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


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?

Spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws

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Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post reports that, according to three congressional officials familiar with current talks, an upcoming spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws. This is an issue we have spent some time covering here. A bill proposed in 2016, H.R. 5580, would have amended language in Section 13 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which would have made it so minor leaguers wouldn’t be protected under a law that protects hourly workers. There is also an ongoing class action lawsuit over unfair labor prospects.

As DeBonis notes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is among the representatives backing the measure. The provision specifically concerning minor leaguers didn’t appear in any of the draft spending bills, but DeBonis spoke to officials familiar with the negotiations under the condition of anonymity who said it was under serious consideration by top party leaders.

DeBonis got a comment from Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner. He said, “We’re not saying that [minor league pay] shouldn’t go up. We’re just saying that the formula of minimum wage and overtime is so incalculable. I would hate to think that a prospect is told, ‘You got to go home because you’re out of hours, you can’t have any extra batting practice.’ It’s those kinds of things. It’s not like factory work. It’s not like work where you can punch a time clock and management can project how many hours they’re going to have to pay for.”

O’Conner said as much in an interview back in December. It’s an extremely disingenuous deflection. O’Conner also said, “I don’t think that minor league baseball is a career choice for a player.” This is all about creating legislation that allows Minor League Baseball to keep money at the top, which is great if you’re a team owner or shareholder. If they could get away with it, every owner of every business would pay its employees as little as possible, which is why it’s important to have unions and people keeping an eye on legislation like this that attempts to strip laborers of their rights in the dead of night.

Minor league players need to unionize. Or, better yet, the MLBPA should open their doors to include minor leaguers and fight for them just as they would a player who has reached the majors. Minor leaguers should be paid a salary with which they do not have to worry about things like rent, electricity, food, and transportation. They should be provided healthcare and a retirement fund. And if anyone tries to tell you it’s not affordable, MLB eclipsed $10 billion in revenues last year. There’s plenty to go around.

The owners are banking on this legislation passing and labor still coming in excess due to young men holding onto the dream of making the major leagues. According to CNN, “far less than 10 percent of minor league players ever get the chance to make it to the major leagues.” Some of these players have forgone college to work in baseball. They arrive at the park in the morning and leave late at night, putting in far more than your standard eight-hour work day. Since their bodies are their vehicle for success, they have to exercise regularly and vigorously off the field while maintaining a healthy diet. (And teams are still reluctant to invest even the smallest amount of money to ensure their young players eat well.) Minor leaguers make tremendous sacrifices to pursue their dream and now Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying Congress to legalize taking further advantage of them.