OR Hey guys I looked up some stuff on baseball-reference.com and guess what?!?
It seems pitcher fatigue is in vogue, what with Strasburg kerfuffles and with Grant weighing in on Giants’ rotation and possible fatigue. It just so happens we’ve had a very consistent starting 5 this year, and barring injury will likely see all 5 pitchers reach 30 or more starts. This is a rarity, mostly because 5 man rotations are a relatively recent invention, but also because it’s hard to keep 5 pitchers healthy and effective all season.
As it happens, this feat (5 starters making 30 or more starts each) has been done 7 times in the past, with the 1977 Dodgers the first to do so. The only one I remembered personally was the 2003 Mariners rotation, which actually saw the same 5 pitchers make all the starts that season. I wondered what, if anything, these others teams might be able to tell us about the potential fate of the Giants’ rotation. So, off to Baseball Reference it was. Here’s what I found.
Teams with 5 starters making 30 starts or more:
The 5 starters: Don Sutton, Tommy John, Burt Hooton, Doug Rau, Rick Rhoden
How they did: All above average by ERA+, from 103 (Rhoden) to 147 (Hooton)
The next year: All stayed with the team and in the rotation, 4 of the 5 made it to 30 starts again, with Rhoden losing some starts to Bob Welch. Every single one of them posted a worse ERA, although Sutton and Tommy John improved their K/BB.
The 5 starters: Rick Langford, Mike Norris, Matt Keough, Steve McCatty, Brian Kingman
How they did: Langford, Keough, and Norris were good with Norris being the best of the bunch. McCatty and Kingman were basically average even though Kingman lost 20 games.
The next year: Langford was about the same (115 and 116 ERA+ for the two years), but Keough and Norris had mediocre results. McCatty had his best year ever. Kingman was okay, but a bit worse than the previous year. Nobody made 30 starts because of the strike.
The 5 starters: Orel Hershiser, Tom Candiotti, Ramon Martinez, Kevin Gross, Pedro Astacio
How they did: Pretty mediocre, overall. No disasters, but knuckleballer Candiotti had the highest ERA+ with 122, and Roman Martinez was second with 111. A young Pedro Martinez provided 107 IP and 119 K, mostly in relief.
The next year: Same group, but pretty much everyone was a little worse, except for Kevin Gross who had the best K/BB ratio of the bunch. Even he topped out at a 109 ERA+. Another strike year, or they likely would have all topped 30 starts again. Also important: Pedro Martinez started 23 games in Montreal with a 124 ERA+. Hope that 84 OPS+ from Delino DeShields was worth it, Dodgers!
The 5 starters: Jamie Moyer, Ryan Franklin, Joel Pineiro, Freddy Garcia, Gil Meche
How they did: Moyer, Franklin, and Pineiro were all pretty good (132, 121, and 114 ERA+, respectively), but Garcia and Meche were sub par.
The next year: Garcia bounced back with a great year...leading to him getting traded mid-season to the White Sox. None of the rest managed an ERA+ above 97.
The 5 starters: Chris Carpenter, Jason Marquis, Mark Mulder, Jeff Suppan, Matt Morris
How they did: Chris Carpenter was amazing. The rest were tolerable. Mulder was pretty decent, except his K/BB and ERA were almost identical to Suppan, which isn’t exactly soaring to new heights.
The next year: Four of them stayed - Morris departed via free agency, and inflicted himself on some other franchise. Carpenter and Suppan were basically the same (Cy Young caliber ace, and um, Jeff Suppan), but Mulder and Marquis were total disasters.
The 5 starters: Jake Westbrook, Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, Kevin Millwood, Scott Elarton
How they did: Kevin Millwood was clearly the ace, who...wait. Oh, right - Millwood had a crazy lucky year and led the league in ERA despite not being all that good of a pitcher. Cliff Lee and Sabathia were young and decent, on their way to bigger and better things. Westbrook and Elarton were sub-Suppan.
The next year: Millwood and Elarton were elsewhere being not very good; Lee seemed to be on a downward trend, Sabathia improved to become the clear ace of the staff, and Jake Westbrook pulled off an excellent Jake Westbrook impersonation.
2006 White Sox
The 5 starters: Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland, Mark Buehrle, Javier Vasquez, Jose Contreras
How they did: They all finished between a 95 and 111 OPS+. This is actually the year after the White Sox’s World Series championship, so most of these guys were actually having down years compared to 2005.
The next year: Buehrle, Vasquez, and Garland all bounced back significantly. Contreras was a disaster, and Garcia had a bad year but was nice enough to do it elsewhere.
So, what did I learn? Well, to be frank, not much. 7*5 makes for just 35 starting pitchers that we are looking at, and it really is not a very sizable sample. If you were hoping for some gleaming beacon of truth like, “don’t worry we’ll be fine” or “our guys are probably overworked and are going to suck,” well, sorry.
Looking at these teams, it is fairly apparent that having 5 pitchers capable of making 30 starts isn’t a guarantee of much. These are not teams stacked with aces. There are some excellent pitchers in the list, but a lot of them are just various incarnations of Livan Hernandez - guys who throw capably enough to start, and healthy enough to do it regularly. It isn’t any spectacular secret ingredient - mostly, a good pitcher or two and the good fortune to have the rest of the stable filled with regular if uninspiring pitchers. Good luck sometimes plays a part, as some of the pitchers were pretty marginal talents having a good year, and a lot of it is solid roster building.
One thing we can take away is that it is really hard to do. Pitching is hard to come by, even unexceptional pitching. I would have learned a lot more if I had just drawn up a list of comparables for each Giants’ pitcher and looked at those trends. Even then, it probably wouldn’t have been any more profound than, “Be careful with Bumgarner, Lincecum will bounce back, hope Cain and Vogelsong keep it up, and Zito just Zitoes around.”
I did have to get out a thesaurus in order to find more ways to express the mediocre (ordinary, passable, no great shakes, fairish, run-of-the-mill, undistinguished, vanilla) quality of most of these pitchers. The real take away? The Dodgers basically gave away Pedro Martinez. HAHAHAHAHA! Let’s all laugh at the Dodgers!