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Taking A Regular Turn These Days

Posted by Steve Lombardi on December 23, 2009

I'm not really sure when big league baseball teams made the switch, for the most part, to using a 5-man rotation. I've read where some think it was a product of the early 1970's. And, I know that the Dodgers used a 5-man rotation in 1972. But, for the purpose of this study, I'm going to draw a line at 1962 - even if it means fishing with a net that's a little bigger than needed.

And, what study is this? Simple, it's the question of: Since 5-man rotations somewhat became the norm, how many teams in baseball have posted seasons were 5 pitchers on their team had 31+ games started? Or, in other words, since 1962, how many teams have finished a season with 5 pitchers making 31 or more starts. Thanks to's Play Index Pitching Season Finder, here are the teams to make this cut and those who missed by one pitcher:

Rk Year Lg Tm #Matching  
1 2005 NL St. Louis Cardinals 5 Chris Carpenter / Jason Marquis / Matt Morris / Mark Mulder / Jeff Suppan
2 2003 AL Seattle Mariners 5 Ryan Franklin / Freddy Garcia / Gil Meche / Jamie Moyer / Joel Pineiro
3 1993 NL Los Angeles Dodgers 5 Pedro Astacio / Tom Candiotti / Kevin Gross / Orel Hershiser / Ramon Martinez
4 1977 NL Los Angeles Dodgers 5 Burt Hooton / Tommy John / Doug Rau / Rick Rhoden / Don Sutton
5 2009 AL New York Yankees 4 A.J. Burnett / Joba Chamberlain / Andy Pettitte / C.C. Sabathia
6 2008 AL Chicago White Sox 4 Mark Buehrle / John Danks / Gavin Floyd / Javier Vazquez
7 2007 NL Chicago Cubs 4 Rich Hill / Ted Lilly / Jason Marquis / Carlos Zambrano
8 2006 AL Chicago White Sox 4 Mark Buehrle / Freddy Garcia / Jon Garland / Javier Vazquez
9 2006 NL Colorado Rockies 4 Aaron Cook / Josh Fogg / Jeff Francis / Jason Jennings
10 2005 AL Chicago White Sox 4 Mark Buehrle / Jose Contreras / Freddy Garcia / Jon Garland
11 2005 AL Cleveland Indians 4 Scott Elarton / Cliff Lee / C.C. Sabathia / Jake Westbrook
12 2004 AL Detroit Tigers 4 Jeremy Bonderman / Jason Johnson / Mike Maroth / Nate Robertson
13 2004 AL Minnesota Twins 4 Kyle Lohse / Brad Radke / Johan Santana / Carlos Silva
14 2004 AL Oakland Athletics 4 Rich Harden / Mark Mulder / Mark Redman / Barry Zito
15 2004 NL St. Louis Cardinals 4 Jason Marquis / Matt Morris / Jeff Suppan / Woody Williams
16 2003 AL Chicago White Sox 4 Mark Buehrle / Bartolo Colon / Jon Garland / Esteban Loaiza
17 2003 NL Philadelphia Phillies 4 Kevin Millwood / Brett Myers / Vicente Padilla / Randy Wolf
18 1999 NL San Diego Padres 4 Andy Ashby / Matt Clement / Sterling Hitchcock / Woody Williams
19 1998 AL Cleveland Indians 4 Dave Burba / Bartolo Colon / Charles Nagy / Jaret Wright
20 1997 NL Atlanta Braves 4 Tom Glavine / Greg Maddux / Denny Neagle / John Smoltz
21 1997 NL Pittsburgh Pirates 4 Steve Cooke / Jon Lieber / Esteban Loaiza / Jason Schmidt
22 1993 NL Atlanta Braves 4 Steve Avery / Tom Glavine / Greg Maddux / John Smoltz
23 1992 NL Atlanta Braves 4 Steve Avery / Tom Glavine / Charlie Leibrandt / John Smoltz
24 1991 NL Atlanta Braves 4 Steve Avery / Tom Glavine / Charlie Leibrandt / John Smoltz
25 1991 NL Los Angeles Dodgers 4 Tim Belcher / Ramon Martinez / Mike Morgan / Bob Ojeda
26 1990 NL Houston Astros 4 Jim Deshaies / Bill Gullickson / Mark Portugal / Mike Scott
27 1990 AL Oakland Athletics 4 Mike Moore / Scott Sanderson / Dave Stewart / Bob Welch
28 1990 NL San Diego Padres 4 Andy Benes / Bruce Hurst / Dennis Rasmussen / Ed Whitson
29 1989 NL New York Mets 4 David Cone / Ron Darling / Sid Fernandez / Bob Ojeda
30 1989 AL Oakland Athletics 4 Storm Davis / Mike Moore / Dave Stewart / Bob Welch
31 1988 AL Kansas City Royals 4 Floyd Bannister / Mark Gubicza / Charlie Leibrandt / Bret Saberhagen
32 1987 AL Kansas City Royals 4 Mark Gubicza / Danny Jackson / Charlie Leibrandt / Bret Saberhagen
33 1987 NL Philadelphia Phillies 4 Don Carman / Kevin Gross / Shane Rawley / Bruce Ruffin
34 1985 NL Houston Astros 4 Bob Knepper / Joe Niekro / Nolan Ryan / Mike Scott
35 1985 AL Kansas City Royals 4 Bud Black / Danny Jackson / Charlie Leibrandt / Bret Saberhagen
36 1985 NL San Diego Padres 4 Dave Dravecky / Andy Hawkins / La Marr Hoyt / Eric Show
37 1984 AL Chicago White Sox 4 Floyd Bannister / Richard Dotson / La Marr Hoyt / Tom Seaver
38 1984 AL Toronto Blue Jays 4 Doyle Alexander / Jim Clancy / Luis Leal / Dave Stieb
39 1982 AL Baltimore Orioles 4 Mike Flanagan / Dennis Martinez / Scott McGregor / Jim Palmer
40 1982 NL Philadelphia Phillies 4 Steve Carlton / Larry Christenson / Mike Krukow / Dick Ruthven
41 1980 AL Baltimore Orioles 4 Mike Flanagan / Scott McGregor / Jim Palmer / Steve Stone
42 1980 AL Oakland Athletics 4 Matt Keough / Rick Langford / Steve McCatty / Mike Norris
43 1979 AL Kansas City Royals 4 Rich Gale / Larry Gura / Dennis Leonard / Paul Splittorff
44 1978 AL Baltimore Orioles 4 Mike Flanagan / Dennis Martinez / Scott McGregor / Jim Palmer
45 1977 AL Baltimore Orioles 4 Mike Flanagan / Ross Grimsley / Rudy May / Jim Palmer
46 1977 NL Chicago Cubs 4 Bill Bonham / Ray Burris / Mike Krukow / Rick Reuschel
47 1976 NL Los Angeles Dodgers 4 Burt Hooton / Tommy John / Doug Rau / Don Sutton
48 1975 AL Baltimore Orioles 4 Mike Cuellar / Ross Grimsley / Jim Palmer / Mike Torrez
49 1975 NL Chicago Cubs 4 Bill Bonham / Ray Burris / Rick Reuschel / Steve Stone
50 1973 NL Los Angeles Dodgers 4 Tommy John / Andy Messersmith / Claude Osteen / Don Sutton
51 1973 NL San Francisco Giants 4 Jim Barr / Tom Bradley / Ron Bryant / Juan Marichal
52 1972 AL Baltimore Orioles 4 Mike Cuellar / Pat Dobson / Dave McNally / Jim Palmer
53 1971 AL California Angels 4 Rudy May / Andy Messersmith / Tom Murphy / Clyde Wright
54 1971 NL Los Angeles Dodgers 4 Al Downing / Claude Osteen / Bill Singer / Don Sutton
55 1971 NL St. Louis Cardinals 4 Steve Carlton / Reggie Cleveland / Bob Gibson / Jerry Reuss
56 1969 NL Houston Astros 4 Larry Dierker / Tom Griffin / Denny Lemaster / Don Wilson
57 1968 AL Detroit Tigers 4 Mickey Lolich / Denny McLain / Joe Sparma / Earl Wilson
58 1968 AL Oakland Athletics 4 Chuck Dobson / Catfish Hunter / Jim Nash / Blue Moon Odom
59 1966 NL Los Angeles Dodgers 4 Don Drysdale / Sandy Koufax / Claude Osteen / Don Sutton
60 1965 AL Boston Red Sox 4 Jim Lonborg / Bill Monbouquette / Dave Morehead / Earl Wilson
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/23/2009.



As you can see, since 1962, there have only been four teams in baseball to have a year where they had 5 pitchers make 31+ starts that season. And, only one A.L. team has done it in that time: The 2003 Seattle Mariners. I wonder if we'll ever see another American League team do it again?

14 Responses to “Taking A Regular Turn These Days”

  1. JohnnyTwisto Says:

    Actually, I think 1962 is around when the FOUR-man rotation started. Before that, there wasn't really a rotation, but a few regular starters and some swingmen, and teams would try to line up their best starters against tougher competition. With the increase in air travel, there were fewer off-days and fewer doubleheaders, and less opportunity or necessity to shift starts around, so the rotation as we know it came into being. I know you can see a pretty clear demarcation when Ralph Houk replaced Casey Stengel in 1961. Whitey Ford went from around 30 starts and 5 relief appearances per season to 37 starts and hardly any relief work.

  2. KingRyan Says:

    If you lower the criteria to 30, rather than 31, you get 3 more teams:

    2006 AL Chicago White Sox 5
    2005 AL Cleveland Indians 5
    1980 AL Oakland Athletics 5

    One way I would like to look at it is: Percentage of starts that went to 5 pitchers. For example, the 2006 CWS had 159 of 162 starts go to 5 pitchers. Ridiculous! I have no idea if we can generate a report that shows this in PI though.

  3. KingRyan Says:

    Those 03 Mariners managed perfection: 100% of their starts to Jamie Moyer, Ryan Franklin, Joel Pineiro, Freddy Garcia, Gil Meche.

    As a Jays fan, I am incredulous. Also: I wonder what the lowest is?

  4. Raphy Says:

    To add to Johnny's point, here is information from this free article by Rany Jazayerli at

    "This is an important point to understand: the controversy over the use of a five-man vs. a four-man rotation makes it easy to forget that, prior to around 1960, there was no such thing as a rotation. In the 1950s, Casey Stengel routinely saved his best pitcher, Whitey Ford, to pitch against the best teams in the American League. While Ford's starts may have been more valuable in such an arrangement, he never started more than 33 games under Stengel. Stengel was fired after the 1960 season and replaced with Ralph Houk, who immediately switched the Yankees to a fixed rotation. The result: in 1961, Ford started 39 games, threw 283 innings, and won 25 games--all career highs....
    The five-man rotation sprung into vogue around 1974, and by 1980 almost every team in baseball had switched to it. The 40-game starter was rendered extinct; whereas there were 12 of them in 1973 alone, since 1982 there has been only one such season. No starter has made even 37 starts since Greg Maddux in 1991. "

  5. BigSteve Says:

    Not to turn this into a slippery slope, because I'd be willing to bet there are a lot of teams that were close to the requirements, but the 04 Red Sox ( almost did it, too. It would be interesting to see what % of the teams listed above went on to win the World Series.

  6. rico petrocelli Says:

    Not much of a predictor.

    Winners of WS were Tigers (68), Royals (85), A's (89) , White Sox (05) and Yanks (09)

    Pennants went to LA (66 + 77) A's (90), Brave (91-92) , and Cards (04)

    Meanwhile 71,75,77,80,82,84,93,03, and 06 has multiple squads hit the stat and come up flagless.

    Atlanta did it three years in a row 90 - 92

  7. TheGoofyOne Says:

    BigSteve, Rico, I was noticing how a ridiculous percentage of these teams went on to make the playoffs the next year, or had the year before--without counting, I'd say it seemed many more so than that year.
    It makes some sense. There are various fluke teams, but most really good teams build up to that point, or they try to copy their success a year or two too long. Of the years Rico mentioned, the 75 O's were coming off a division title; the 77 Dodgers won the pennant and the O's were two years from a title; the 80 O's were coming off a pennant and 80 A's were a year from a playoff spot; the 82 O's and Phils would meet the next year in the Series; the 84 White Sox were coming off a division title and Jays were heading for one; the 93 Braves were in the middle of their run, and off two pennants; the 03 Sox were two years from a title; the 06 Sox were a year off their title and Rox a year from a pennant.

  8. damthesehigheels Says:

    KingRyan's comment blew my mind. 162 games with only 5 starters. Holy crap, I can't do that in a video game...

  9. SJBlonger Says:

    Not only do you need healthy arms to do that, you need luck with rainouts.

  10. Raphy Says:

    Other than the 03 Mariners, the only other teams of the 20th/21st century to use only 5 starting pitchers were the '66 Dodgers (162 games), the 1904 Boston Americans (157) , the 1901 Boston Beaneaters (140) and the 1901 Washington Senators (138).

  11. Pete Ridges Says:

    The 2003 Mariners (FIVE starters with at least 32 games each) were one of eight "unique" teams in this way. For instance, the 1892 Giants were the only team to have THREE pitchers start at least 43 games each; the 1915 A's were the only team to have *24* pitchers start at least one game. The full list of these records:

    Number of pitchers Starts Team

    1 75 2 teams (1879 Reds, Will White; 1883 Bisons, Pud Galvin)
    2 59 1886 Giants (Tim Keefe 64, Mickey Welch 59)
    3 43 1892 Giants (Amos Rusie, Silver King, Ed Crane)
    4 35 4 teams (last was 1993 Braves: Avery/Glavine/Maddux/Smoltz)
    5 32 2003 Mariners
    6 22 4 teams (last was 1964 Reds)
    7 17 2 teams (1935 Browns, 1999 Expos)
    8 14 1964 Indians
    9 11 3 teams (last was 2001 White Sox)
    10 9 1916 Indians
    11 8 1966 A's
    13 6 2 teams (1993 Indians, 2006 Royals)
    14 5 2 teams (1955 Orioles, 1993 Indians again)
    15 4 1890 Pittsburg (sic) Alleghenys
    16 3 2 teams (1890 Pittsburg, 1996 Pittsburgh)
    19 2 1890 Pittsburg
    24 1 1915 A's

    This list suggests that the four-man rotation never really existed, at least not for a whole season: no team ever had 4 pitchers start 36 games each.

  12. SJBlonger Says:

    Well, I submit that the only reason that no team accomplished a true season-long four-man rotation is because doubleheaders, both of the makeup variety and the scheduled variety, were much more common before 1980, as were the accompanying off days. It was only after teams started using charter flights for all travel that scheduled doubleheaders could be eliminated. That opened the possibility, however remote, of going through an entire season without needing an occasional spot starter.

  13. JohnnyTwisto Says:

    Pete Ridges, I don't think that is evidence the 4-man rotation did not exist. You could also argue the 5-man rotation didn't/doesn't exist, since only one team had 32 starts from 5 pitchers. Pitchers are often replaced due to injury or incompetence, and just because the same four guys didn't make every start over the course of a season doesn't mean there wasn't a rotation. These days, it's uncommon for a team to have 5 pitchers make even just 20 starts, but we know teams are using 5-man rotations. It's just not the same 5 guys all the time.

  14. tomepp Says:

    Pete Ridges: I'm not sure how to interpret your chart. I understand that there were two teams that had one pitcher start 75 games in a season, and that there was one team that had 24 different pitchers start at least one game each, but what does a line like the following mean?

    7 17 2 teams (1935 Browns, 1999 Expos)

    These two teams, as I understand it, had seven starters who started at least 17 games each. But does this mean that no teams had more than seven starters who started at least 17 games each, or that that no teams had seven starters who started more than 17 games each? (I.e. which is the record, the number of pitchers at a set number of starts, or the number of starts for a set number of pitchers?)

    JohnnyTwisto’s point is right; the number of starters that had n starts each does not really define a five- (or four-) man rotation. I could have a five-man rotation of A-B-C-X-Y where A, B, and C are fixed for all or most of the season, but X and Y vary. I might use as many as 10 pitchers in the ‘X’ and ‘Y’ spots over the season. Does this make it not a five-man rotation? The real key to a rotation is the number of days rest between starts. If a team’s top starters usually have 4 days rest between starts, then they have a five-man rotation. Of course, there will be some digressions due to days off, double-headers, injuries, etc. I think a reasonable way to determine this is to examine a team’s top 3 starters in terms of number of starts and check their days rest between starts. If, say, more than 50% (or pick some reasonable value) of their starts come on 4 days rest, then that team can be said to have a five-man rotation.