Angelino in the Outfield (Episode III: The Greatest Pitching Staff of All Time)

Written by :
Published on : March 14, 2016

 

Ah, the Dog Days of March, am I right? The days when the initial excitement of Spring Training has probably started to wane and, admittedly, there’s not a whole lot going on in the game of baseball. I was going to use this week’s column to bash the kid in the ‘Dad Saves Son From Flying Baseball Bat’ photo for being on his fucking iPhone during a live baseball game. But then I realized the kid was nine-years-old, celebrating his birthday with his dad and adorably sending photos of the game to his mom back home. And I don’t want to sound like Goose Gossage telling Bryce Harper to get off his lawn or watching a Jose Bautista bat flip and wanting his country back. So this week, I’m going to do a continuation of a theme I’d touched on the previous week, and that’s hating on the New York Mets.

 

At some point last week, I heard Karl Ravech of ESPN say that he really thinks the young Mets staff is going to go down as the greatest pitching rotation of all time. My immediate reaction was to think, “Okay great. Now I know I never have to listen to anything Karl Ravech says ever again.” But the more I thought about it, the more I decided I should probably know which staffs in baseball history are currently in that conversation to begin with. I can’t just be some derpy politician claiming Hillary Clinton is the worst Secretary of State of all time if I can’t name anybody else who did the job. I mean, I assumed the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz Braves teams of the nineties had to be in there somewhere. But I didn’t know if there was some rockstar Philadelphia A’s team in the 1920’s with Flippo Gumslaw and Pud Hayseed or some shit.

 

 

So I decided to look into it. And yes, it turns out the nineties Braves are the greatest pitching staff of all-time. I can go ahead confirm that for you right now. That’s based on the combined WAR of each team’s top four starters. And yes, I know everybody has a five man rotation now. And yes, I know the Mets might go with a six man this year. But I had to stay with four to keep things fairly even across eras. We good now? Okay. Let’s get back to the Braves. I could have just said “Seven Cy Youngs, 873 wins and three first-ballot Cooperstown plaques” and dropped the mic. But again, what about the Flippos and Puds of the world?

 

What I found is that, for the top four starters on any given team, a combined WAR of 15 means a staff is pretty good. An 18 means they’re really good. And anything above a 20 is basically all-time great. Last year’s Mets staff (where the best four were Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon) got a 15.2 combined WAR. Their projections for 2016 (with Steven Matz replacing Colon as the #4) are also between a 15 and 16. Just so we’re all clear, let’s look at what those nineties Braves staffs did.

 

1993. Maddux. Avery. Smoltz. Glavine.         19.8
1994. Maddux. Glavine. Avery. Smoltz.         15.6*
1995. Maddux. Smoltz. Glavine. Avery.         19.3
1996. Smoltz. Maddux. Glavine. Avery.         23.9
1997. Maddux. Smoltz. Neagle. Glavine.       23.5
1998. Maddux. Smoltz. Glavine. Milwood.     20.8
1999. Maddux. Milwood. Smoltz. Glavine.    20.7

* Strike-shortened.

 

That’s insane. But when I looked through all the stats, I also realized just how rare it was for a team to have that many quality starters to get to a 18-20 WAR. Especially after the Dead Ball Era. For a pre-Babe-Ruth Era team (when the players were white, but the balls were not) to be in the ‘best of all time’ running, they usually had to revolve around a Hall of Fame-level super-ace like Christy Mathewson or Walter Johnson. And while there have been plenty of amazing individual single-season pitching performances over the years, the idea of a dominant staff is a much more recent phenomenon. In other words, aces come and go. That part is fairly easy. The hard part is getting yourself a Steve Avery – the Braves’ #4 pitcher, not the beloved Manitowoc County murderer from the Internet.

 

So who’s the second-best rotation ever, you ask? Surely it must be the Sandy Koufax/Don Drysdale Los Angeles Dodgers of the 1960’s or the Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling Diamondbacks of the early 2000’s or that 2011 Phillies team with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. Nope, Nope and Nope. While those teams are up there near the very top, I’d say the second-best staff of all-time and the placeholders before the Braves came around were the 1969-1970 Chicago Cubs. Seriously. Well, I guess it’s hard to be a placeholder, when nobody back then had advanced stats and everybody would have just been looking at stuff like win totals and then slobbering over overrated teams like the 1971 Orioles, who had four 20-game winners, but a combined WAR of 14.8. But that Cubs staff anchored by Fergie Jenkins, Ken Holtzman and Bill Hands put up a crazily-impressive 23.4 in 1969 and a best-ever-in-history 24.7 in 1970.

 

 Ken Holtzman

 

And while it may be easy on the surface of things to poo-poo a Cubs staff led by a 3rd-ballot Hall of Famer and some other dudes you’ve never heard of (especially when the 1969 Cubs are synonymous with curses, black cats and choking) just realize that Jenkins is one of the more underrated pitchers of all-time, Holtzman threw TWO no hitters in his career and also the cold hard fact that no other team in the history of baseball besides the ’96-’97 Braves ever put up those kind of combined WAR numbers. Like, ever. Not the Christy Mathewson-led New York Giants. Not the Walter Johnson-led Washington Senators. Not the Flippo Gumshaw/Pud Hayseed Philadelphia Athletics of the pretend 1920’s. Not even even those ’72-’74 Oakland teams where Holtzman ended up winning three World Series rings. And they did it all in Wrigley Field, which isn’t necessarily known as a pitching-friendly park. The numbers are there, whether you’ve Googled these guys or not (and fun fact: Googling ‘Bill Hands’ in 2016 gets you some equally interesting results on both Bills Cosby and Clinton).

 

All of this is probably why people like Karl Ravech think they have a point. A staff as deep as the current Mets are on paper is a rare sight in baseball history. And we don’t celebrate many of the other great staffs in history besides Glavine, Smoltzie and the Professor. Individual pitchers, yes. But great staffs, not so much. So it seems easier to spout off about ‘greatest ever’ without some asshole like me with the free time to do some basic fact checking. And since we’re dealing with the entire history of baseball here, the 1990 Mets had Dwight Gooden, Frank Viola, David Cone and Sid Fernandez. Their combined WAR was 20.8. There’s also three Cy Young Award winners, 14 All-Star Games and 10 World Series rings among them. Call me when this Mets staff even approaches that level. In fact, call me when they approach the 1976 Mets (19.0 WAR) with Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack and Mickey Lolich. And know that just because you don’t know something, it doesn’t give you the right to spout off about it with confidence.

 

You really think this Mets staff is going to go down as the greatest of all-time? Keep checking your iPhone for it to happen. Maybe your dad will save you seconds before a bat smashes you in your stupid face.

 

 


Now Batting: The Designated Hitter

Written by :
Published on : June 25, 2015

Over the past few years, Major League Baseball has made numerous changes in an effort to improve on America’s Pastime. From lowering the height of the mound to give hitters a better chance against dominant pitchers, to recently moving the Houston Astros, formerly of the National League Central, to the American League West creating an equal amount of teams in each division and league. Also, before this season, pace-of-play rules were implemented to ultimately speed up the game. All of these changes, of course with the hopes of getting your average sports fan back into baseball.

In 1973, the American League decided to do away with pitchers batting thus creating the Designated Hitter, or DH position, which allows for a player to bat in the lineup without taking the field defensively. The National League however, has held its stance and have maintained their rule of keeping the pitcher in the batting order. Over the years, this variance between leagues has been debated over and over, although the movement to bring the DH position into both leagues is picking up steam.

Personally, I feel like bringing the DH into the National League is long overdue. For one, having an American League and National League, thankfully now even with fifteen teams each, playing with different rules makes no sense, but it also presents both leagues with some major advantages and disadvantages. Here are my top 3 reasons to bring the DH to the National League.

CREATE A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD

It has long been thought that pitching is easier in the National League because generally pitchers struggle at the plate, with many of them batting under, or even just around the .100 mark, whereas in the American League, a pitcher rarely has to face a batter hitting below the .200 mark. Therefore, you often times will see lower ERA’s and more dominant pitchers in the National League. Currently, one might argue that because teams only play roughly around 10% of their games against the other league, it doesn’t necessarily have a huge factor in the final standings. However, with the National League having pitchers hit on a daily basis, it allows for their pitchers to actually partake in occasional batting practice throughout the year, whereas in the American League, pitchers don’t put nearly an equal amount of emphasis on hitting. During the World Series especially, this can become a huge advantage for teams in the National League. For the American League, the use of the DH creates a better opportunity to score runs by having a better bat in the lineup, however it does make it more difficult for the pitchers who do not have an “easy out” so to speak every time at the bottom of the order.  Granted, not all pitchers are completely inept at the plate, while it is always amusing reminiscing the times when Randy Johnson, potentially the most dominant left-handed pitcher in the history of the game, would be flailing at pitches like a blind-folded kid swinging aimlessly at a piñata, some pitchers have actually had some success at the plate. Former Chicago Cub, Carlos Zambrano, hit a total of 23 home runs during his career and today, San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner, hit .258 last season with 4 home runs. To put that in perspective, only four everyday players on the Milwaukee Brewers have a higher batting average. Perhaps worth noting though, both of those pitchers spent the majority of their careers in the National League.

PLAYER SAFETY

By not having the pitchers hit, it also may be helping to avoid further injuries to American League arms too. In recent years, we have seen some of the richest contracts in baseball given to starting pitchers, but have also seen many season and sometimes even career ending injuries to those expensive arms. Two of baseball’s top starting pitchers in recent years, Adam Wainwright of the St Louis Cardinals, and Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals, both have had injuries this year, but not while delivering upper 90-MPH fastballs, or from snapping off a nasty breaking ball. Instead, their injuries came at the plate, with Wainwright’s Achilles injury likely ending his 2015 season. Any time you step into the batter’s box, you run the risk of getting hurt. For one, human error. No matter how great a pitcher is, there is no guarantee that he is going to locate his pitch perfectly on the inside corner without occasionally getting a little too inside and plunking the hitter. Also, there’s foul balls off your ankle, your instep, your knee, etc. that also can cause a great deal of pain and if you’re a pitcher, your legs can be just as important as your arm considering your delivery all starts with your legs. Your drive leg and your plant leg both play vital roles in pitching. The DH also allows for the American League to give its players a little bit of a rest while still getting the most out of their bat. Sometimes players just need a little break from the everyday grind of shagging fly balls or getting beat up by sharply hit grounders and thus they get a day off from the field but can still deliver a clutch hit when the team needs it most. This is especially useful when a player is recovering from an injury or just tweaked something the night before, but you don’t want to remove him from the lineup completely. In the National League, you don’t have that luxury.

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE

Lastly, as a fan of baseball, I just flat out want to see pitchers pitch and hitters hit; it’s that simple. As great as a pitching duel can be, fans want to see runs scored and having a two out rally killed when a pitcher comes up to bat gets old really quick.  We all enjoy seeing New York Mets’ pitcher Bartolo Colon swing his 265-pound frame so ferociously that his helmet tumbles off of his head, then watching him rumble his way around first base and into second base for a rare double. It can fill the stands with excitement, shock and awe, but moments like that however are the anomaly. Perhaps not as rare as say seeing Haley’s comet shoot across the sky like a rocket off the bat of Miguel Cabrera, but more often we see a situation where a team gets a couple of runners on, or even a two out double or triple, the crowd is on their feet, the pitcher is rattled on the mound, and the pitching coach comes out and orders up an intentional walk, or even two intentional walks, to bring up the opposing team’s pitcher to hit. Three pitches later, a couple weak, feeble attempted swings, and the rally is over.

“If you look at it from the macro side, who’d people see hit — Big Papi (David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox) or me?” Scherzer said to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. “Who would people rather see, a real hitter hitting home runs or a pitcher swinging a wet newspaper? Both leagues need to be on the same set of rules.”

Major League Baseball has had its glory days, and most recently its dark days in dealing with the aftermath of the Steroid Era in particular. But through it all, one thing has been constant, the fan’s desire to see runs. In fact, it’s generally the consensus in most sports. Viewers want runs, goals, points, touchdowns etc. As baseball continues to evolve, and improve upon itself by making changes for the better, its next step needs to be implementing the DH position in both leagues, and therefore having one set of rules for all thirty teams. My hope and my prediction is, you will see the Designated Hitter coming to a National League ballpark near you by the 2016 or 2017 season.


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