October 31, 2014

The Phab-4 Greatness Watch: Picking The Competition

I had a lot of fun last year with the Roy Halladay Greatness Watch, and this year with the Phillies posting one of the most-hyped rotations in baseball history, I have to expand it.

The goal of this ongoing discussion will be to answer the question everyone has been asking since Cliff Lee day back in December: Is this the best rotation ever assembled? And if isn’t, where does it rank?

Obviously an injury could throw a wrench into this whole thing, but we’ll stay optimistic.

The first order of business is to determine what the benchmarks are for great four-somes in MLB history. There have been a lot of articles written about the subject, but I wanted to use my own method. This post will guide you quickly through the method I used and then detail the rotations we’ll be comparing R2C2 to.

All 4 Phillies starters had a WAR over 4.0 last year. That’s a bit of an unfair baseline (only two teams have ever done it, ’97 Braves, ’67 Reds), so I dropped it to 3.0 to drop a wider net at the start. To give you an idea what that means, 46 starters had a WAR over 3.0 last year, with a 3.0 pitcher being someone like Gavin Floyd or Andy Pettitte.

Below are the 41 rotations since 1940 that have had 4 pitchers with a WAR (I’m using BBRef, by the way) of 3.0 or more.

Rotations since 1940 w/ four pitchers with a WAR over 3.0

1. 2008 White Sox (Danks, Buehrle, Floyd, Vazquez)
2. 2006 Tigers (Verlander, Robertson, Bonderman, Rogers)
3. 2005 White Sox (Buehrle, Garland, Garcia, Contreras)
4. 2005 Angels (Lackey, Colon, Washburn, Byrd)
5. 2003 Yankees (Mussina, Wells, Clemens, Pettitte)
6. 2002 Athletics (Hudson, Zito, Mulder, Lidle)
7. 2001 Athletics (Mulder, Hudson, Zito, Lidle)
8. 1997 Braves (Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Neagle)
9. 1993 Dodgers (Candiotti, R. Martinez, Astacio, Hershiser)
10. 1991 Braves (Glavine, Smoltz, Avery, Leibrandt)
11. 1988 Mets (Cone, Gooden, Darling, Fernandez)
12. 1987 Royals (Saberhagen, Leibrandt, Gubicza, D. Jackson)
13. 1985 Dodgers (Hershiser, Valenzuela, Welch, Reuss)
14. 1984 Dodgers (Pena, Valenzuela, Hershiser, Honeycutt)
15. 1984 Pirates (Rhoden, McWilliams, Tudor, Candelaria)
16. 1984 Rangers (Hough, Tanana, Mason, Darwin)
17. 1977 Dodgers (Hooton, John, Sutton, Rau)
18. 1972 Cubs (Jenkins, Hooton, Pappas, Hands)
19. 1968 Astros (Lemaster, Giusti, Dierker, Cuellar)
20. 1968 Giants (Perry, Marichal, Bolin, Sadecki)
21. 1967 Reds (Nolan, Queen, Maloney, Pappas)
22. 1967 Twins (Merritt, Chance, Boswell, Kaat)
23. 1967 Phillies (Bunning, Short, Wise, Jackson)
24. 1966 Indians (Hargan, McDowell, Siebert, Bell)
25. 1966 Dodgers (Koufax, Sutton, Osteen, Drysdale)
26. 1965 Angels (Newman, Brunet, Chance, Lopez)
27. 1963 Reds (Maloney, Nuxhall, O’Toole, Tsitouris)
28. 1961 Dodgers (Koufax, Drysdale, Williams, Podres)
29.  1961 Cardinals (Gibson, Sadecki, Jackson, Simmons)
30. 1959 Orioles (Wilhelm, Pappas, O’Dell, Walker)
31. 1955 Indians (Wynn, Score, Garcia, Lemon)
32. 1951 Reds (Raffensberger, Fox, Blackwell, Wehmeier)
33. 1950 Tigers (Houtteman, Trout, Hutchinson, Newhouser)
34. 1949 Tigers (Trucks, Newhouser, Hutchinson, Gray)
35. 1949 Cardinals (Pollet, Brazle, Staley, Brecheen)
36. 1947 Dodgers (Branca, Hatten, Taylor, Lombardi)
37. 1947 Cardinals (Brecheen, Munger, Dickson, Brazle)
38. 1946 Tigers (Newhouser, Trout, Trucks, Hutchinson)
39. 1942 Tigers (White, Benton, Bridges, Trucks, Newhouser)
40. 1941 Reds (Walters, Riddle, Vander Meer, Derringer)
41. 1940 White Sox (Rigney, Lee, Smith, Lyons)

So how are we going to cut this down? I’m not terribly interested in rotation with 4 “Gavin Floyd”‘s, so I’ll eliminate all rotations that don’t have an “ace”, or a pitcher above 5.0 (12 pitchers last year, like Lester, Price and Sabathia) and all rotations that have a combined WAR under 17.0.

Also, I don’t really want rotations that are carried by the top-3 and then have a Blanton type guy at 4, so I’m getting rid of any rotation that has a pitcher with an ERA+ under 100 (100 is league average).

Taking out those w/o one pitcher with a WAR over 5.0, or one pitcher w/an ERA+ under 100, or combined WAR of under 17.0

1. 2008 White Sox (Danks, Buehrle, Floyd, Vazquez)
2. 2006 Tigers (Verlander, Robertson, Bonderman, Rogers)
3. 2005 White Sox (Buehrle, Garland, Garcia, Contreras)
4. 2005 Angels (Lackey, Colon, Washburn, Byrd)
5. 2003 Yankees (Mussina, Wells, Clemens, Pettitte)
6. 2002 Athletics (Hudson, Zito, Mulder, Lidle)
7. 2001 Athletics (Mulder, Hudson, Zito, Lidle)
8. 1997 Braves (Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Neagle)
9. 1993 Dodgers (Candiotti, R. Martinez, Astacio, Hershiser)
10. 1991 Braves (Glavine, Smoltz, Avery, Leibrandt)
11. 1988 Mets (Cone, Gooden, Darling, Fernandez)
12. 1987 Royals (Saberhagen, Leibrandt, Gubicza, D. Jackson)
13. 1985 Dodgers (Hershiser, Valenzuela, Welch, Reuss)
14. 1984 Dodgers (Pena, Valenzuela, Hershiser, Honeycutt)
15. 1984 Pirates (Rhoden, McWilliams, Tudor, Candelaria)
16. 1984 Rangers (Hough, Tanana, Mason, Darwin)
17. 1977 Dodgers (Hooton, John, Sutton, Rau)
18. 1972 Cubs (Jenkins, Hooton, Pappas, Hands)
19. 1968 Astros (Lemaster, Giusti, Dierker, Cuellar)
20. 1968 Giants (Perry, Marichal, Bolin, Sadecki)
21. 1967 Reds (Nolan, Queen, Maloney, Pappas)
22. 1967 Twins (Merritt, Chance, Boswell, Kaat)
23. 1967 Phillies (Bunning, Short, Wise, Jackson)
24. 1966 Indians (Hargan, McDowell, Siebert, Bell)
25. 1966 Dodgers (Koufax, Sutton, Osteen, Drysdale)
26. 1965 Angels (Newman, Brunet, Chance, Lopez)
27. 1963 Reds (Maloney, Nuxhall, O’Toole, Tsitouris)
28. 1961 Dodgers (Koufax, Drysdale, Williams, Podres)
29.  1961 Cardinals (Gibson, Sadecki, Jackson, Simmons)
30. 1959 Orioles (Wilhelm, Pappas, O’Dell, Walker)
31. 1955 Indians (Wynn, Score, Garcia, Lemon)
32. 1951 Reds (Raffensberger, Fox, Blackwell, Wehmeier)
33. 1950 Tigers (Houtteman, Trout, Hutchinson, Newhouser)
34. 1949 Tigers (Trucks, Newhouser, Hutchinson, Gray)
35. 1949 Cardinals (Pollet, Brazle, Staley, Brecheen)
36. 1947 Dodgers (Branca, Hatten, Taylor, Lombardi)
37. 1947 Cardinals (Brecheen, Munger, Dickson, Brazle)
38. 1946 Tigers (Newhouser, Trout, Trucks, Hutchinson)
39. 1942 Tigers (White, Benton, Bridges, Trucks, Newhouser)
40. 1941 Reds (Walters, Riddle, Vander Meer, Derringer)
41. 1940 White Sox (Rigney, Lee, Smith, Lyons)

Another thing that makes our rotation special is that these are all guys who have had long-term success, not a flash-in-the-pan deal. For the next step, I’m going to remove all rotations w/o a HOF pitcher, unless the total WAR for rotation is above 20 (i.e. the “flash” is too good to ignore — those are in italics). Tim Hudson has a decent HOF chance, so I’m leaving the A’s.

Also, I’m going to eliminate some duplication here picking the best of the early 2000′s A’s, late 40′s Tigers and the 3 1967 teams.

Removing those w/o a HOF pitcher, provided total WAR is under 20 (also eliminating duplication for 2001-02 A’s, late ’40s Tigers and the 3 1967 teams)

3. 2005 White Sox (Buehrle, Garland, Garcia, Contreras)
5. 2003 Yankees (Mussina, Wells, Clemens, Pettitte)
6. 2002 Athletics (Hudson, Zito, Mulder, Lidle)
7. 2001 Athletics (Mulder, Hudson, Zito, Lidle)
8. 1997 Braves (Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Neagle)
9. 1993 Dodgers (Candiotti, R. Martinez, Astacio, Hershiser)
10. 1991 Braves (Glavine, Smoltz, Avery, Leibrandt)
12. 1987 Royals (Saberhagen, Leibrandt, Gubicza, D. Jackson)
13. 1985 Dodgers (Hershiser, Valenzuela, Welch, Reuss)
17. 1977 Dodgers (Hooton, John, Sutton, Rau)
18. 1972 Cubs (Jenkins, Hooton, Pappas, Hands)
20. 1968 Giants (Perry, Marichal, Bolin, Sadecki)
21. 1967 Reds (Nolan, Queen, Maloney, Pappas)
22. 1967 Twins (Merritt, Chance, Boswell, Kaat)
23. 1967 Phillies (Bunning, Short, Wise, Jackson)
27. 1963 Reds (Maloney, Nuxhall, O’Toole, Tsitouris)
28. 1961 Dodgers (Koufax, Drysdale, Williams, Podres)
30. 1959 Orioles (Wilhelm, Pappas, O’Dell, Walker)
31. 1955 Indians (Wynn, Score, Garcia, Lemon)
34. 1949 Tigers (Trucks, Newhouser, Hutchinson, Gray)
35. 1949 Cardinals (Pollet, Brazle, Staley, Brecheen)
38. 1946 Tigers (Newhouser, Trout, Trucks, Hutchinson)
40. 1941 Reds (Walters, Riddle, Vander Meer, Derringer)
41. 1940 White Sox (Rigney, Lee, Smith, Lyons)

Finally, obviously no one will be talking about how great out rotation is if we miss the playoffs. A pre-requisite for this needs to be that the team was at least decent. For instance, I have a hard time keeping the 1959 Orioles on this list knowing they had a losing record. Since so much other than 4 pitchers goes into winning games, I’m not going to go too crazy, rather require that the team won at least 54% of their games (87-88 wins in a 162 game schedule).

Team must have won at least 54% of games (88 wins today)

5. 2003 Yankees (Mussina, Wells, Clemens, Pettitte) – 101 (62.3%)
6. 2002 Athletics (Hudson, Zito, Mulder, Lidle) – 103 (63.6%)
8. 1997 Braves (Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Neagle) – 101 (62.3%)
10. 1991 Braves (Glavine, Smoltz, Avery, Leibrandt) – 94 (58.0%)
12. 1987 Royals (Saberhagen, Leibrandt, Gubicza, D. Jackson) – 83 (51.2%)
17. 1977 Dodgers (Hooton, John, Sutton, Rau) – 98 (60.5%)
18. 1972 Cubs (Jenkins, Hooton, Pappas, Hands) – 85 (54.8%)
20. 1968 Giants (Perry, Marichal, Bolin, Sadecki) – 88 (54.3%)
21. 1967 Reds (Nolan, Queen, Maloney, Pappas) – 87 (53.7%)
28. 1961 Dodgers (Koufax, Drysdale, Williams, Podres) – 89 (57.8%)
30. 1959 Orioles (Wilhelm, Pappas, O’Dell, Walker) – 74 (48.1%)
31. 1955 Indians (Wynn, Score, Garcia, Lemon) – 93 (60.4%)
38. 1946 Tigers (Newhouser, Trout, Trucks, Hutchinson) – 92 (59.7%)
41. 1940 White Sox (Rigney, Lee, Smith, Lyons) – 82 (53.2%)

So that puts us at a reasonable number (10).

Putting together everything I mentioned above, here are the traits that these 10 share, and will presumably share with the 2011 Phillies staff…

  • They have elite level talent at the top (at least 5.0 WAR for one pitcher)
  • They have very good talent 1 to 4, not just 3 pitchers pulling up the 4th (no sub 100 ERA+, at least 17 total WAR, all pitchers with at least 3.0 WAR)
  • There is a significant track record of previous or future success (At least one HOFer, though exceptions were allowed)
  • They pitched for winning teams (team winning % of at least 54%, or 87-88 wins today)

The last step here is to take a look at these one-by-one and make sure my criteria didn’t spit out a dud, and also get ourselves acclimated with them.

Notes: Obviously you would think that having 2 pitchers with an ERA over 4.00 would be a deal-breaker here. But this was the height of the steroid era, and an AL team. These guys were all in the top-18 in the AL in ERA ,  top-19 in WAR and all pitched 200+ innings. 2 HOF caliber guys (Mussina and Clemens), 2 not-quites and 100+ team wins and I’m good with keeping them in.

Notes: Pretty much a no-brainer here at the height of Oakland’s big-3. Cory Lidle had some back luck in the W/L area, but we don’t penalize for that here. He actually had a lower WHIP than Tim Hudson.

Notes: Probably the gold standard. 4 guys with WAR’s over 4.0. 962 IP. Sub-3 ERA. Sub-1.10 WHIP.

Notes: They weren’t too shabby before Maddux arrived either.

Notes: Burt Hooton isn’t going to turn a lot of heads, but it’s hard to argue with the numbers here. Very similar to the 2003 Yankees in that we’ve got 4 quality starters all top-20 in their league. Just don’t have the name recognition.

Notes: Burt is back! I’m gonna have to do a little more research on him. Obvious Fergie is carrying this group a little bit, but we are still talking about almost 900 innings and a sub-3 ERA.

Notes: If we cut this down even more, this is one that will definitely make the cut. 1,047 innings with an ERA under 2.50, two hall-of-famers and one (Marichal) with an all-time season.

Notes: Not Koufax or Drysdale’s best season, but they had a lot more help this year than others.

Notes: 2 HOFers in Wynn and Lemon and 2 great seasons with Wynn and Score. The bottom 2 guys are the weakest bottom 2 in the remaining groups though.

Notes: The highest total WAR, led by a ridiculous year by Hal Newhouser. Joined the ’68 Giants as the only team with 1,000+ innings here.

So here are the questions I want you guys and gals to answer…

  1. Do you have any objections with the 10 that have been chosen
  2. Are there any that are not in the 10 that you think should definitely be included

P.S.

Burt Hooton (2,652 IP, 3.38 ERA, 1.24 WHIP), comparable pitchers on BBRef are Rick Rhoden, Jim Lonborg and Doug Drabek. The two seasons above were his 2 best, though he had many other good ones.

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Comments

  1. Jesse says:

    Apparently Burt had some success against the Phillies…per wikipedia “He was the third player to go straight to the Major Leagues after being drafted without spending a day in the minors. He began 1972 in outstanding fashion, pitching a 4-0 no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field on April 16, the second day of the strike-delayed season.”

  2. Pete says:

    Obviously the 1971 Orioles are the most well-known omission. I will probably add them in, just because of the notoriety.

  3. Ken Bland says:

    Pete,

    As you know, I’m not hard core stats driven.

    The numbers don’t lie (they might be based on selective vriteria driving them a ceretain way, so maybe that’s lyibng, but if the numbers take you down a certain path, I’m not sure about the rightfulness of options to comment on other staffs that maybe belong, etc.

    That said, and boy am I going to sound like a New Yorker with this, and maybe I missed something (the information is awfully congested because it’s a lot, not the format), but how is it that neither the 69 or 86 Mets didn’t even make the first round with Seaver, Koos, Gentry, Ryan, Gooden, Cone Matlack), and the Yanks, with 27 titles in a game defined as 90 per cent pitching winning 5 titles in a row with Reynolds and Raschi, and 5 more with Ford and Terry) aren’t listed.  I mean I didn’t look at the whole rosters, but just off the cuff, that caught me.

    I don’t know what the numbers were, but I know both the Met staffs were awesome, and have to believe the Yanks have multiple, if not better than 2003 representation.

    • Pete says:

      ’86 Mets is a very good one. Fernandez held them back a bit because despite where he may have ended up in the Cy Young voting, he was a league-average pitcher. He was 17th out of 33 qualified NL pitchers in ERA. The other three were top-5. 

      The trick is really the 4th starter. That’s what makes us so unique. 

      I’d certainly consider adding them though. Add them to ’71 Orioles as possible additions. Perhaps I cut out the bottom two and just make is since 1960, or if we get more, 1970.

    • Pete says:

      As for the Yankees, you just have to think about this way. It’s not whether the 1st and 2nd starters were good, it’s whether the bottom 2 were essentially #1 guys as well.

  4. Ken Bland says:

    Have to say, that is really cool that you have Maddux’s pic attached to this thread.

    Best pitcher on maybe the best rotation ever to date.

  5. Stu says:

    Where does Greene, Schilling, Mulholland, Jackson fall?

  6. Zack says:

    I read the NY Times Magazine regularly, and they had a feature about the Phillies rotation:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/03/magazine/mag-03Phillies-t.html

    I searched to see if someone had linked to it but couldn’t find anyone who did.  I don’t know how much new knowlege you’ll gain from reading it but 80% of the writing for the Magazine is top-notch and not boring and, in my opinion, this feature falls under that category.

    What made me laugh out loud:

    Oswalt throws between starts more than he works out in a gym. He gave me a sly, sideways grin. “I don’t get to the gym at 5 a.m. and work out for five hours. That’s ungodly.”

    • Ken Bland says:

      That’s a terrific share, Zack.  To quote Cole Hamels. “Thanks so much.”

      The Oswalt line was funny, but I actually did gain some new knowledge from the article.  Only a short distance from the quuote you included was something I neverc thought of, also from Roy O.

      You don’t hurt your arm throwing in the ninth inning — you hurt it in the early innings before your throwing smooths out.”

      Good stuff.

      • Zack says:

        Ken, when I mentioned not learning anything new from the piece, I wasn’t including myself, I actually learned a lot!  I’ve actually read it twice now because it’s really gotten me thinking about pitching.

        For example, how valid is it to say that the Phillies 4 don’t have great stuff?  Ok, let’s say it is valid, that pitchers nowadays are “deceivers”.  Then does that mean it’s all about pitching strategy and less about “stuff”?  Then that gets me to thinking about Hamels – so when he’s off, is it because he’s not deceiving the batters as much?  Then that gets me to thinking about when he has those single bad innings – whenever he gets in trouble, then that means he employs a strategy that doesn’t work.  He’s never been the type to be able to get out of jams, so is that why?  Then if that’s the case then maybe he should pattern his pitching strategy after Tim Lincecum or Sabathia, two pitchers who don’t seem to give up big innings very often and can work their way out of jams; by the way, I don’t know how Lincecum or Sabathia do it (not give up big innings).

        There’s tons of stuff in there, I could ruminate on it all day.  It really makes me want to focus on pitch sequences, but even then I don’t even know where to begin.

  7. bball says:

    Person, Padilla, Wolf and Daal?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] 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 [...]