Not so fast on that “best rotation of all time” business

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Last night, in an admitted fit of hyperbole and sleep-deprivation, I wrote that the 2011 Phillies may be better than those Braves rotations of the 1990s.  I still think such a thing is possible inasmuch as it would not take a career year from each and every one of them to match what the 1997 or 1998 Braves did, even if it may require something close to it.  But to actually predict such a thing is probably folly, in the same way that it is folly to ever predict that we’ll soon see the best-ever anything.

Mark Armour — friend, longtime HBT reader and, most importantly for our purposes today, excellent baseball scholar and author — wrote to me this morning to help set me straight.  The below-analysis is completely his own, not mine, but I’m not block quoting it because it would be too long and unreadable that way. So take it away Mark:

  • Greg Maddux’s first 10 years with the Braves (1993-2002) he was 178-77 (average 18-8), averaging 231 innings, a 2.51 ERA (171 ERA+).  The best pitcher of all time in my opinion.
  • Tom Glavine had a rough first few years (he came up at 21) and a long tail to his career.  However, over the years 1991-2002 (his final 12 years with the Braves), he finished 209-102 with a 3.15 ERA, averaging 225 innings per year with a 134 ERA+.  A machine.
  • John Smoltz from 1991 to 1999 (before he moved to the pen) was 129-84 over 212 innings per year and a 127 ERA+.
  • The fourth starter varied over this period, but was generally very good–Neagle, Millwood, Avery, etc.
  • Halladay has gone 151-69 over the past nine years, 147 ERA+ over 218 innings.  Well short of Maddux, but ahead of Glavine.  Pretty friggin’ great.
  • Giving Lee the best of it, you have to ignore everything before 2008.  His ERA+ the past three years: 168. 131, 130, averaging 220 innings pitched a year.  Looking ahead, I can see a couple of Glavine level seasons for him, but Glavine did it for 12 years.
  • Oswalt has had a Glavine like first half of his career, 10 years of 135+ ERA over 200 innings per year.  He has not had Glavine’s durability, which is true of basically everyone.
  • Giving Hamels the best of it, he has averaged 13 wins and a 125 ERA+ and 203 innings over the past four years.

But we are looking ahead, right, looking to 2011?   The Phillies top three pitchers will be 34, 32, and 33 years old.  The chances of them having years like the Braves had every single year for 10 years is pretty much zero.  Their pasts are pretty good, but the 2011 Phillies will not have a rotation like the Braves.  I predict that only Halladay a perhaps Lee will have a Glavine like season (220 innings, 135 ERA+) among the four pitchers.  Oswalt is less likely to hold up for that many innings, and Hamels has never had a year even approaching this level.

Man, those Braves were good!

It’s Craig again:  I agree with most of that, and I agree that it will be highly unlikely for the 2011 Phillies to match the Braves rotation at its height.  The point here, however, which remains true from last night, is that unlike the case for almost every single team out there, it’s not impossible for the Phillies to do it. While Maddux at his peak is pretty untouchable, all four of the Phillies top starters are capable of putting up Cy Young years next season, and all are at least capable of matching Glavine and Smoltz at their best.

But no one gets rich betting on such things, so let’s hold off giving out best-ever accolades until next October, OK?

Must-Click Link: “Skunk in the Outfield”

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Sam Miller of ESPN has an amazingly fantastic story today. It’s about a high school tournament baseball game in Rhode Island in 2006. It’s not your typical game story or oral history or look-to-the-past-to-see-the-future kind of thing. The only nod to such conventionality is mention of the fact that former Red Sox prospect Ryan Westmoreland played in the game. That’s mostly a footnote.

No, the article is about a trick play — “skunk in the outfield” — concocted by one of the coaches. About how it played out and what went into it before, during and after it happened. Along the way Miller talks about the nature of trick plays and offers a good three dozen amazing insights into the psychology of young baseball players and the strategy of baseball as it unfolds in real time.

Each of these observations could anchor its own story but here they form a grand mosaic. And that’s only mild hyperbole, if in fact it’s hyperbole at all. Indeed, most treatments of such a play would be some video clip with a “wow, look what happened here!” sort of couching. Miller gives a more than ten-year-old trick play an epic treatment that is every bit as enlightening as it is entertaining.

Set some time aside to read this today.

Rubby De La Rosa to undergo a second Tommy John Surgery

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This is unfortunate: Diamondbacks reliever Rubby De La Rosa will undergo Tommy John surgery. This will be the second Tommy John procedure of his career, the first coming back in 2011.

De La Rosa has had elbow  issues for his entire career. Last year his UCL was barking again and he underwent stem cell therapy to try to avoid a second surgery, but it obviously hasn’t worked out. He’s pitched in only nine games this year, allowing four earned runs in seven and two-thirds innings, striking out 12.

I first saw De La Rosa in spring training in 2011. I thought his stuff was pretty phenomenal and figured he’d be a good one. Great stuff is often a function of heavy strain on an elbow, however, and pitchers breaking is, unfortunately, the rule in baseball far more than the exception.

He’ll miss a year at least. We likely won’t see him until spring of 2019, most likely on a minor league deal.