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Sabermetric Study: Baseball's best starting rotation

Fans and experts alike have heralded the Phillies 2011 starting rotation as one of the best in major league history. Patrick Gordon of the Philadelphia Baseball Review takes a look at a few of the best rotations in baseball history and uses four unique sabermetrical statistics to analyze where the '11 Phillies may finish among some of baseball's best.

Chartforrotation_medium

BY: Patrick Gordon - Managing Editor of the Philadelphia Baseball Review

Email: pgordon@philadelphiabaseballreview.com

With the addition of Cliff Lee the Phillies have assembled a starting rotation that has already been tabbed by many to be one of the best in baseball history.

To lend context to a discussion of the best rotations in baseball history the Philadelphia Baseball Review used four unique, yet simple sabermetric statistics to rank and compare the Phillies projected 2011 rotation to five of baseball's known greatest rotations.

Admittedly, the selection process for the study was somewhat random. I used my own knowledge and perused dozens of expert lists and came up with five rotations for comparison purposes, including the 1954 Indians, the 1971 Orioles, the 1997 Braves, the 1998 Yankees and the 2002 Athletics.

The four sabermetric categories used in the study dealt with 'stuff', specifically walks, hits and strikeouts.

Command Ratio or Cmd: (Strikeouts / Walks) | This is a measure of a pitcher's raw ability to get the ball over the plate. There is no more fundamental skill than this for a pitcher, and so it is used as an indicator to project potential rises and falls in other categories, such as ERA.

Control Rate or BB/9: BB Allowed x 9 / IP | Simply measures how many walks a pitcher allows per game.

Dominance Rate or K/9: (K Allowed x 9 / IP) | Measures how many strikeouts a pitcher records per game.

Power / Finesse Rating: (BB + K) / IP | Measures the level by which a pitcher allows balls to be put into play and helps tie a pitcher's success to his team's level of defensive ability.

I created an Excel Chart and input the various statistics of each rotation from BaseballReference.com. I than totaled the rotation's number of hits allowed, walks, strikeouts and innings pitched and subtracted those numbers from the league (AL or NL) total, thus giving me a league total minus the respective rotation.

I used the three-year averages of each member of the Phillies 2011 rotation rather than projected statistics because I felt the averages were more reliable and demonstrated consistency.  I also found three-year averages from the NL for comparison purposes.

Once I had the team total along with the league total minus the rotation I found Command Ratio, Control Rate, Dominance Rate and the Power / Finesse Rating for both data sets. I then divided the team sabermetric data by the league sabermetric data and found a normalization number in each category for each club.

To further dissect these numbers I divided each club's categorical normalization number by the best in the given statistical category and multiplied by 100.

The result was a percentage, allowing for better comparison and analysis.

Cmdcntchart_medium

 The real surprise to me was the ’98 Yankees. 

1998 Yankees

H

BB

K

IP

CMD

CNT

DOM

FIN

Pettitte

226

87

146

216.34

1.678

0.596

6.074

1.077

Wells

195

29

163

214.34

5.621

0.178

6.844

0.896

Cone

186

59

209

207.67

3.542

0.282

9.058

1.291

Irabu

148

76

126

173

1.658

0.603

6.555

1.168

Hernandez

113

52

131

141

2.519

0.397

8.362

1.298

TOTAL

868

303

775

952.35

3.004

0.411

7.378

1.146

LGE TOTAL

21210

7704

14341

20194.67

1.862

0.537

6.391

1.092

LGE TOTAL - NYY Staff

20342

7401

13566

19242.32

1.614

1.306

1.154

1.05

 

I knew the club was good, but I forgot how dominating David Cone was that season. I also forgot about David Wells and how well he pitched.

So, if you look at the ’98 Yankees you can see the numbers in bold are the normalization numbers. Thus, the ’98 Yankees were 1.61 better in Command than the rest of the AL, 1.30 better in Control, etc.

Please note, unlike the other three sabermetrical categories where the higher number is better, Control (CNT) is the opposite, the lower the number, the better.

To take things a step further I graphed each club’s normalization numbers on a diamond, thus offering a visual representation for comparative purposes. Essentially, the more of the diamond covered, the better the rotation.

Chartforrotation_medium

(Click image for a larger view)

If you add each of the percentages, the ’97 Braves and the projected ’11 Phillies rotation each equal 363. The next closest is the ’98 Yankees (343), followed by the ’02 Athletics (337), ’54 Indians (301) and ’71 Orioles (274).

This study isn't to say the '11 Phillies will definitively rank as one of the best in baseball history, but it does go to show that the pieces are in place for a historical season.

***

Phillies Pitching Chart (Using 3-year averages)

11 Phillies H BB K IP   CMND CNTL DOM FIN
HAMELS 195 52 192 210 3.692308 0.270833 8.229 1.162
LEE 218 32 179 222.34 5.59375 0.178771 7.246 0.949
HALLADAY 228 35 211 245.34 6.028571 0.165877 7.74 1.003
OSWALT 181 48 165 200.67 3.4375 0.290909 7.4 1.061
BLANTON 205 56 136 189.67 2.428571 0.411765 6.453 1.012
TOTAL 1027 223 883 1068.02 4.23614 0.263631 7.414 1.037
LGE TOTAL 3yr AVG 22910 8801 18373 23107.34 2.087604 0.479018 7.156 1.176
LGE TOTAL - PHI Staff 21883 8578 17490 22039.32 2.029188 1.817002 1.036 0.882
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