Sunday, August 3, 2014

2014 Detroit Tigers vs. 2011 Philadelphia Phillies vs. 1998 Atlanta Braves Pitching Staffs

With the 2014 trade of David Price to the Detroit Tigers, some people are beginning to talk about the Tiger's pitching staff as being one of the best ever.  After all, they have the three most recent winners of the AL Cy Young Award in Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and David Price.  They also have Anibal Sanchez, the 2013 ERA title winner in the AL and Rick Porcello, about as good as a #5 starter one could ever hope far as he's currently battling for the 2014 AL lead in wins.

When people speak of great pitching staffs, two other staffs came to mind.  One, is the Philadelphia Phillies staff in 2011.  Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels were all #1 quality pitchers.

Of course, the measure by which most pitching staffs are measured are the great Braves pitching staffs of the 1990s.  Anchored by Cy Young winners Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, there was really no comparison.  The #4 starters changed over the years including All Stars Steve Avery, Kevin Millwood, and Denny Neagle.  Yes, you read that right.  They had three #4 pitchers that were All Stars at some point.

From 1991 through 1998, the Braves pitching staff won six Cy Young awards: Tom Glavine in 1991 and 1998, Greg Maddux in 1993, 1994, and 1995, John Smoltz in 1996.  When you add in the Cy Young award that Greg Maddux won in 1992 as a member of the Cubs, the Braves pitching staff at one point owned SEVEN Cy Young awards over an eight year period.  This is the gold standard by which all pitching staffs will be judged in the future.

Through the 2011 season, the Phillies pitching staff had accumulated 3 Cy Young awards total.  Two from Roy Halladay (one with Philadelphia and one w/ Toronto) and one from Cliff Lee from his time in Cleveland.

Through the 2013 season, the Tiger's pitching staff had also accumulated 3 Cy Young awards total.  One each from Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and David Price.

The Cy Young wins definitely give an edge to the Braves pitching staff, but Cy Young voting can be finicky.  I probably don't have to go through the long history of Cy Young award winning controversies.  But here are Cy Young controversies over the years with WAR as the benchmark.

2005: Bartolo Colon with WAR 4.0 wins over Johan Santana with WAR 7.2
2005: Chris Carpenter with WAR 5.8 wins over Roger Clemens with WAR 7.8
2004: Roger Clemens with WAR 5.4 wins over Randy Johnson with WAR 8.5
1998: Tom Glavine with WAR 6.1 wins over Kevin Brown with WAR 8.6
1996: John Smoltz with WAR 7.3 wins over Kevin Brown with WAR 8.0
1993: Jack McDowell with WAR 4.3 wins over Kevin Appier with WAR 9.2
1990: Bob Welch with WAR 3.0 wins over Roger Clemens with WAR 10.6

I could go on.  But the point is Cy Young voting is never without controversy.  So instead of comparing Cy Youngs, how about comparing where a pitcher ranked in Cy Young voting?  We'll look at the Braves pitching staff in 1998 as the comparison.  I chose that year because it's the last year that they ended their Cy Young run (Tom Glavine winning in 1998), but also because it featured Denny Neagle in his last year with the Braves (he was an All Star in 1997) and a young Kevin Millwood (who would be an All Star one year later).  In other words, it appeared to be the height of their power.

Cy Young Voting Place Braves 1998 staff through 1998 Phillies 2011 staff through 2011 Tigers 2014 staff through 2013
1st 7 3 3
2 2
3rd 4 3 1
4th 2 4 1
5th 1 4 1
6th or lower 1 3 2

The 2011 Phillies staff did way better than I originally thought.  They were ranked in Cy Young voting more than the 1998 Braves were.  The Detroit Tigers staff couldn't quite compare in overall Cy Young voting appearances.  The 2014 Tigers staff just didn't have the long history of success than the other staffs had.  There's a decent chance that they can add some counts to their totals through the end of 2014.

But as I said above, Cy Young voting can be finicky.  How about comparing plain old performance via WAR.

WAR Braves 1998 staff through 1998 Phillies 2011 staff through 2011 Tigers 2014 staff through 2013
3.0 <= WAR < 4.0 7 5 3
4.0 <= WAR < 5.0 6 5 6
5.0 <= WAR < 6.0 6 5 1
6.0 <= WAR < 7.0 3 6 3
7.0 <= WAR < 8.0 3 1 1
8.0 <= WAR 4 3 1

Again, the Braves and Phillies staffs have an edge to the Tiger's staff.  There are simply more amazing seasons from their staffs in which their staff had a WAR of 5.0 or more.  The Tiger's staff just hasn't quite had the same consistency of dominance.  Max Scherzer only recently broke out during the 2013 season and Anibal Sanche'z first season with a WAR above 4.0 was in 2013.  After the 2014 season, a few more counts can be added to the Tiger's column to make it a bit closer.

One of the Hallmarks of the 1990s Braves pitching staff is that it stayed together for so long.  The Braves Cy Young trio of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and John Smoltz were together in Atlanta from 1993 through 2002, an amazing 10 year stretch.

So it'll be interesting to see how long the Tiger's staff stays together.  Max Scherzer is a free agent after the 2014 season and it's an unknown if he'll be there in 2015.  David Price is a free agent after the 2015 season.

The 2011 Phillies staff only lasted 1 year, as Roy Oswalt left after the 2011 season.  The trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels only lasted two more years, although injuries to Roy Halladay in 2013 made it feel like only 1 year.

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