the best way to make the postseason, then they should skip out and stick with the traditional five-man rotation.

Atlanta is set up for a successful season and things look promising so far during spring training but it's a long season and anything can happen. If the Braves rotation stays healthy, there is plenty of reason to believe they are one of baseball's best.

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