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?

A.J. Hinch: “We’ll use every pitcher in Game 7 if we have to”

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It’s not entirely clear why the Astros threw Ken Giles into the ninth inning of Game 6 of the ALCS. With a six-run advantage and the bottom half of the Yankees’ lineup due up, pushing the series to its seven-game capacity looked like a sure bet. Giles may be one of Houston’s better bullpen arms, but he’s not their only option, and it would have made more sense to keep him fresh for a do-or-die Game 7 on Saturday night.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a sure bet when it comes to postseason baseball. That’s more or less what Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch had to say after the game, telling reporters that he had envisioned a quick three outs from his closer as they tried to pull back from the brink of elimination. “We didn’t have the luxury of limping into that inning,” Hinch said. “We’ve seen how these guys can explode in these innings.”

It’s not difficult to recall the Yankees’ explosive drive in the eighth inning of Game 4, when they exploited the holes in Houston’s ‘pen and evened the series with Gary Sanchez‘s go-ahead double off of Giles. Back home in Minute Maid Park, however, there was a slightly different feel to the eighth and ninth innings of Game 6. Jose Altuve led off the eighth with a solo home run, followed by Alex Bregman‘s two-run double and Evan Gattis‘ sac fly. In the ninth, Giles labored through a 23-pitch outing to lock down the win, handing out a base hit and a seven-pitch walk before eventually whiffing Chase Headley on three straight pitches for the last out.

So, while Hinch’s decision to lean on Giles in Game 6 may have felt wasteful, his concerns were not entirely unfounded. He’s prepared to roll with the same strategy during Saturday’s series finale, too, leaving nothing on the table as the Astros battle for their first World Series showdown since 2005. According to Dallas Keuchel, that means all hands on deck — except for Justin Verlander, whose four wins, 24 strikeouts and 1.46 postseason ERA have gotten the Astros as far as he could possibly be expected to take them. “No pitcher is going to be in the dugout,” said Keuchel. “They’re all going to be in the bullpen, myself included. Any way we can help out, we’re trying to get to the World Series, the same way the Yankees are, and that’s a nice feeling to have.”

Does that mean Giles will be available for a Game 7 appearance? Stranger things have happened. Joe Sheehan notes that the right-hander has pitched in back-to-back days 13 times this year, though he’s never thrown as many as 23 pitches on Day 1. Granted, he likely doesn’t have enough left in the tank for another 20+ pitch run on Saturday, but with the World Series on the line, any help he can offer will be invaluable.