If necessity is the mother of invention, then the mother of necessities calls for the mother of inventions. And boy, do the White Sox face the mother of necessities.
Enter the the 3-3-3 system of pitcher rotation, as first put forth by Bill James cohort Dave Fleming in 2009. I’ve written about it twice before, including once at the trade deadline this past summer when the White Sox were down to three starters ... but this being all about threes, the third time should be the charm, right?
Fleming’s idea, an extension of the fact that baseball is all about threes and multiples of threes (from the number of strikes and outs to the number of players and innings), is that instead of the timeworn and worn-out system of pitcher rotation MLB teams use, they should instead be innovative. He called for a rotation of three pitchers per game, three innings each, every three days, which these days leaves four relievers to fill in when needed.
Never has a team been more ripe for that change of system than the 2024 White Sox, which may well have no real starters (presuming Dylan Cease is traded), but a whole slew of starter-wannabes who are generally only good for about four innings at a crack even when plans call for them to go longer. It will mean an adjustment in preparation, but if the plan is started now, there will be the whole offseason and spring training to get the job done.
Lest you fear pitchers wouldn’t have sufficient time to recuperate after three innings with just two days off, even high school pitcher rules recognize they don’t need more time. The Illinois High School Athletic Association (which is typical) only mandates two days rest after 50-70 pitches, even early in the season, as opposed to three days after more throws, with a limit of 88. Major-leaguers should be in much better shape and better able to recover.
The White Sox take a whole lot more pitches to get through an inning than most other teams, but even they should normally be able to get through three innings on 60 pitches — plus, and there are relievers available if they can’t hit that minimal level of competence (here’s looking at you, Cease and MIchael Kopech).
Most teams, even good ones, lack enough truly mediocre pitchers to force a 3-3-3 rotation because they aim for starters and relievers who are usually only good for an inning, but the Sox are right in the middle now.
Among those on the roster in 2023, Kopech averaged just more than four innings a start, Touki Toussaint barely over four, Jesse Scholtens sometimes went longer but shouldn’t have, and Tanner Banks and Garrett Crochet are perfect fits for three-inning stints.
As for newcomers, the only one who has averaged much more than four innings per start is Michael Soroka, and he’s coming off injuries and could use a break. Jared Schuster, Ky Bush, Jake Eder, Nick Nastrini and Juan Carela are all just-barely-over-four-a-shot guys.
That’s 11 potential three-inning tossers for the nine slots, with another ideal three-inning man (Davis Martin) due back from TJS sometime during the season. That means if some arms get tired they can sit out for a while as pitchers earn frequent flyer miles to Charlotte and back.
The order they appear in a game should rotate, which means that on the road, given how terrible the Sox will be in 2024, the third man up will only have to go two innings. Plus, there are still those four regular relievers around.
Extra innings could be covered by the regular relievers, as they are now, with about the same problems: Few starters go more than five innings these days anyway, which means four relievers get used up before the Manfred Man rears his ugly head. Doubleheaders would be a problem, but little more so than currently, and a regular, full starter could be brought up as the 27th man.
Yep, 3-3-3 is the way to go, and it should even make Jerry Reinsdorf really happy because all the pitchers involved are essentially long relievers, i.e. the lowest players on the MLB pay ladder. Jerry could smile all the way to the bank. Heck, it might even work well enough to keep the losses down to around 100 next season.
Will this happen? Of course not. It would be innovative, and the White Sox can’t even cope with the old-o-vative. But it should.
Don’t take my word for it — just ask Dave Fleming.