Best Rotations Ever (or those with the most 4+ rWAR pitchers)

Our friend Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs posted an article last night titled Best. Rotation. Ever. after the Cliff Lee signing was announced. I remember, as a kid, being infatuated with that Orioles rotation that featured four 20-game winners. Of course, I blame that on being 12 and obsessed with all things related to Earl Weaver.

Of course, we now have better ways to rate a rotation than pitcher victories. Heck, we've got Wins Above Replacement! So, what does the top four arms in this new Phillies rotation look like by 2010 rWAR?

  1. Roy Halladay (6.9)
  2. Roy Oswalt (5.1)
  3. Cole Hamels (4.7)
  4. Cliff Lee (4.3)

Yes, Lee's looks very low. Fangraphs has him much, much higher (7.1). But because I'm a sucker for the Baseball-Reference Play Index, I'm sticking with rWAR for today.

So, exactly how many rotations have featured four pitchers with 4+ WAR in a single season?

Rk Year Lg Tm #Matching
1 1967 NL Cincinnati Reds 5 Ted Abernathy / Jim Maloney / Gary Nolan / Milt Pappas / Mel Queen
2 1997 NL Atlanta Braves 4 Tom Glavine / Greg Maddux / Denny Neagle / John Smoltz
3 1997 AL New York Yankees 4 David Cone / Andy Pettitte / Mariano Rivera / David Wells
4 1991 NL Atlanta Braves 4 Steve Avery / Tom Glavine / Charlie Leibrandt / John Smoltz
5 1960 NL St. Louis Cardinals 4 Ernie Broglio / Larry Jackson / Lindy McDaniel / Curt Simmons
6 1913 NL New York Giants 4 Al Demaree / Rube Marquard / Christy Mathewson / Jeff Tesreau
7 1912 AL Boston Red Sox 4 Hugh Bedient / Ray Collins / Buck O'Brien / Smoky Joe Wood
8 1912 NL Pittsburgh Pirates 4 Howie Camnitz / Claude Hendrix / Marty O'Toole / Hank Robinson
9 1909 AL Philadelphia Athletics 4 Chief Bender / Harry Krause / Cy Morgan / Eddie Plank
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/14/2010.

That'd be nine.

The 1967 Reds actually had five, which is quite impressive. One (Ted Abernathy) was a reliever and picked up 5.8 rWAR without making a start. Gary Nolan (6.8) was the only starting pitcher over 5.0. The 1997 Yankees (Mariano Rivera) and 1960 Cardinals (Lindy McDaniel) also had a reliever make the list. The 1909 Athletics and 1912 Pirates didn't actually have a pitcher over 5.0 WAR. The 1991 and 1997 Braves just had one. While the 1913 Giants featured three above 5.0 (Christy Mathewson at 6.8, Rube Marquard at 5.1, and Jeff Tesreau at 5.0) and one below (Al Demaree at 4.0), the 1912 Red Sox seemed to boast the best quality.

The 1912 Sox have the best pitcher of all 37 on the list—Smokey Joe Wood at 9.6. Then Buck O'Brien (5.3), Ray Collins (5.1), and Hugh Bedient (4.1) also rated quite well.

Oh, what were the rWAR numbers for that '71 Orioles staff? Jim Palmer (4.1), Pat Dobson (3.1), Dave McNally (3.1), and Mike Cuellar (2.7) all finished relatively low. There are no Fangraphs WAR numbers from 1971 for comparison, but this is because rWAR starts with runs allowed and then gives some credit for those runs allowed to the defense. The Orioles were a +58 Total Zone team that year, led by Brooks Robinson (+21), Mark Belanger (+13), and Paul Blair (+8). The only player with over 90 plate appearances* to rate as a below average defender was Frank Robinson (–9). His 33 batting runs certainly made up for that.

What's this all mean? Hot damn this is going to be a fun rotation to watch.

* Terry Crowley was also negative in limited playing time, but we know what Earl thought of him

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