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Back in late April, eager to put my newly-minted Season Score metric to use, I ranked starting rotations based on each team’s best 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 starters. Two months later, Season Scores are based on a much larger body of work (healthy pitchers have made 14-16 starts) and may help us more accurately determine which teams have the best rotations. Let’s give it a shot.
Best One Starter
Tigers (Justin Verlander)
Jered Weaver has held the lead in Season Score almost every day this season, from the 73 Game Score he dropped on the Royals on March 31 to his 82-point complete game shutout of the Mariners on June 14. It took a ridiculous run to pass Weaver, but Verlander finally did just that with his second straight complete game, this one registering a Game Score of 80 after his league-high 94 five days earlier against the Indians. Verlander’s 344 Season Score edges out the Angels’ Weaver (338) and far outpaces Tampa’s James Shields (in third place at 300).
Best Two Starters
Phillies (Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay)
The Angels, with Weaver and Dan Haren, held this title at the end of April and still lead all American League duos with a 550 combined Season Score, but the Phillies now hold the major league lead at 568. This should come as no surprise to anyone who follows baseball, but it is mildly surprinsing that Hamels is driving the bus, accumulating an NL-best 290 Season Score through 15 starts, thanks largely to his 103 strikeouts and just 19 walks in 104 innings pitched. Halladay’s been even better from a true outcomes standpoint, with 114 strikeouts versus 14 walks through 112 1/3 innings. After the Angels, tha Rays’ Shields and David Price are next at 488.
The Royals have been the most aceless team, with no starter better than Bruce Chen (45 Season Score in seven starts) or Luke Hochevar (41 in 15 starts). Hochevar’s 41 Season Score is about one hit per game better than replacement level.
Best Three Starters
Phillies (Hamels, Halladay, and Cliff Lee)
This is where the Phillies start to run away from the field, as expected. Add Lee’s 111 strikeouts and 24 walks and the Phillies have three pitchers with a combined 5.75 K/BB ratio, not to mention three of the four highest Season Scores in the National League. This trio’s 795 score blows away the runner-up Angels, who get to 654 with Ervin Santana thrown in. Jeremy Hellickson gives the Rays the third-best trio at 641.
I won’t keep picking on the Royals and their top trio’s 91 Season Score, but I will mention the Cubs, whose three-headed monster (Carlos Zambrano, Matt Garza, and Ryan Dempster) has provided marginal less value in total (209 points) than Jhoulys Chacin (216) or Shaun Marcum (212).
Best Four Starters
Phillies (Hamels, Halladay, Lee, and Roy Oswalt)
It’s not particularly interesting that the foursome eveyone expected to be the best has been the best, as Oswalt has accounted for just 83 points of the group’s 878 combined Season Score, or that the Angels hold on to the second spot when Tyelr Chatwood’s 57 points give them a combined 711. What is interesting is that the third-best team is the Mariners, with Michael Pineda, Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard, and Jason Vargas all contributing at least 140 points to the team’s 707. Either Bedard or Vargas, each of whom has a score of 140, has been the game’s best number four starter.
Best Five Starters
Phillies (Hamels, Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, and Kyle Kendrick)
I know, this is getting boring. The Phillies’ fifth starter spot, whether occupied by Kendrick or Vince Worley or Joe Blanton, hasn’t provided much beyond replacement level, but the top three are strong enough to carry the entire rotation. I may write that sentence again in October.
This is where the Mariners really take off, as Doug Fister adds a 118 Season Score, good for 25th in the AL, sending Settle way ahead of the Angels and third place Giants (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, Jonathan Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner are at 749. Bumgarner, at 123, has been the game’s best number five starter.
The Braves’ Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, and Brandon Beachy are in fifth place, but might be ahead of Seattle if not for an injury to Beachy, who accumulated a Season Score of 93 in eight games before hitting the DL.
The Royals’ top five have been worth 90 points, the same total as Carlos Carrasco and less than half of Josh Johnson’s score in his first nine starts (he hit the DL after his ninth start, vacating his spot atop the NL Season Score leaderboard). The Cubs are still next-worst at 227.
I considered going to six starters to see what the deepest rotations are, but the results don’t change, at least in terms of combined Season Score. If we look at teams’ fourth through sixth starters (ranked by Season Score), the Giants’ Sanchez, Bumgarner, and Zito stand out, with fill-in starter Ryan Vogelsong third on the team with a 142 Season Score. The Braves (181) and Mets (180) are next by this measure of depth, but it may be influenced more by the number of starts made by teams’ best pitchers than the actual quality of a rotation’s back-end. For what it’s worth, the Indians’ fourth through sixth guys- Alex White, Mitch Talbot, and Jeanmar Gomez (opening day starter Fausto Carmona doesn’t even crack the top six)- are last at negative six.
Top Ten Rotations
Here are the top ten rotations, based on the total Season Score of each team’s top five starters. I’ll also include each team’s total runs surrendered to-date, just to see how the metric compares to actual run prevention (with the caveat that relief pitchers do not accumulate Season Scores, but do, of course, affect their teams’ total runs surrendered).
1. Phillies (Hamels/Halladay/Lee/Oswalt/Kendrick) 920, 238 runs
2. Mariners (Pineda/Hernandez/Bedard/Vargas/Fister) 825, 262 runs
3. Giants (Lincecum/Cain/Vogelsong/Sanchez/Bumgarner) 749, 254 runs
4. Angels (Weaver/Haren/Santana/Chatwood/Palmer) 739, 283 runs
5. Braves (Hanson/Jurrjens/Hudson/Lowe/Beachy) 721, 251 runs
6. Rays (Shields/Price/Hellickson/Cobb/Davis) 703, 279 runs
7. Rangers (Ogando/Wilson/Harrison/Lewis/Holland) 644, 318 runs
8. Red Sox (Beckett/Lester/Buchholz/Wakefield/Matsuzaka) 628, 303 runs
9. Brewers (Marcum/Wold/Gallardo/Narveson/Greinke) 590, 311 runs
10. Dodgers (Kershaw/Kuroda/Lilly/Billingsley/Garland) 579, 315 runs
The A’s, whose rotation looked like the deepest and top-heaviest earlier in the season, have dropped to 14th place, behind these ten and the Yankees, Tigers, and Diamondbacks. That has a lot to do with injuries, as Dallas Braden is out for the season after three starts and Brandon McCarthy has only started nine games, as well as regression, as Trevor Cahill has faded toward the middle of the AL pack after a strong start and Brett Anderson was downright awful (Game Scores of 8 and 29) in his last two starts before hitting the DL. Oddly, the A’s are still preventing runs, their 277 surrendered placing them fifth in all of baseball. This could be a product of a great bullpen, a great defense, or a bunch of Cahill-types getting outs without racking up huge strikeout totals.
Among playoff contenders, the Cardinals (475 Game Score among their top five), Indians (348), and Reds (344) have stayed afloat with big hitting and middling pitching (St. Louis’s Kyle Lohse and his 190 Season Score excluded). It’s no coincidence that, if we add those three teams and remove the two LA teams from the top 13 in combined Season Score, we’re basically looking at the teams that should at least consider themselves buyers at the trade deadline.