Talking Baseball

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Posted by Dave on Monday, January 19, 2004

The Astro Rotation? Not Even Close to the Best

I'd like to think that enough has been said about the Astros rotation and its supposed quality, but there obviously hasn't been enough said. Jayson Stark recently wrote for ESPN.com and his article discussed a survey of several executives, scouts, and GMs. Apparently, the Astros are considered the best rotation overall. A snippet: "They got the most first-place votes. And no one voted them lower than third." The fact that the Astros were thought of as the best rotation by a consensus of these baseball folks means one of two things:

1. Jayson Stark knows a disproportionate number of idiots in baseball. Or, more likely,

2. There are large number of idiots still in baseball.

No matter how you slice the question, the Astros couldn't even come close to being construed as having the best rotation. This fact is so self-evident that I would stake my life upon the fact that, barring gratuitous injury, the Red Sox and Yankee (both AL teams in an offensively-oriented division) rotations will have a lower ERA than the Astros' rotation. It's also quite probable, perhaps even more probable that the A's will finish with a lower ERA and that Cubs will as well. Let's take a look:

First, let's look at those overrated Astros. You take a look at their top 5, and it's not quite awe-inspiring. In 2003, they had a rotational ERA of 3.81 (385 ERs in 910.2 IP). Granted, they play in a fairly difficult park, but 2/5 of their rotation is coming from the Yankees. 3.81. Not exactly stellar numbers from what Stark's Henchmen call the best rotation. It's okay though, they can boast "Four number one or two starters." To which I say: Great, but their ERA is nothing impressive. Also, newsflash: Oswalt (Roy Oswalt posted the best ERA of the group and he was finnicky about his groin like Pedro is about, well, his entire body) and Miller are injury-prone, and Clemens and Pettitte aren't getting any younger.

Let's look at the Red Sox rotation. If you're having the same problem I am, you won't be able to see Schilling's numbers. Anyways, combined ERA: 3.45 (322 ER, 839.2 IP). This number does come with disclaimers though. First and foremost, it remains to be seen whether Byung-Hyun Kim is capable of posting something similar to that 3.10 ERA as a starter in more than limited duty. Also, and less of a question mark, whether Schilling is still himself following an unluckily injury-plagued season (appendicitis and a broken hand are hardly up Tommy John's alley). 3.45? A helluva lot better than 3.81.

Surely the Yankees can't be better too? I haven't begun to number crunch, and I can guarantee their rotation ERA will be lower. Here's how the Yankees' projected rotation stacks up. Since Lieber was out in 2003, we'll exclude him for a moment. The rest posted a (246 ER, 727.1 IP) 3.04 ERA. This number also comes with disclaimers since Contreras didn't pitch the whole season. This would mean that to have a worse rotational ERA than the Astros, Lieber (along with whoever else the Yankees indenture as a 5th starter) would have to give up approximately 136 ER in 175 IP (that's an ERA of 7, folks). That's even a generous number of IP for a 5th starter. The point is, are the Yankees likely to have a worse rotation than the Astros? Unequivocally, no.

Could it even be the case that the Cubs have a better ERA too?! It seems that Houston won't even have the best rotational ERA in the National League. The Cubs projected rotation has an ERA of 3.58 (394 ER, 989.2 IP) to its credit. That's better than the Astros - but it gets worse. The Cubs may be sans the ultimately putrid presence of Shawn Estes come 2004 (Greg Maddux may be coming to town, and with him, 200 IP of downright effectiveness compared to Estes). How's the Cub rotation shape up with the addition of Maddux? Suffice it to say that Maddux gave up the same number of ER as Estes in 2003 - in 67 more IP.

I'm sure I could do this with the Athletics as well, but what's the point? I've already proved these three rotations to be better numerically and, therefore, objectively. Even the Cubs, picked as the 5th-best rotation in Stark's Poll of Morons, is shown to be clearly better (in a similarly bad hitter's park, mind you). Why such hostility? Why such malcontent? Because it infuriates me, Dave Metz the college student, that I could analyze baseball's best rotations better than a vaunted collection of baseball's "scouts, executives, and GMs." The Red Sox and Yankees are both almost a half-run better than the Astros given their 2003 numbers and even the Cubs are shown to be more effective. How can all these people, whose jobs require them to evaluate the quality of players, fail to realize that the Astros rotation is merely 3rd-best, or worse? I don't know. But give me a job if they really believe that the Astros have the best rotation.

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