I chat each Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET. Each week, I'm going to throw out a debate question that we'll discuss a little in the chat. This week: Who has the best rotation?
We love to formulate absolutes in baseball.
Such as: The Phillies have the best rotation. We make these statements before the season and it takes a lot to change our assessments.
And so far the Phillies rotation has been great: Its 3.12 ERA ranks third in the majors. It has the most strikeouts and the fewest walks. Roy Halladay has continued to pitch like the best starter in baseball and Cole Hamels has been superb. But Cliff Lee has been more very good than awesome (he ranks 20th among NL starters in ERA), Roy Oswalt missed some time and Joe Blanton has a 5.50 ERA in six starts.
Do the Phillies still have the best rotation? Let's evaluate what's happened so far. I think four other rotations are in the argument: the A's (lead the majors with a 2.64 ERA), Giants (we saw what they did last October), Mariners (Michael Pineda added to Felix Hernandez, all five starters have an ERA under 4.00), and Rangers (read on for why they should be discussed).
First off, some numbers:
Now, we have to keep a number of things in mind: (1) It's easier to pitch in the NL. Not only is the overall caliber of competition considered slightly weaker by most, but you get to face the pitcher's spot in the lineup, which means you can also pitch around the No. 8 hitter to escape jams if needed. (2) Home ballpark. This is why Rangers are included. Check out that road ERA. (3) Remember, it's only May. Things can change.
OK ... my own conclusion: It's too close to call right now. If you believe strongly in BABIP (batting average on balls in play), you would suggest the Phillies have been slightly hit unlucky so far (Cliff Lee, in particular) and due for a correction (and thus improvement). You may also point to the Rangers and suggest they have been a little hit lucky (Alexi Ogando, in particular).
On the other hand, what if the Rangers were pitching in the National League and didn't have to play half their games in the hitter's paradise in Arlington? (While Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philly has a reputation has a great hitter's park, it's actually been essentially neutral over the past several seasons.) The Mariners play in a good hitter's park ... but they've actually performed slightly better on the road so far. The A's have great depth -- Brandon McCarthy has a 3.39 ERA, and that's the worst of the six guys who have started for them. For Oakland, Trevor Cahill has allowed zero runs or one run in eight of his 10 starts. For Seattle, Felix Hernandez hasn't even hit a groove yet, Erik Bedard has been injury-free and rookie Michael Pineda has thrown the highest percentage of strikes in the majors -- even more than Cliff Lee -- while also recording the highest average fastball velocity. Tim Lincecum has been great for the Giants and Ryan Vogelsong has been the surprise (2.25 ERA in five starts) filling in for Barry Zito. The Giants are a step below the other teams in average innings per start -- in part because they have a terrific bullpen, in part because Bruce Bochy is being cautious after the workload their guys piled up last October. The Rangers may lack the big-name ace of the other staff, but Ogando has been terrific, C.J. Wilson is underrated and Matt Harrison and Derek Holland have been solid. Their home run rate raises a question mark, but some of that is due to their home park.
The point is this: Don't settle on an assumption before the season. Consider the results as they play out. Consider all five guys in the rotation. Right now, I'd still lean toward the Phillies ... but it's closer than we might have imagined at the start of the season.
What do you think? Place your vote.