When the Phillies acquired Cliff Lee to join Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels in the starting rotation, there was a lot of talk about that group being the best since the mid-nineties Braves, if not longer. Some argued that the Giants front four of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner, a much younger group coming off a dominant playoff run, could be just as good. When the Brewers added Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum to a rotation featuring Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf, and Chris Narveson, they had a chance to be the deepest rotation in the league, if not the strongest.
After Cole Hamels’s gem Friday night, I started to wonder if the Phillies have already established themselves as the league’s best rotation. I introduced Season Scores a few days ago, and they’ve been dying to settle an argument like this. It’s obviously too early in the season to make serious observations based on any statistic, but after last night’s games, most front-line starters have thrown four starts, so a Season Score, which aggregates Game Scores above replacement level, is a good measure of how effective a pitcher (or a pitching staff) has been so far. I’ll break out the best rotations by the top 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 pitchers this April.
Best One Starter
Angels (Jered Weaver)
Weaver’s been electric, pitching deep into all five games he’s started and leading the league in strikeouts. By averaging a 72 Game Score, Weaver has accumulated a 135 Season Score, 19 points better than teammate Dan Haren. The Marlins (Josh Johnson, 106) and Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 97) are second and third.
Best Two Starters
Angels (Jered Weaver, Dan Haren)
The Angels run away with this one, as Weaver and Haren have been the two best pitchers in the game. Haren was just average last night against the Red Sox, the best lineup he’s seen this year, but still has a 1.46 ERA and a ridiculous 0.76 WHIP (tied with Weaver for the best in the AL). After the Angels’ 251, it’s a big drop to Boston’s 173 (Beckett and Jon Lester) and St. Louis’s 164 (Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia).
Best Three Starters
Angels (Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Tyler Chatwood)
The Angels needed a third Season Score of just 14 to hold off the A’s, whose top three (Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, and Gio Gonzalez) are all in the top 11 in the AL in Season Score. Third starter Ervin Santana has stumbled his way to a Season Score of 9, but fill-in starter Tyler Chatwood has been worth 21 points, just enough to put them over the top with 272 points. The A’s are second with 264, then it’s a huge drop to the Cardinals (Lohse, Garcia, and Kyle McClellan) with 208.
Best Four Starters
Athletics (Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill)
This is where the A’s pitching depth starts to carry them. The A’s top four pitchers all have Season Scores of at least 56, ranking in the top 15 in the AL. That’s a better score than Cliff Lee, Matt Cain, Chris Carpenter, Felix Hernandez, or CC Sabathia has at this point. The Angels are second at 281, but it’s hard to say their rotation goes four deep when they get 89% of those points from Weaver and Haren. The Cardinals (239 when we add Chris Carpenter) maintain a small lead over the Phillies’ big four (231) for the top spot in the NL. Cliff Lee, whose 99-pitch complete game shutout of the Nationals on April 14 is this year’s highest Game Score (92) is holding the rotation back with his one average start (46) and one terrible one (18).
Best Five Starters
Athletics (Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, Dallas Braden)
No team can compare with the A’s depth, as Dallas Braden’s 29 points (good for 23rd in the AL) gives them 349 points, 67 ahead of the Angels (who picked up Matt Palmer’s one point). In the National League, the Phillies use Joe Blanton’s negative 17 points to vault ahead of the field with 214 points. St. Louis drops to the middle of the pack once Jake Westbrook’s negative 71 points pull them back. Westbrook has been as far below replacement level as Clayton Kershaw and Roy Oswalt have been above it, and further below than any A’s starter has been above.
Other solid rotations
The Rangers have the game’s eighth best starter so far in Matt Harrison (78). Harrison and Alexi Ogando (52 in just three starts) have been the fifth best pair. Throw in CJ Wilson and/or Derek Holland (32 each) and you’ve got the seventh best threesome and the fifth best foursome. Colby Lewis adds one point for the fourth best fivesome.
The Dodgers (Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, and Jon Garland), hold a slight edge over the Padres (Aaron Harang, Dustin Moseley, Clayton Richard, Mat Latos, and Tim Stauffer) in each of the five categories.
On the other end, only the Diamondbacks (led by Daniel Hudson’s 17) don’t have a pitcher with a Season Score of at least 25. For context, four outings of six innings, six hits, three earned runs, a walk, and three strikeouts each would give a pitcher a Season Score of 20. That rotation full of replacement-level pitchers has the Diamondbacks 8-10, half a game better than the Red Sox.