With the increasing number of arm injuries to pitchers in baseball, talks of possibly going to a six-man rotation instead of the usual five have heated up.  

The idea is that with a six-man rotation, starters would not only be given more rest in between starts, but they would also be throwing fewer innings per season, which could increase their longevity by reducing the risk of devastating injuries.  

One team, in particular, jumps out at me as potentially being the perfect fit for this new format: the Pittsburgh Pirates.  

Let’s take a look at how that rotation could play out for the Pirates in 2015: 

1.  Francisco Liriano

Undoubtedly the ace of the staff for the Pirates in 2015, Francisco Liriano has managed to keep relatively healthy since 2008, when he made only 14 starts as a member of the Minnesota Twins due to an elbow injury that led to season-ending Tommy John surgery.  

In six seasons since, Liriano has averaged exactly 27 starts per season.  With a six-man rotation, how many starts would a pitcher make on average?  Exactly 27.  

Over the last two seasons with the Pirates, Liriano has pitched to a 23-18 record and a 3.20 ERA in 323.1 innings pitched (161.0 in 2013, 162.1 in 2014).

Given 27 starts this season, Liriano would be expected to perform on the level he has over the past two seasons in Pittsburgh. However, with that extra day of rest between each start, he may perform even better, which could help the Pirates claim the National League Central Division title (a feat they have never accomplished since the division was formed).  

Liriano is already 31 years old, and as the Pirates have him under contract for the next three seasons, it would make sense to consider moving to a six-man rotation.  

2.  Gerrit Cole

Many feel that 2015 will be the year that potential ace Gerrit Cole will take the next step to becoming one of the best pitchers in the game.  

Cole pitched to a 3.65 ERA in 2014, his second season in the majors, but made only 22 starts due to a lat injury that led to multiple disabled list trips.  

The good news for the Pirates was that his injury was not to his throwing arm. Moving to a six-man rotation would still benefit Cole as it would reduce the stress being put on his body.  

Cole will turn 25 in September, so he still has plenty of time to mature as a pitcher.  

Allowing him to throw 200 innings would be putting his health in jeopardy, as we have learned over the past few years with the injuries to an abnormal amount of pitchers. Cole threw 117.1 innings in 2013 before pitching 138.0 in 2014. A sensible target of innings for Cole to pitch this season would probably be somewhere around 160-170, which would be plenty of innings for him to win games and help the Pirates reach the playoffs again.  

3.  Charlie Morton

Perhaps the biggest question mark in the Pirates rotation heading into spring training, Charlie Morton is reportedly on track to be ready to pitch in April, according to Tom Singer of MLB.com.

Morton made 26 starts for the Pirates last season, going 6-12 with a 3.72 ERA, before being shut down to undergo surgery to repair the labrum in his right hip in September.  Four years ago, he had surgery to repair the labrum in his left hip, and, in 2012, he underwent Tommy John surgery.  

So, just what kind of pitcher will Morton be when he returns this season?  With three major injuries over the last four seasons, it would be difficult to predict that Morton would have a 2015 season free from injuries.  

However, implementing a six-man rotation in Pittsburgh could certainly benefit him.  Morton’s 26 starts were the second most he ever made in a single season.  In 2011, he made a career-high 29 starts for the Pirates, but given his inability to remain healthy over the last four seasons, it is unlikely that he will return to that type of durable pitcher.  

Morton has shown over the past two seasons that he is capable of being a tremendous help to the Pirates when he is healthy. Why would the organization want to risk having him sustain another major injury?  That is why the six-man rotation would benefit both sides in 2015.  

4.  A.J. Burnett

There is no question that giving a pitcher like A.J. Burnett an extra day of rest between starts could help the Pirates to not only get back to the playoffs, but to have the pitching depth needed to make a deep run in the postseason.  

Burnett, who turned 38 in January, made it clear when he signed his one-year deal with the Pirates this offseason that this would be his last go-around in what thus far has been a successful 16-year career.

Ironically, Burnett’s second-most innings thrown in any single season came just last year when he was 37 years old and pitching in his first (and only) season with the Philadelphia Phillies. He went 8-18 last year with a 4.59 ERA.  

However, in two seasons with the Pirates from 2012-13, Burnett pitched to a 26-21 record with a 3.41 ERA. Regardless of his ERA, however, one thing that has always remained constant with Burnett is his track record of staying healthy and making his scheduled starts.  

Since making just 25 starts in 2007 for the Toronto Blue Jays, Burnett has made at least 30 starts in seven consecutive seasons.  

Still, giving an aging Burnett more rest can only benefit both his personal performance and the Pirates’ performance in 2015.  

5.  Vance Worley

Vance Worley was surprisingly one of the main reasons the Pirates made the playoffs in 2014.  

In his first season with the team, the 27-year-old pitched to an 8-4 record and a 2.85 ERA in 110.2 innings after being called up from the minors in June.

Worley had a similar season in 2011 as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies when he went 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA in 131.2 innings pitched.  Aside from those two seasons, however, Worley‘s record amounts to just 8-15 in parts of three seasons.  

What kind of performance should we expect from this Pirates starter in 2015? Will Worley improve on his stellar 2014 season, or will he regress to the pitcher he was in 2013, when he went 1-5 with a 7.21 ERA in 10 starts for the Minnesota Twins?

Perhaps Worley is meant to start somewhere around 20 games? He has performed wonderfully when he has reached that total throughout his career.  

A six-man rotation would give Worley that ability while also allowing him to pitch the full season.  

6.  Jeff Locke

Jeff Locke should serve as a prime example of why the Pirates should consider using a six-man rotation in 2015, as this one really is a no-brainer.  

Locke was named to his first All-Star team in 2013, and rightfully so, as he went 8-2 with a 2.15 ERA during the first half of the season.  In the second half, he was a completely different pitcher partially because of a back injury that lingered and cost him some playing time.  

Locke finished that season with a 10-7 record and a 3.52 ERA in 30 starts.  

Last season, he went 7-6 with a respectable 3.91 ERA in 21 starts.  

Assuming he has returned to full health, it is wise to predict that Locke could have a much better season in 2015.  However, given the fact that he is still only 27 years old and entering his fifth major league season, it would be smart for the Pirates to limit him to a certain number of starts.  

At the same time, why would the Pirates want to limit him to a specific number of starts and shut him down before the playoffs start?  With a six-man rotation, they wouldn’t have to worry about that.  

Pittsburgh has what it takes to go a long way in 2015 as long as its starting rotation (which is still shaky) manages to stay healthy.  

Implementing a six-man rotation would give the Pirates’ starters more rest between each start, which would lead to increased stamina during the final months of the regular season and, for hopeful Pirates fans, the postseason.  

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