Michael Pineda will crack the starting rotation. He turned in a solid opening Cactus League performance, which was enough to cause a stir. Imagine what will happen if he goes out and pitches four or five productive innings.
An issue with Pineda is limiting his innings. He pitched in a career-high 139.1 frames last season, and pitching him every fifth day in a major-league rotation puts him on track to toss 160-180 innings, even assuming a pretty strict pitch count. Plus, Pineda is likely to make it hard to pull him at his pitch limit in some starts, because he has the kind of stuff that will flash brilliance at times.
It is time to revisit an idea I wrote about on my blog a year ago. I dubbed it the swingman position, and I laid out the rationale behind it with this post. In essence, I think it would make sense for many teams to keep four starting pitchers in a regular rotation, skipping the fifth starter as often as possible. When the fifth starter is needed, a team would use two or three swingmen to get through the first six to seven innings of a ballgame.
In theory, the advantages of a swingman staff are twofold: first of all, innings pitched are further concentrated among the best arms on a staff without taxing them much more, and second, marginal pitchers on a staff never have to go through a lineup more than twice, which would likely make them more effective.
The 2011 Mariners could implement a swingman staff with a third benefit though: a natural way to limit Pineda's innings. The Mariners could roll out a pitching staff that looks something like this:
There is no way Pineda could be overworked with the swingman model. Even 25 starts at 5 innings each would put him at only 125 innings total. What the swingman model would really allow the Mariners to do is limit Pineda's innings early in the season, but as he acclimates to the majors, he could be unleashed as a normal starter by the end of the season.
Isn't this an intriguing idea? Doesn't it beat picking between Luke French, David Pauley, and Nate Robertson?