February 27, 2015

Could Halladay/Lee/Hamels be the the best trio in MLB history?

Previously this year, I took a long time figuring out which rotations would be best to compare to the 2011 Phillies. As it turns out, Roy Oswalt hasn’t really joined the party this year, making all that a bit moot.

But, the other three have been tremendous, and many advanced stats rate them as the top-3 starters in the NL.

If you’ve got the 3 best starters in your league, you have to be in the discussion for the best pitching trio of all-time, no?

That was the question that spawned this post, and here is what I found.

Halladay/Lee/Hamels Pace

Here is what the Phillies’ trio is on-pace for, assuming 32 starts for each (which is a bit conservative given that Halladay and Lee just started their 16th game)

The Competition

So the criteria I used to determine what other trios should be used was very simple. The team had to have 3 pitchers with 200+ IP, 125+ ERA+ and a 5.0+ WAR. The results (after eliminating duplication):

2005 Houston Astros (Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte)
1996 Atlanta Braves (Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine)
1956 Cleveland Indians (Bob Lemon, Herb Score, Early Wynn)
1925 Cincinnati Reds (Pete Donohue, Dolf Luque, Eppa Rixey)
1913 Chicago White Sox (Eddie Cicotte, Reb Russell, Jim Scott)
1912 New York Giants (Rube Marquard, Christy Mathewson, Jeff Tesreau)
1909 Chicago Cubs (Mordecai Brown, Orval Overal, Ed Reulbach)

I’m going to eliminate the pre-1920 teams because pitchers were just used so differently back then. For instance, the 1913 White Sox trio had a combined 37 relief appearances during the season. The 1925 Reds had some of that, but only 7 total relief appearances. Trying to keep this to pure starters.

So here are the stats for those 4 groups:

Potentially the best ever?

Let’s take a look at the average seasons for these groups and see if we can determine anything…

Raw Stats


Average Rank

Obviously one would pick and choose which stats they think are important and weigh them accordingly, but if you just take an average of all 15 metric ranks here, you get this…

1. 2011 Phillies, 2.07
2. 2005 Astros, 2.73
3. 1996 Braves, 3.07
4. 1956 Indians, 3.20
5. 1925 Reds, 3.87

Personally, I would weigh the stats that are supposed to transcend era (ERA+ and WAR) to about 50% of the total and the other more common stats to the other 50% – that gives you these rankings…

1. 2011 Phillies, 2.25
2. 2005 Astros, 2.42
3. 1956 Indians, 2.69
4. 1996 Braves, 3.25
5. 1925 Reds, 4.35

Really – the question becomes this… if the Phillies trio continues on their current pace, can you make an argument that their has been a better starting trio in MLB history? What is that argument? Did I miss a trio that should be included? Are any of these really better?

Right now, I don’t think you can. Aside from the stats that I may have under-reported (GS, IP), the Phillies trio blows these guys away. 1st in WHIP, SO/9, SO/BB, WAR, 2nd in ERA. The only red flag is ERA+, where they are 4th.

Obviously we have a full half a season to go, and I will revisit this later in the year. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to say we might be watching the best trio of pitchers ever to play together in a game that has been around since before the light bulb was invented. And they are playing on the Phillies.

Quite amazing.

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  1. Ken Bland says:

    There’s a guy I’m not familiar with, believe his name is Tristan Cochran, writes a Fantasy column over at the worldwide leader.  Had a piece on Cole I read today.  Talked about how the cutter’;s been all the difference for him.  But mind blowingly, he lists the top 100 pitchers in MLB , not in terms of what they have done, but based on previous performance how he figures they will do the rest of the year.

    Roy O is 28th.  When you think of there being 30 clubs, and being 28th, that’s pretty good, huh?  It’s very good. He’s got Doc 1.  He’s got Cole 4, behind King and Verlander.  Cliff is 6th.  It’s just unreal that we have this quartet.   We’ll see if we can get Roy O back on track, and make it a 4 man comp yet.

  2. Dino says:

    Did you look into the 65 Dodgers staff?  Koufax, Drysdale, Osteen or Podres.

    The only issue would be if all 3 stay injury free.  I note that Halladay and Lee are #1 and #2 respectively in number of pitches thrown in the NL so far , and Charlie’s showing no sign of resting those 2.

    • Pete says:

      That’s definitely a good one. Koufax was out of control that year.

    • Pete says:

      Some guys can handle slightly higher pitch counts. Like Sabathia and Verlander for instance. Lee and Halladay have shown over their careers to be those kind of pitchers.

  3. The Real Rob says:

    Once Oswalt gets his groove back, the four aces will officially be here.  Early on, he was great.  Then, he left the team for a bit and then had the injury.  It is just a matter of him getting back into that groove, much like how Lee finally got his groove back!

    All the Philies need is some timely offense, good enough to beat the Giants and the Red Sox!

  4. Ken Bland says:

    I just checked the top 20 (actually 22) top seasons in Philies history thread, and counted 10 pitchers on the list.   Didn’t review any of the guys seasons, but it will be interesting to see how many of the 3 pitchers squeeze onto that list by year end.  Not that they’d have to replace pitchers, and of course H2 still needs to be constructed anyway, but if the list includes deletions, as opposed to add ons, I’d guess Tug and Lidge might be in trouble, maybe Schill and John Denny.  While it’d be awesome to get all 3 guys on that list, 2 would still be a pretty lofty goal to shoot for.  This is a separate issue of ranking in baseball history as a whole, but it’s fascinating to think you could have 3 guys from 1 season make it.  And it is a ridiculously crazy longshot, but Ryan Madson might make a little noise toward at least investigating if he belongs, and the only thing that might separate Antonio Bastardo from consideration is innings pitched.  Number of innings, just like number of at bats for everyday guys is a key component, but for what he’s done so far aside from innings pitched, you’d have to think Bastardo warrants a look.  It has been one helluva season so far.

    • Pete says:

      That’s a great question. Halladay could only replace himself and right now he’s on pace for pretty much the exact same season.

      Hamels and Lee are both candidates for the 10-14 range if they keep their current paces.

      • Ken Bland says:

        Yeah, I forgot a guy can only make the list once, so I guess in a best case for the year situation, Doc would improve his positioning, and Cole and Cliff would make the list.  1980 is the only year represented on the list by 2 players having their best seasons, but if the Doc moves up, and Cole and Cliff get on there, that’d be a record of sorts.

  5. oaksterdam says:

    Is this the trio that dominated the Giants last year?  Oh, Voglesong: lowest ERA in the majors.  But you won’t read it here.

    • Dino says:

      Think the Giants would trade him for any of those 3 ?

      • Bay Area Bully says:

        Oh yeah, the Giants, I’m shaking in my boots.  Oh, Madison BUMgarner, let me tell you how freaking intimidating he is.  And that chubby loser Cain.  And the stinky hippie, YOU’RE MAKING MILLIONS UPON MILLIONS, CUT YOUR FREAKING HAIR AND GO TO THE DENTIST.  And take my word for it, Vogelsong is a short-term wonder.  Batters will figure him out and he’ll fall to the wayside.

  6. Henry Rasmussen says:


    • Adam B. says:


  7. Jordan says:

    I was getting ready to bash this, as I was expecting to see someone write completely on their own opinion. However, you backed it up with stats, and as they say “Stats don’t lie”. The Phillies have some of the best pitchers in baseball, but as a fan of the Braves I’m hoping that this conversation of them being the best ever is dead by October. Still a very interesting topic and a good read!

  8. LB says:

    What about Clemens, Hurst and Oil Can Boyd in the mid 1980′s; specifically the ’86 team.  And the Mets were also pretty good that year with Gooden, Darling and Ojeda/El Sid.

  9. phillyfan says:

    I won’t say I told you so but I was concerned about trading for Oswalt from Day 1 because of his history of back injury.  That being said, I was pleased when we did get him since we gave up so little in Happ and a few other non-essentials.

    I am not going to get all bent out of shape at this point until we diffinitively hear he is done.  Even then, I don’t think we need more than Hamels/Halladay and Lee to get through the playoffs if they are in form and we can scratch out 3 or 4 runs a game.  Heck, at this point it may not matter who is on the mound.  We face San Fran again and we may get shut out in 3 straight 1-0 games.

    It will in interesting now that we have Kendrick and Worley in the rotation.  We will see what our hitters have left since the onus really falls bakc on them now.

    • Pete says:

      you also said Ryan Howard would be hitting what exactly right now? .330 was it? Also did a good deal of Cole Hamels can’t cut it bashing at the beginning of the year.

      So, we’ll call it relatively even.

      • phillyfan says:

        Hold on Pete – I have been a huge Hamels supporter. 

        And I said Ryan would be hitting 303 / 22 / 73 at the allstar break.  HE will probably be at 73 or more RBI at the allstar break which is completely amazing considering the dreck surrounding him.  He will probably be right around 20 homers.  Batting ave I was a bit high.  He has to be at least a 8 WAR for this team already this year.  Just think if we had Adam Dunn instead?

        • b.ski says:

          Hate to be the one to break it to you but, as per fangraphs, Howard has posted a 1.4 WAR so far this year.

          He is tied for 4th on the team among the position players (pitchers Halladay: 4.2, Hamels: 3.6, and Lee: 3.3 are also ahead of him) with Utley (who has only played in 27 games compared to Howard’s 75, btw).

          3rd on the team is Polanco: 1.7, 2nd is Rollins: 1.8, and 1st is Victorino: 3.7 in only 59 games.

          Not to rub salt in the wound, but fangraphs had an article recently that you may not have seen, “Shane Victorino is better than Ryan Howard”, that tallies up each player’s cumulative WAR from 2006 through 2011.

          • Pete says:

            I wish you the best of luck on this endeavor. God speed.

          • b.ski says:

            Thanks, Pete.  All I can do is “bring the mountain to Mohammed” and hope.

            To that end, I will post the highlights of that article on fangraphs for which I provided the link.

            In looking at the two side by side, it’s interesting to note that Victorino has probably had a better career with the Phillies than Howard up to this point. In fact, the data suggests that not only has Victorino kept up with his more famous teammate, he’s been the better player for quite some time now.

            2006-2011 WAR:

            Shane Victorino: +21.5
            Ryan Howard: +19.9
            Since both became regulars, Howard has played 60 more games due to better health, but has still been outproduced by a small margin.

            Let’s not just stop there – let’s look at where each of them rank within their positional groups since 2006.

            Outfielders with more WAR than Victorino, 2006-2011: Matt Holiday, Curtis Granderson, Ryan Braun, Ichiro Suzuki, Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford, and Carlos Beltran.

            First baseman with more WAR than Howard, 2006-2011: Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzales, Prince Fielder, Joey Votto, Lance Berkman, Carlos Pena, Justin Morneau, and Derek Lee.

            Seven outfielders have performed better than Victorino over the last 5 1/2 years, but 11 first baseman have performed better than Howard during that same stretch.

            But because he specializes in the skills that the market doesn’t generally value as highly, Victorino is in the second year of a 3 year, $22 million contract, while Howard is just one year away from his five year, $125 million extension kicking in. Or, to put it another way, Howard will make about as much money in 2012 as the Phillies will have paid Victorino from 2006 to 2012 combined.

            At about $30 million per season for the pair, the Phillies are actually getting a pretty decent return on their investment from the pair – it’s just the allocation between the two that is way off kilter. Hopefully, when the two teammates go out to dinner, Howard picks up the check for his superior and underpaid teammate.

          • Dude says:

            I’ve always been a guy who thinks victorino is chronically underrated. I generally think that WAR is a better place to start a conversation than to finish it also. It relies heavily on assumptions & mathematical models that do a pretty good job of approximating what wins games most of the time, but sometimes the hardcore stat heads tend to overstate how much it really tells you about one specific player v another. It really not meant for that – it’s better use for setting peer groups (which it seems that article does also). And as an aside, Howard happens to be a guy who does things really well that WAR tends to undervalue & WAR tends to overvalue the things he doesn’t do well.

            As far as who is the better player between Shane & Ryan? That’s a tough comparison. They have completely different skill sets. A lot of people like to say that Howard’s RBI’s don’t matter because it’s not an “advanced” stat, but when you look at the advanced stats that track % of RBI opportunities converted, he tends to be at or around the top of the league most years also. Shane, to me, is close to being a classic top of the order guy. Hits for a good average, steals bases, though he doesn’t always have the best plate discipline. He’s also very good centerfielder. Shane definitely brings a more complete game to the table, but very few guys can match Howard’s raw offensive production. If I had to pick one I’d probably cop out & say Shane because his contract makes him a much better value.

        • Adam B. says:

          you got dominated

  10. UM says:

    Factor in the stats compared to the rest of the league in each season and that’s a better measure. 2011 is clearly the year of the pitcher, so in general, pitchers stats are going to be better. If you look at what the Atlanta trio did year after year compared to the rest of the league, that is more impressive than the half a season stats that the Phillies trio have put up – in perspective with the rest of the pitching in the league

  11. UM says:

    In 1996, there were only 6 pitchers in MLB with ERA’s under 3.00 – 3 of them were the Braves pitchers mentioned above. In 2005, 9 pitchers were sub-3.00 and Clemens was juicing then.
    In 2011 so far, there are approx. 30 starting pitchers with ERA’s under 3.00 – based on the statistical comparison in this article, Lincecum, Cain, and Vogelsong would be better than Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz and half of the other trios listed…so let’s wait until the end of the season and see how dominant these 3 Philly pitchers are compared to the rest of baseball before even CONISDERING them to be the “best” trio ever.

    • Pete says:

      The stat ERA+ actually does almost exactly what you are saying here. The one BIG factor you are missing here is ballpark. Here is the definition of ERA+

      It adjusts a pitcher’s earned run average (ERA) according to the pitcher’s ballpark (in case the ballpark favorsbatters or pitchers) and the ERA of the pitcher’s league. Average ERA+ is set to be 100; a score above 100 indicates that the pitcher performed better than average, below 100 indicates worse than average.”

      If you put in Cliff Lee’s “new” ERA+ after his last start, the Phils and Braves match up like this:

      2011 Phillies: 147
      1996 Braves: 153

      So yes, the Braves’ trio beats out Philly’s in this stat. 

      But lots of other factors go into ERA like luck (BABIP), and defense. Those are factored into WAR, where the Phils trio beats the Braves by 5 full wins.

      • UM says:

        WAR to me is not as important of a stat – it is an assumption of what the drop-off would be if a  ”replacement player” were inserted instead. Plus, there are different calculations of WAR, depending on who is doing the calculation. It is not a standard formula – it varies from stats service to stat service.
        I also think that one season does not substantiate the “best trio ever” – it may substantiate “the best single season by a trio of pitchers” – but to me, it would take several seasons of dominance to truly be considered the best trio ever.

        • Pete says:

          Yeah – WAR is calculated differently, but I was consistent with using the same formula throughout. 

          I was trying to say “single season” – sorry if that was unclear.

          • Ken Bland says:

            UM’s articulate well intending position is nice, but he cites a scarcity of sub 3 ERA’s back in history of smaller totals based on full seasons, but then points out this isn’t a full season yet.  Even comparing 70 some games in during 96 and 05 would be fruitless, but if you really think 30 ERA’s will be under the 3 level after 90 more games, then the point is credible.  I seriously doubt it.

            Ryan Vogelsong has zero business in this discussion on any level.  The guy has pitched 72 innings so far this year.  He’s done an excellent job in that time, but if there’s something so suddenly special about a 33 year old that has discovered magic dust with a longer term warranty, please let me know.  Jair Jurrgens has pitched 89 innings, and runs an ERA of 1.89.  Doc has pitched 118 innings, and has an ERA of whatever it is, 2.50.  If you think Jurrgens ERA wouldn’t be a lot closer to 2.5 with an extra 30 innings over the same time congestion, you think differently than me.  If you think Vogelsong won’t have a much higher ERA after 40 more innings, you’re nuts to expect that even if it winds up that he does.  Vogelsong is called enjoy the ride while it lasts. 

            Comparisons between the Giants top 3 and the Phillies are a joke.  It’s a team game, and the Giants beat the Phils.  But thrie starting pitching wasn’t, and isn’t any better than a tandem of Doc, Oswalt, Cole and change, or Doc, Cliff, Cole and change.   The Giants are the World Champs as a team, not as a rotation.  The only team that I remember winning a world championship almost only because of their starting pitching was the Dodgers who I recall being less productive offensively in 1965, than 1963, but might have been worse of all in 1966 when they at least got to the Fall Classic.

            Phillyfan’s exact prediction on Ryan Howard was .313 on July 1st.   As much research as went into that prediction, I’m surprised everyone doesn’t recall exactly what it was.  It’s the world record of all world records that he has the gall to come on here and even touch I told you so territory with a 10 foot pole after Roy O pitches as well as he did last year H2, and grinds it out at least trying to pitch through back trouble, and draws a reaction in any way, shape or form that so much as gingerly implies that acquiring him was a mistake.

  12. Ken Bland says:

    For what it’s worth, UM made an innocent enough comment that about 30 pitchers had sub 3 ERAs this year.  It’s actually 21.  And while some guys might join the club, some there now might almost be thought of as locks to go back above 3.  As great as he’s been, can we really expect Michael Pineda, a rookie, admittedly big and strong to bear up under the heaviest workload of his young professional career to pitch as effectively in H2?  Ian Kennedy, barring some trade acquisition would appear likely to be an ace for the first time in a pennant race.  

  13. jjg says:

    Gary Peters/Joe Horlen/Juan Pizzaro of White Sox ’64:
    17.3-8.6  2.31 ERA  102 GS  31 CG  9 SO  241 I  71 BB  168 SO  6.8 H/9  152.3 ERA+  1.048 WHIP

    Roy Halladay/Cliff Lee/Cole Hamels ’11:

    17.3-7.7  2.71 ERA   97 GS  17 CG  7 SO  227 I  41 BB  232 SO  7.7 H/9  145.6 ERA+  1.029 WHIP

    reminder:  only 47.5% of the precincts have reported for the Phillies’; numbers are projections based on performance to date, and an exact continuance to season’s end.  On the other hand, CWS’ work is entirely real, complete and in the books.

    Just one example in prevention of that dreaded contagion, hype. 


    • Ken Bland says:

      I’d be interested to see Pete’s reaction to this suggestion.

      Raw numbers wise, it looks like a good entry.

      Kind of ironic in that I recall Pizzaro as a pretty good pitcher, but remember Peters as real good that year, and waiting fruitlessly for him to continue as a terrific pitcher, to little avail.  Horlen was probably a step below Pizzaro on a career level.  I wouldn’t call this trio one hit wonders, but it’d be ironic if this were the cream of the crop for a 1 season 3 man rotation because it was probably career years.  Even if the Phils 3 wind up as the popular choice, it looks like it will be just another great year by Doc, nothing comparitively superior, Cliff will be hard pressed to match 08, and we’ll see if it winds up a career year for Cole.

      But at the end of the day, I’d think thisis not the winnig entry.  I’m not a student of WAR, but I’d suspect that playing 81 games in the spacious ballpark that I recall Comiskey as worked to this trio’s favor and might hurt their WAR scores.

      4 other mentions that come out of this suggestion.

      1/ Mention of the White Sox from that era recalls another team that woin a World Series almost singlehandedly off their pitching, the GoGo Sox of 1959, who I believe sported a team batting average of .228 

      2/ didn’t recall that John Buzhardt, who turned in some pretty good numbers as I assume the 4 starter that year, and Ray Herbert, both ex Phils were on this club.

      3/ Boy, did this team need a wild card entry, or playoff system.  98 wins, and 5 games behind the Yogi Berra led Yanks.

      4/ Conditioning and habit play a big part in it, but 41 year old Hoyt Wilhelm, who was used to this I’m sure threw 135 innigs out of the pen in about 73 appearances.  So consider the screams about Jonny Venters, a young pup at 23/24 and his work load for Atlanta a sign of the times.

      • jjg says:

        Re #1:  ’59 Go-Go’s team BA was actually .250.  Scored 4.29 R/G as opposed to ’64 club’s 3.96. 
        Comparing mound work:

        ’59   R/G  3.77   ERA  3.29   ERA+  115
        ’64   R/G  3.09   ERA  2.72   ERA+  127 [!]

        Re #2:  John Buzhardt, CG winning pitcher in 2nd game of twinbill (7-4) vs. Braves, Sunday Aug 20 ’61, courageously putting a stop to Phils’ 23-game losing streak, one that began against Giants, Sat July 29.  Buzhardt also pitched a complete game victory (4-3) vs. Giants on Fri July 28.  MR. BOOKENDS.  Should have a plaque on Ashburn Alley. 

        Re #3:  ’64 White Sox actually finished just 1 game behind Yankees, 98 Chi to 99 NY wins; WS won their last 9.  Of the Yanks, both Mick and Whitey Ford had the last of their great individual years – but the Cards paid little mind in Oct, 7 pushes coming to 7 shoves, including Mantle roundtrippers in Games 3, 6 & 7.  In ’63, CWS won 94 and finished 10 games behind the ultra-formidable New Yawkuhs!     

        • Ken Bland says:

          good work on the corrections.  Didn’t double check your correction on the standings, just flat out blew it on the read, I’M sure.  Also said above that the Sox won 59 Series.  Incorrect.  Re the .228 team BA, I was positive I recalled that one correctly.  Some facts you read stay with you no matter how obscure, so I felt inclined to check that one, and I just blew it.