Call it the “one-two punch” or the “tandem aces” or the “pitching Cerberus sans one head” or whatever you like. As the post-season looms, it’s perhaps instructive to ponder which teams have the best business end of the rotation. If nothing else, this will allow you to do something other than pace and pare your nails while waiting for the TV show of the millennium.
To better consider which club indeed has the best one-two punch, let me lay out my criteria. First, I’m going to consider only those teams whose top two starters have a combined VORP (Value Over Replacement Pitcher) of at least 85. And that’s it. So if Randy Johnson, Jason Schmidt, Livan Hernandez and Oliver Perez all make it with a dead-weight rotation compatriot in tow, then so be it.
Here’s what we get, sorted by VORP:
Tandem VORP BABIP IP K/BB HR/9 Adj R/G Santana/ 124.6 .276 399.2 5.6 1.0 3.32 Radke Schilling/ 115.5 .296 390.2 4.8 0.9 3.34 Martinez Oswalt/ 90.9 .302 389.1 3.0 0.7 3.65 Clemens Mulder/ 90.3 .291 355.2 1.9 0.6 3.92 Hudson Sheets/ 89.3 .295 374.1 3.8 0.8 3.58 Davis Clement/ 88.9 .278 349.0 2.5 0.9 3.54 Zambrano Carpenter/ 86.2 .292 346.1 2.8 1.1 3.67 Marquis
To acquaint you with the abbreviations above, I’ll point that BABIP is opponents’ batting average on balls in play, IP is innings pitched, K/BB is strikeout-to-walk ratio, HR/9 is home runs allowed per nine innings and Adj R/G is park-adjusted runs per game. All numbers provided are aggregate totals and averages for the top two starters.
In order to wrest some quick-and-dirty rankings out of this, let’s award points to each of these top seven tandems for how they fare in each category. Seven points for leading a column, one point for finishing last, etc. I’ll exclude the BABIP category since pitchers have limited control over what becomes of balls in play and since it’s already amply reflected in the Adj R/G column.
Let’s see what’s under this rock…
Tandem Points Santana/ 30 Radke Schilling/ 27 Martinez Oswalt/ 23 Clemens Sheets/ 21 Davis Mulder/ 16 Hudson Clement/ 15 Zambrano Carpenter/ 8 Marquis
These rankings run the same as VORP, except that the A’s and Brewers tandems have swapped places. In a qualitative sense, I’d agree with how these grade out. Johan Santana has been unassailably the best pitcher in baseball this season (who says the Rule 5 Draft is pointless), but Radke himself boasts an astounding 6.9 K/BB ratio and could end the season with more double plays induced than unintentional walks, an incredible stat.
Some other observations on these findings:
- The Cubs, as you can see, made the list with Carlos Zambrano and Matt Clement. However, Zambrano and Greg Maddux also would’ve teamed up for a qualifying VORP of 85.3.
If I’d told you at the beginning of the season that the Cubs’ three, four and five starters all would’ve ranked in the top 35 in VORP, that GM Jim Hendry would acquire Nomar Garciaparra at the deadline for little cost, that Moises Alou, Aramis Ramirez, Sammy Sosa and Derrek Lee would’ve combined for 120 homers by Sept. 10 and that Michael Barrett would slug almost .500 in full-time duty, you probably wouldn’t have believed me. If I’d told you all that and then said the Cubs would be locked out of a playoff spot with three weeks to go, it would certainly strain credulity. What an odd team.
- Carl Pavano of the Marlins and Brad Penny (85.9 VORP) would’ve made the list just behind Carpenter and Marquis, but, of course, Penny is now a hobbled Dodger. Others who just missed the cut: Jeff Weaver and Odalis Perez (82.4 VORP); Jake Westbrook and C.C. Sabathia (84.0 VORP); Al Leiter and Tom Glavine (84.7 VORP); and Jake Peavy and David Wells (83.3 VORP).
- At the beginning of the season, I opined that the Yankee rotation figured to the third-best in all of baseball. As you’re well aware, Injuries and a disheartening performance by Javier Vazquez have laid that forecast to waste. In fact, relievers Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera both have higher VORP totals than any two Yankee starters combined. In terms of VORP, their second-best starter (Orlando Hernandez) didn’t make his first appearance of the year until after the All-Star break and their best starter (Kevin Brown) is out of action after PunchGate.
- Tim Hudson is a strange one this season. He’s striking out less than 5.0 batters per nine (an inadequate figure for a frontline starter). Given his solid R/G of 3.77, you’d probably assume that his BABIP is inordinately low. However, at .304 it’s actually a few ticks above league average. Hudson’s keeping runs off the board in spite of those numbers by giving up homers at a rate that’s more in line with a grammar-school cabbage ball game. In 152.2 innings this season, he’s yielded just four homers. In fact, Hudson’s homer rate relative to the league homer rate is the second best mark since 1950 (bested only by Maddux in 1994).
- There’s just no excuse for a Cardinal post-season rotation fronted by veteran faves Matt Morris and Woody Williams. At least not when Chris Carpenter and Jason Marquis grade out as the seventh-best tandem in baseball this season.
- Combined VORP of Roy Oswalt and Roger Clemens: 90.9. Combined VORP of rest of current Astro rotation: 10.3
- The prospect of a Santana-Radke vs. Schilling-Martinez playoff encounter is truly drool-inspiring.