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Do the Astros have best pitching rotation in baseball history?

Discussion in 'Houston Astros' started by DoitDickau, Aug 3, 2005.

  1. DoitDickau

    DoitDickau Contributing Member

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    This article from baseball prospectus make an interesting case that the trio of clemens, owsalt and pettite is on pace for the best season of any starting rotation trio in history.

    http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=4293

    Can Of Corn
    Tops among Top Three


    by Dayn Perry
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    Coming into the 2005 season, the Houston Astros had lost middle-of-the-lineup forces Jeff Kent and Carlos Beltran, while franchise bulwarks Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell were another year older. On a park-adjusted basis, the '04 Astros, who made it to Game 7 of the NLCS, didn't have a terribly imposing offense, and now that unit was all the weaker. Indeed, this year's model leads the Wild Card chase despite ranking only 11th in the NL in runs scored.

    As you might expect, the Astros are succeeding this season by keeping runs off the board; they rank second in the league in fewest runs allowed. More specifically, Houston's being ferried along to the post-season by an exceptional front of the rotation. Here's the cumulative line of Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte this season:



    IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 H/9 K/BB R/G
    446.1 7.0 2.02 0.50 7.5 3.47 2.46


    The rest of the Houston staff? On the season they've worked 491.2 innings with a 5.73 R/G. As you can see from that latter figure, a tremendous amount of the team's value is concentrated in the troika of Clemens, Oswalt and Pettitte.

    ERA is far from the most evocative pitching statistic around, but, laying its flaws aside for the moment, Clemens, Pettitte and Oswalt are thriving at it. Clemens' ERA of 1.46 would be lowest by a qualifier since Bob Gibson's unthinkable mark of 1.12 back in 1968. Needless to say, Clemens’ ERA this season easily would be the best ever for a 42-year-old (the current record for a qualifier of that age belongs to Warren Spahn, who in 1963 put up an ERA of 2.60). As for Pettitte, his park-adjusted ERA would be the tenth-best mark ever for a 33-year-old. Oswalt? His ERA of 2.46, relative to the league, is in the top 15 all-time for 27-year-old hurlers.

    The question here is how great they are as a trio. To find an answer, we'll use a Baseball Prospectus metric called Runs Prevented (RP), which measures how many runs a pitcher has kept from scoring relative to a league-average hurler throwing the same number of innings. If trends hold, Clemens, Pettitte and Oswalt will combine for an RP total of 166.9. Here's how that would rank on the all-time trio single-season RP list:



    Pitchers (Team) Total RP
    1. R. Clemens, A. Pettitte, R. Oswalt (2005 Astros) 166.9*
    2. P. Donohue, D. Luque, E. Rixey (1925 Reds) 161.8
    3. T. Lewis, C. Young, G. Winter (1901 Red Sox) 159.4
    4. C. Mathewson, J. McGinnity, D. Taylor (1904 Giants) 155.6
    5. L. Gomez, M. Pearson, R. Ruffing (1937 Yankees) 154.3
    6. G. Earnshaw, L. Grove, R. Walberg (1931 A's) 149.4
    7. M. Brown, O. Overall, E. Reulbach (1909 Cubs) 148.7
    8. B. Dineen, C. Young, G. Winter (1902 Red Sox) 145.7
    9. R. Ames, C. Mathewson, J. McGinnity (1903 Giants) 143.1
    10. R. Benton, E. Rixey, D. Luque (1923 Reds) 140.2


    (* - Projected total)

    Yep, the Astros' triumvirate is on pace to be the greatest in the annals of the game, by a fairly comfortable margin. In fact, if Clemens, Pettitte and Oswalt were to pitch not a single inning over the season's final two months, they'd still come close to cracking the top 30 all-time.

    In the above list, modern trios are rather conspicuous in their absence, and instead the top ten is peppered with hoary, interred names like Cy Young, Christy Mathewson and Lefty Grove. If we confine the rankings to those toiling after World War II, here's how the list changes:



    Pitchers (Team) Total RP
    1. R. Clemens, A. Pettitte, R. Oswalt (2005 Astros) 166.9*
    2. R. Clemens, P. Hentgen, W. Williams (1997 Blue Jays) 134.9
    3. T. Glavine, G. Maddux, J. Smoltz (1997 Braves) 134.1
    4. T. Glavine, G. Maddux, J. Smoltz (1998 Braves) 132.3
    5. B. Lemon, H. Score, E. Wynn (1956 Indians) 130.2
    6. D. Lowe, P. Martinez, T. Wakefield (2002 Red Sox) 129.7
    7. G. Bearden, B. Feller, B. Lemon (1948 Indians) 128.5
    8. R. Garces, D. Lowe, P. Martinez (2000 Red Sox) 128.2
    9. R. Johnson, B. Kim, C. Schilling (2001 Diamondbacks) 127.2
    10. A. Benton, M. Garcia, B. Lemon (1949 Indians) 127.0


    Not surprisingly, the modern list contains a couple of Glavine-Maddux-Smoltz iterations. It's also striking just how dominant the current Astros' trio has been relative to others in the modern era. Of course, they're on target to be best of this or any era.

    As great as Clemens has been this season, it's not as though he's schlepping two drastically lesser teammates to the top of list. Here's how they break down:



    Pitcher RP RP MLB Rank
    Clemens 46.2 1
    Pettitte 25.0 10
    Oswalt 36.9 3


    All three have been among the ten best pitchers in all of baseball, as measured by RP. And not many would have guessed that Roy Oswalt, All-Star game afterthought, is within ten runs of Clemens in terms of RP. If they keep it up, the Astros will become the first team since the 1972 Orioles to have three different starters log at least 200 innings while maintaining an ERA of less than 2.75.

    In any event, Clemens' individual brilliance notwithstanding, the top three Astro starters as a unit aren't getting the bandwidth they deserve. After all, they have an appointment with history that they'll likely keep.

    James Click contributed research to this column.

    Dayn Perry is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact Dayn by clicking here or click here to see Dayn's other articles.
     
  2. msn

    msn Member

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    DId anyone else expect to see Spahn, Sain, and some other guy in the list? Was their #3 really that bad? I just remember the common epithet, "Spahn and Sain, and pray for rain."
     
  3. DoitDickau

    DoitDickau Contributing Member

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    looking at stats from baseball-reference it look like sain and spahn never really had great seasons the same year. in '46, sain's best year, he won 20 game w/ an era of 2.21 and an era+ of 156, but spahn only pitched 125 innings and only won 8 games. Likewise, in 48, spains only other world class year he won 24, pitched 300+ innings, had an era of 2.60 and an era+ of 147, but spahn again struggled going 15 and 12 with a era of 3.71 and an era+ of 103.

    There best combined year was 47 where their stat lined looked like this w/ their number 3 included (last number is era+):

    ---+-------------------+--+---+------+---+---+--+---+---+---+---+------+----+----+----+----+---+----+----+---+---+--+---+---+
    SP Johnny Sain 3.52 21 12 266.0 111
    SP *Warren Spahn 2.33 21 10 289.7 168
    SP Red Barrett 3.55 11 12 210.7 110

    their 3rd pitcher wasn't bad, but sain that was wasn't great either. after 48 spain never really had an above average year with boston
     
  4. A-Train

    A-Train Running With Scissors

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    It's hard to go against the '62 or '63 Dodgers with Drysdale and Kaufax...
     
  5. Hammer755

    Hammer755 Contributing Member

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    Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz made quite a trio during the mid- to late-90's. 1998 in particuar was a good season for them - Maddux went 18-9 with a 2.22 ERA, Glavine went 20-6 with a 2.47 ERA, and Smoltz went 17-3 with a 2.90 ERA.
     
  6. Svpernaut

    Svpernaut Contributing Member

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    If Oswalt and Pettitte continue on their current paces for their career, this is easily one of the best rotations of all-time... if not the best.
     
  7. codell

    codell Contributing Member

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    Clemens and Pettite need to get their win totals up for that to happen IMO.

    They each have about 10-11 starts left a piece. Oswalt should get to 20 wins fairly easy. I think Roger and Andy can get to 16+ unless our offense goes down the tubes.
     
  8. GRENDEL

    GRENDEL Contributing Member

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    It would take a major nose dive by the Stros offense for that to happen. I think both Roger and Andy will end up with very respectible win totals to go along with another 20 win season for Oswalt
     
  9. Svpernaut

    Svpernaut Contributing Member

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    Clemens has 20 quality starts in 22 tries... that is freaking amazing. The reason Pettitte and Clemens win totals are so low is because of lack of run support, not bad pitching. Clemens' 1.45 ERA, Oswalt's 2.40 ERA and Pettitte's 2.58 ERA make them pretty tough to beat and definately one of the best trios of all-time in a single season. If the Astros had a half decent offense during the first two months of the season we could easily have three 20 game winners on our hands. You can't base their greatness on simply on the won/loss columns, if you look at the big picture they are damned near perfect.
     
  10. pgabriel

    pgabriel Contributing Member

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    I bet if you compare runs scored in those years and somehow factored that in the analysis, the '98 Atlanta staff would blow away most of the competition.
     
  11. MadMax

    MadMax Contributing Member
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    This team...this pitching staff...all of it...clearly the GREATEST TEAM OF ALL TIME!!!!!




    ;) (i love them)
     
  12. DoitDickau

    DoitDickau Contributing Member

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    The statistics used in the article take that into account along with park effects. It's really been an amazing season.
     
  13. TheFreak

    TheFreak Contributing Member

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    If they do, heads will need to roll if they don't make the playoffs.
     
  14. meh

    meh Contributing Member

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    In 1998, the NL scored an average of 4.6 runs per game. So far in 2005, the NL scored an average of 4.5 runs a game. So no, the 98 Atlanta staff wouldn't blow away the competition.
     
  15. A-Train

    A-Train Running With Scissors

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    Atlanta's staff used to get some steroid injected strike zones, also...especially Maddox! They used to call strikes for them that were easily 5-6 inches off the plate
     
  16. Rocketman95

    Rocketman95 Hangout Boy

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    That's what made that game against Florida in 1997 even better! Did anyone hear Dierker talk about that on Saturday? He was saying how Glavine stopped getting that outside strike call since, you know, it wasn't a strike. Except that he never stopped pitching it and they decided on Saturday to start giving it back to him. :)
     
  17. Svpernaut

    Svpernaut Contributing Member

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    If Roy O got HALF the calls that Maddox & Glavine got back then (hell even now), he'd easily have 100 wins by now(77 atm).
     
  18. BobFinn*

    BobFinn* Contributing Member

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    Best pitching staff in modern times is the 1971 Baltimore Orioles

    Dave McNally-- 21-5 -- 2.89

    Pat Dobson--- 20-8---- 2.90

    Jim Palmer----- 20-9 ------2.68

    Mike Cuellar---- 20-9----- 3.08
     
  19. Svpernaut

    Svpernaut Contributing Member

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    The Astros top 3 easily beat that... 2.68 is far from an amazing feat, especially in 1971... Roy O and Roger are way below that. Throw Zeke and Wandy's new found stuff and I'll take on anyone.
     
  20. meh

    meh Contributing Member

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    The average ERA in the AL in 1971 is a 3.47. So that pitching staff's ERA isn't even close to being amazing. There's a reason why the article compares those pitchers' runs-saved vs. league average pitchers. Rather than simply use raw ERA.

    As for the ability to have 4 20-game winners, the Baltimore Orioles had the best offense in baseball that year, by quite a nice margin. In addition, those 4 pitchers combined to start 142 games. This was back when they had 4-man rotations.
     
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