September 24, 2009
Picking the Best Playoff Rotations
Using Support-Neutral Winning Percentage to describe which team's starters have done the most to produce victory for their teams makes ranking the best playoff rotations a relatively straightforward exercise. Here are rotations ranked by unit-wide performances on the year, using the expected 2009 playoff teams, and ranked by SNWP and SNLVAR, which adjusts for lineup variations and value-added over replacement level.
Team SNWP SNLVAR Cardinals .535 22.5 Dodgers .534 22.5 Rockies .515 19.8 Phillies .511 19.5 Tigers .511 18.4 Red Sox .503 17.7 Angels .499 15.8 Yankees .492 15.5 Twins .492 14.8
However, the postseason's a very different animal from the full season's marathon; depth gets you to October, but in theory sheer quality-or the convenient, random great game from an Anthony Reyes or a Jeff Weaver-propels you to a title. In the post-season fifth starters go to the bullpen, so whomever the club's four likely picks wind up being for their playoff rotations, that quartet winds up being the men who matter. Then there's the question of whether or not the Rockies will have the benefit of Aaron Cook, for example; if injury knocks him out of action for the post-season, are the Rockies anywhere as good as the full-season numbers suggest? Keeping all of that in mind, let's simplify things by looking just at the combined SNWP mark for the probable front fours of each of these nine teams:
Team SNWP The Front Four Cardinals .575 Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Joel Pineiro, Kyle Lohse Tigers .562 Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, Rick Porcello, Jarrod Washburn Red Sox .561 Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Tim Wakefield Phillies .558 Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, Pedro Martinez Dodgers .545 Randy Wolf, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda Rockies .527 Ubaldo Jimenez, Jason Marquis, Aaron Cook, Jorge De La Rosa Angels .524 John Lackey, Jered Weaver, Scott Kazmir, Joe Saunders Yankees .520 CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Joba Chamberlain Twins .514 Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing
Essentially, that just tells us what we already sort of expected-the Cardinals are the class of the field, the Tigers, Red Sox, and Phillies make a tightly grouped second tier, and the Angels, Rockies, and Yankees are all roughly equal. Admittedly, this exercise credits fourth starters overmuch-they'll only ever start one game in any post-season series, after all. However, that said, some notes about some of the teams, and to explain some of the selections and identify the impact of alternates:
The takeaway? The Cardinals are the obvious class of the league, but the Phillies deserve to rank right with them when you consider that they'll get to start a series with Cliff Lee and could elect to start Happ instead of Martinez or Joe Blanton. The Tigers and Red Sox are the class of the American League's crop, but if Kazmir stays hot, he'd give the Halos a group almost as tough.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .