June 19, 2021

The Best Starting Pitching Staffs in the Last 100 Years: Part I

March 26, 2021 by · 1 Comment 

Pitching, pitching, pitching. You may have heard the saying, “You can never have enough pitching.” Of course, if you are going to have good pitching it begins with your starting pitching staff.

Which starting pitching staff was the best ever? A few that come to mind right away were the Atlanta Braves of the ‘90s. Beginning in 1991, the Braves made the post-season in 13 of the next 14 seasons. Despite their great starting pitching, the Braves won only one World Series.

Similarly, the ’71 Baltimore Orioles with four 20-game winners is another group that is often mentioned. They also did not win the World Series that year. Likewise,the 1954 Cleveland Indians starting pitching staff is legendary as well, but they did not win the World Series either.

I guess that’s proof that starting pitching will give your team a chance. Then again a team needs more than just starting pitching.

I considered and reviewed every team that made it to the World Series and some other notable ones that did not. After viewing all the statistics, teams after the Dead Ball Era were only considered. Comparatively, considering teams before and after 1920 is more an apples-to-oranges comparison than an apples-to-apples one.

Bill Hallahan

Bill Hallahan

All the statistics listed below were found in baseball-reference.com as well as the players listed as starting pitchers for their respective teams. If you disagree with someone that is listed as a starting pitcher, take that up with baseball-reference.com.

How do you compare and rate starting pitching staffs? Do you base it on how good a pitching staff was by the number of 20-game winners it had? If a team had one 20-game winner and the other starters won 13 games each but another team had four 19-game winners, do you still think the team with the one 20-game winner had the superior pitching staff?

Is a starting pitching staff like a chain and only as strong as its weakest link? Do you judge a starting pitching staff on its weakest link? If so, that doesn’t bode well for the ’73 Oakland Athletics. They had three 20-game winners: Jim Catfish Hunter (21), Ken Holtzman (21) and Vida Blue with 20. But their fourth starter was John Blue Moon Odom, and he went 5-12 that year with a 4.49 ERA. How could any World Series winner and particularly the 1973 A’s have a starter seven games under .500?

If that is a major factor in your decision on basing the best of starting pitching staffs, those eliminated would include:

1934 St. Louis Cardinals Bill Hallahan 8-12
1942 New York Yankees Marv Breuer 8-9
1951 Cleveland Indians Bob Chakales 3-4
1961 Cincinnati Reds Ken Hunt 9-10
1961 New York Yankees Bob Turley, Bud Daley 3-5, 8-9
1964 Chicago White Sox Ray Herbert, Fred Talbot 6-7, 4-5
1968 St. Louis Cardinals Larry Jaster 9-13
1969 New York Mets Don Cardwell, Jim McAndrew 8-10, 6-7
1972 Oakland Athletics Vida Blue 6-10
1973 Oakland Athletics Blue Moon Odom 5-12
1974 Oakland Athletics Glenn Abbott 5-7
1974 Los Angeles Dodgers Al Downing 5-7
1977 New York Yankees Ken Holtzman 2-3
1980 Houston Astros Ken Forsch 12-13
1985 Los Angeles Dodgers Rick Honeycutt 8-12
1985 Kansas City Royals Bud Black 10-15
1988 New York Mets Bob Ojeda 10-13
1989 Oakland Athletics Curt Young 5-9
1992 Atlanta Braves Mike Bielecki 2-4
1993 Atlanta Braves Pete Smith 4-8
1999 Atlanta Braves Odalis Perez 4-6
2002 Atlanta Braves Jason Marquis 8-9
2002 New York Yankees Ted Lilly 3-6
2003 New York Yankees Jeff Weaver 7-9
2011 Philadelphia Phillies Roy Oswalt 9-10
2014 Detroit Tigers Drew Smyly 6-9



One Response to “The Best Starting Pitching Staffs in the Last 100 Years: Part I”
  1. Joe Garrison says:

    Try this method… Determine the top five or six starting pitchers on each team since 1969. Use games started as your criteria. Once each “rotation” has been determined, multiply ERA+ by innings pitched for each man. Then sum those totals. Prior to 1969, use four or five pitchers. Each “rotation” should account for between 120 and 162 of their teams starts of course.

    Here is an example of the 1977 vs 1978 Los Angeles Dodgers. The 1978 version included the same five guys, plus about half a year’s worth of Bob Welch.

    Final Total for 1977 Rotation (158 starts)….138389

    Final Total for 1978 Rotation (six men, all 162 starts amounted for)….. 133736.5

    So here we have a stronger showing by the 1977 rotation, due in part because Rhoden and Sutton had ERAs slightly above he league average in 1978.

    Multiply Innings Pitched by ERA+ and you get a mix of quantity and quality that manager look for in a set rotation.

    I look forward to seeing your method.

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