By signing Cliff Lee last week, the Philadelphia Phillies may have created the greatest pitching rotation baseball has ever known. With Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, the Phillies will show up everyday knowing their pitching staff will more than likely only give up a few runs. Unfortunately, the Phillies will have to trot out either Joe Blanton or Kyle Kendrick on that fifth day, but that is beside the point. One of the great things about baseball is that you can argue until you are blue in the face about statistics; about who is the greatest, not the greatest. The 2011 Phillies have the chance to be the greatest rotation of all time. Here is what they are up against…
1908 Chicago Cubs
Between Three Finger Brown, Ed Reulbach, Jack Pfister, Carl Lundgren, Jack Taylor, and Orval Overall, the Cubs staff went 115-36 with a 1.75 E.R.A. for the season! Brown and Pfeister won 20 games and Reulbach 19. Reulbach even pitched both ends of a doubleheader and won both games! Brown’s distinctive, mutilated hand made his natural fastball do things that even today are considered unimaginable.
1917 Chicago White Sox
Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams were the Schilling and Randy Johnson of their day. Add in Red Faber and Reb Russell and you have your fearsome foursome. Unfortunately, Cicotte and Williams could have dominated for years and with the addition of Dickie Kerr, they achieved greatness in 1920 with four pitchers winning 20 games. Gambling consequences from the 1919 World Series got in the way. Cicotte and Williams would be banned for life.
1927 New York Yankees
Waite Hoyt (22-7, 2.63), Urban Shocker (18-6, 2.84), Herb Pennock (19-8, 3.00), Dutch Ruether (13-6, 3.38), George Pipgras (10-3, 4.11). The greatest team of all-time had a pretty decent staff to boot. Led by Hoyt Waite, the staff luckily never had to face their own “Murderer’s Row”.
1931 Homestead Grays
1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords
Statistics are hard to come by for the Negro Leagues. The Grays would boast five future Hall-of-Famers, the Crawfords, six. Regardless, each team has become the measuring stick for Negro League greatness. I lean towards the 1935 Crawfords because of Satchel Paige, Leroy Matlock, and Roosevelt Davis. Although Smokey Joe Williams of the Grays cannot be discounted either.
1954 Cleveland Indians
Early Wynn (23-11, 2.73), Mike Garcia (19-8, 2.64), Bob Lemon (23-7, 2.72), Art Houtteman (15-7, 3.35), Bob Feller (13-3, 3.09)
Much like the Braves of the 1990s, this staff was dominating. However, they happened to play against the Yankees year in and year out and only got past them to the World Series in 1954 to run into Willie Mays and the Giants. The Indians were swept.
1966 Los Angeles Dodgers
Sandy Koufax (27-9, 1.73), Don Drysdale (13-16, 3.42), Claude Osteen (17-14, 2.85), Don Sutton (12-12, 2.99)
Like the Indians before them and the Braves after them, statistical dominance (Ks, K/BB ratio – not wins and losses) was the hallmark of this staff. But there would be no World Series ring in 1966 despite three of the four later ending up in the Hall of Fame.
1971 Baltimore Orioles
Mike Cueller (20-9, 3.08), Pat Dobson (20-8, 2.90), Jim Palmer (20-9, 2.68), Dave McNally (21-5, 2.68)
In the modern era, they are the only staff to have four 20 game winners. Throw in a World Series Championship and it becomes very hard to not pick them.
1973 Oakland A’s
Ken Holtzman, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, Blue Moon Odom. Blue Moon was the weak link, but the other three won 20 games for the back-to-back World Series Winners. The threesome formed the corp of three championships in a row. Unlike Hudson, Mulder, and Zito of the A’s in the early 2000s, Blue, Hunter, and Holtzman dominated in the post season. Throw in Rollie Fingers as the reliever/closer and they could make their case easily.
1998 Atlanta Braves
Greg Maddux (18-9, 2.22), Tom Glavine (20-6, 2.47), Denny Neagle (16-11, 3.55), Kevin Millwood (17-8, 4.08), John Smoltz (17-3, 2.90)
It was hard to pick one Braves rotation in a decade of dominance. Between Smotlz, Glavine, and Maddux, they won a combined 6 Cy Young Awards as teammates, 8 altogether. But they only managed one World Series championship in 1994. Ideally, Smoltz, Glavine, and Maddux should go in to the Hall-of-Fame together. Like Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance, their names are forever linked. For regular season dominance, they are had to top. The post season is where they fall from the top.
2010 San Francisco Giants
Tim Linceum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Barry Zito, and Jonathan Sanchez. The shame of this selection is that Lincecum had a down year from the previous two. When it came to the postseaon, Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner were dominant. Zito actually had a good 2010 but never started in the postseason. He should have because Sanchez was horrible at times. Not one of the four has yet to win 20 games in a Giants uniform, but in the post season was where they made their money. Lincecum went 4-1 with a 2.43 E.R.A., Cain 2-0, 0.00 E.R.A., and Bumgarner went 2-0, 2.18 E.R.A. The ERA stands out even more as it was accomplished against the two most prodigious hitting teams of the year, the Phillies and the Rangers. If the Giants ever get any offense, we could be looking at a serious run of titles with Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner.
The 2011 Phillies
It is yet to be seen how this staff will do. They have the potential to be one of the greatest. There is uncertainty about the staff. Oswalt has been up and down the past two years, the same for Hamels. It will truly be up to the back end of the rotation to determine its greatness. Can Oswalt’s hip hold out? Will Hamels get his World Series groove back? Can Lee and Halladay continue their dominance? Just think, four years ago, Cliff Lee was sent down to the minors to get his control back. It is amazing what this game can do. At this point, there are more questions than answers. On paper, they look great. Games, however, aren’t won on paper and anything less than a ring in 2011 is a major disappointment. Here’s the kicker: come fantasy baseball draft time, I am picking either a Phillies or Giants pitcher when possible. Ideally, Halladay, Lee, Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner should go quick on draft day.
In the end, I cannot pick one of these staffs as the greatest ever. If I had to, I would have to go with the 1972-74 A’s just on statistics and 3 championships. But for me, the true measure of a pitching staff is not during the regular season but during the post season. No where on this list did you see Bob Gibson, Don Larsen, Mickey Lolich, Dave Stewart, Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, or Jack Morris. They were not parts of a dominant staff in the regular season, but by themselves they single handedly dominated the post season. Cause if there was one pitcher I would not want to face in the post season, it would be Gibson. Hands down. It is not even a contest in my mind. I would always think a fastball would be headed for my ear. And that is baseball’s greatest attribute, one can make an argument about anything.