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Thursday, April 12
Updated: April 16, 12:31 PM ET
Boston's starting staff on par with Yankees'

The Red Sox and Yankees face off in the first of their 19 games, beginning Friday. The new unbalanced schedule means that the two rivals will see more of each other this year than they have since 1960. Despite the Blue Jays' hot start, the smart money is still on one of these two teams pulling out the AL East crown, which gives the head-to-head matchups that much more significance.

When most people compare the teams, the Yankees are given a big edge in the starting rotation, due to the perception that they have four aces, while the Red Sox have Pedro Martinez and a cast of nobodies, Hideo Nomo's ability to slap around the Baltimore ZerOrioles notwithstanding. I question that edge, for three primary reasons:

1. The gap between Martinez and any Yankee starter is huge, much greater than most people appreciate.
2. The Red Sox starters behind Martinez aren't as bad as perceived.
3. The middle of the Yankee rotation isn't as good as it's perceived.

"Sure," you may state, "You say that now that Nomo has thrown 15 great innings. Where were you two weeks ago?"

Well, the second point isn't based just on Hideo Nomo. But we'll come back to that.

We've come to think of starting pitching based on each spot in the rotation. No. 1 starter, No. 2 starter, etc., and when rotations are compared, it's common to match up each spot and make comparisons. So when the Sox and Yanks are discussed, the Sox get the edge in the nominal No. 1 position -- Martinez vs. Roger Clemens -- with the Yankees then granted a large edge at all the other spots. And frankly, this may not be the worst way to measure rotations, in 95 percent of all cases.

Pedro Martinez, though, has a way of causing problems.

Baseball Prospectus's Michael Wolverton has developed a system for measuring starting-pitcher performance that factors out the support a pitcher receives from his bullpen and offense. These two factors, of course, play a moderate role in a pitchers' ERA and a significant one in his won-loss record. The system, known as Support-Neutral; measures, rates a pitcher based on his performance relative to a replacement-level starter, and is adjusted for both park and league. For more on SN stats click here

Below are the top four starters for the Yankees and Red Sox, and their Support-Neutral Wins Above Replacement in 2000 for each:

Yankees SNWAR Red Sox SNWAR
Roger Clemens 3.8 Pedro Martinez 10.2
Mike Mussina 5.4 Hideo Nomo 2.5
Andy Pettitte 3.0 Frank Castillo 3.7
O. Hernandez 3.2 Tomo Ohka 1.9
Total 15.4 Total 18.3

Using 2000 numbers may seem like it's a bit generous to the Red Sox -- Frank Castillo isn't likely to again be better than Andy Pettitte -- but the point is that the difference in value between Pedro Martinez and any two Yankee starters is greater than the differences between those Yankees and their other Sox counterparts. Simply lining up the starters like toy soldiers and pairing them off doesn't do justice to the gap between Martinez and the mortals. A rotation with Martinez and four innings-munchers is one hell of a rotation.

That brings me to my second point: the Sox rotation behind Martinez is better than perceived. The table above compared the rotations to replacement level. A lot of the argument against the Sox is the notion that they can't back Martinez up with an average rotation. Let's take a look at their starters using their 2000 Support-Neutral Value Added, which measures against an average starter:

Pitcher SNVA
Pedro Martinez 8.1
Hideo Nomo 0.7
Frank Castillo 2.4
Tomo Ohka 1.3

For sake of comparison, the three Red Sox pitchers who got the most starts behind Pedro Martinez in 2000, Ramon Martinez, Jeff Fassero, and Pete Schourek, netted out at one win below average. The Sox have done exactly what they needed to do: build a rotation behind Martinez that doesn't get in the way and gives the bullpen a chance to pull out the games their hero doesn't start.

Finally, the idea that the Yankees have four aces is a myth. Mike Mussina and Roger Clemens are great pitchers, quite possibly the second- and third-best in the AL. But the idea that Pettitte and Hernandez are right behind them is silly. Pettitte is a good middle-of-the-rotation starter who has benefited from excellent run support over the years to post good won-loss records. His peripheral stats, ERAs and Support-Neutral indicators haven't been exceptional since 1997.

Orlando Hernandez has even less claim to the title of "ace." His reputation has been made by his work in the postseason, which has, by any standard, been exceptional. But since the middle of 1999, he hasn't been much more than, again, a middle-of-the-rotation starter:

  ERA H/9 BB/9 K/9 HR/9 IP/start
1998-mid 1999 3.51 7.2 3.4 7.4 0.7 6.6
Since 4.44 8.6 2.9 6.6 1.5 6.6

Hernandez opens this season with some questions about his health, which exposes another difference between the two teams. The Sox have more options should one of their starters be ineffective or injured. The Yankees have already tried two not-yet-ready young pitchers in the No. 5 slot, Christian Parker and Randy Keisler, and will move on shortly to Adrian Hernandez. They just don't have much depth, unless they make the unlikely decision to move Ramiro Mendoza back to the rotation.

The Sox, on the other hand, have a couple of acceptable back-of-the-rotation starters on staff in Tim Wakefield and Pete Schourek. They also have Paxton Crawford, who pitched well in a handful of starts for the Sox last season, available to step in if needed. That's before getting into lottery tickets David Cone and Bret Saberhagen. The Sox have a significant edge in the No. 5 slot and beyond, and over the course of a season, that may be an important edge.

The Yankees have a very good rotation, probably the best in the American League. But if you look past the "four aces" hype, you'll see that the Red Sox rotation is right there with them.

The team of writers from the Baseball Prospectus (tm) will be writing twice a week for during the baseball season. You can check out more of their work at their web site at

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