That's Debatable: Which team has the best rotation?

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Welcome to The Show! On Monday, ESPN.com senior MLB writer Jayson Stark will drop by at 1 p.m. ET for another installment of "That's Debatable," a weekly feature in which we break down a hot topic you have suggested.

Monday's question, courtesy of Adam from Hampshire, Ill.:

Which team has the best starting rotation (1-5) in all of baseball? My pick is the Chicago Cubs (Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden, Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis).

Normally, we don't tinker with your questions here at That's Debatable. But not this week. This week, Adam, we're tinkering. So here's the question we're actually debating:

Which team has the best postseason rotation?

We opted to make that change because teams almost never use five starting pitchers in October. In fact, teams that win the World Series tend to lean on their top three starters -- so even the No. 4 starter barely pitches. Each of the last three Series champs used their 1-2-3 starting pitchers in all but two games of the entire postseason.

Essentially, this debate comes down to which team has the best top three, with a respectable fourth starter hanging around to start one game in the LCS and World Series if you need him. And here are the main teams in that argument:

THE CASE FOR THE CUBS

It doesn't get much better than Rich Harden, Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster, with Ted Lilly as your safety valve. The Cubs are 42-18 (a .700 winning percentage) when those three start. And since Lilly's rough April (1-4, 6.46), they're 15-6 when he starts.

THE CASE FOR THE DIAMONDBACKS

The only other team besides the Cubs that has two starters in the top 10 in lowest opponent OPS is Arizona -- with (guess who?) Brandon Webb (.597) and Dan Haren (.635). And if your No. 3 starter is Randy Johnson (1.56 ERA since the break), and your No. 4 is either Doug Davis or the underrated Yusmeiro Petit (.565 opponent OPS), you have one terrifying group.

THE CASE FOR THE ANGELS

No other rotation in the American League has three starters who have held opposing hitters to a sub-.700 OPS. But the Angels do, in Ervin Santana (.647), Joe Saunders (.688) and John Lackey (.691).

THE CASE FOR THE RED SOX

If Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield were healthy, this staff might be the pick. The Red Sox are the only rotation in baseball with four starters -- Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Lester, Wakefield and Beckett -- in the top 50 in lowest opponent OPS. But until we know that Beckett is OK, it's tough to make a great case for this group.

OTHERS IN THE DEBATE

The Dodgers' numbers are skewed slightly by pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium, but they have tremendous rotation depth with Chad Billingsley, Derek Lowe, Hiroki Kuroda, Greg Maddux and Clayton Kershaw. Ditto on the Brewers -- with C.C. Sabathia, Ben Sheets, Manny Parra, Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan.

Can't overlook Tampa Bay's Big Three -- Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza and James Shields. They're the single biggest reason the Rays are heading for October. And the White Sox, Twins and Mets (if John Maine is reasonably healthy) also go four-deep.

THE VERDICT

Well, Adam, we may have messed with your question -- but not your answer. Crunch those numbers, friends, and it's clear the Cubs are the pick. They're the only team in baseball that has three starters in the top 27 in opponent OPS. They're the only rotation that has three starters in the top 20 in strikeout ratio (a group that doesn't include Zambrano, by the way). They lead the sport in starters' ERA and opponent batting average. And they would be the only team in baseball with three starters in the top 15 in VORP (Baseball Prospectus' Value Over Replacement Player stat) if Harden's numbers for the Cubs and A's were combined. So feel free to argue away, but I'll take the Cubs with no second thoughts.


Every week, we'll give you the topic and then we'll have one of our writers stopping by to debate the issue with you. To suggest a topic for "That's Debatable," go here. Or check out the full archive.

Stark Archive: Chats | Columns

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