By Bill James

May 1, 2015

Just a note here. I wanted to use our new Starting Pitcher rankings to compare starting rotations. I did something sort of like this a couple of years ago, when I first presented the starting pitcher ranking system.

This is a take-it-for-what-it-is-worth exercise. I went down the list of starting pitchers (the list as of April 30, 2015) and entered the #1 pitcher (Kershaw) in the slot for the Dodgers, S1, the #2 starting pitcher, Felix, in the slot for S1, Seattle, etc. I made no exceptions for pitchers who are on the DL, known to be going on the DL, etc.; Wainwright is listed as the Cardinals’ S1 because that’s what the list shows. Wainwright will begin to fade very rapidly in the rankings; all inactive pitchers will. Obviously this was a debatable choice, and if you wanted to do this for some sort of predictive purpose, you might want to substitute a "300" for Wainwright.

The teams with the strongest starting rotations in their divisions, as of April 30, are Baltimore, the White Sox, the Angels, the Nationals, the Cardinals, and the Dodgers. The teams with the weakest rotations, by division: the Yankees, Indians, A’s, Phillies, Brewers, and Diamondbacks. Other notes:

1) Strongest rotation in the majors, by far: Washington. Washington’s #5 starter, Gio Gonzalez, ranks ahead of the number one starter for no less than 13 teams. That’s astonishing. If it holds up over the course of the season. . . .one of the strongest rotations of all time.

2) Weakest starting rotation in the majors: Arizona. Arizona’s #1 starter, Josh Collmenter, ranks as the #75 starting pitcher in baseball.

3) The AL East generally has weak starting pitching. No pitcher in the AL East is among the top 15 in baseball.

4) Not here to defend the Red Sox rotation or apologize for it; the Red Sox rotation is what it is, and we’ll see how it works. But I will note that our #5 ranked starter, Joe Kelly, is a) better than the #5 starter of sixteen other teams, and b) climbing the charts rapidly, having already moved from 132^{nd} to 116^{th} since the season began.

5) Wainwright’s injury obviously gives the Cubs the best starting rotation in that division, since St. Louis is ahead of Chicago only by a hair even WITH Wainwright.

6) My real purpose in doing this was to educate myself about the 30 major league rotations. If I can force myself to do this once a week—which I probably can’t, but if I could—then I would develop a stronger understanding of who was in the rotation right now for all 30 teams, who their #1 starter was, etc. I’m old; I have a hard time lodging all of that information in my head.

7) Miami’s rotation is surprisingly good. . . not big names, but they’re pitching well, and most of them have been for a least a couple of months.

8) Oakland is the wild card. Oakland scans as having the weakest rotation in the AL West, but we’ve all seen Oakland re-construct their rotation over the course of the season a dozen times. What matters is not how they look on paper over the course of the season; what matters is how they perform over the course of the season.

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## COMMENTS (7 Comments, most recent shown first)

studesRe: 337's comment, there is an implied regression to the mean in Bill's system. It takes two-three great years for a pitcher to go from 300 to the top guns. A blunt guess is that there is about a 50% regression rate for a pitcher's full season. I don't think this is very much out of line.

But a case like Harvey's is special, in that we have some prior years that aren't considered because he was out for so long. So, you could well argue that he should be regressed to his prior performance, not the 300 level.

How to implement this in Bill's system? I think a pitcher's ranking definitely needs to decline when he's not pitching, especially when he's out for a full year. When he returns, however, perhaps he should start on a higher level than 300. Maybe half the distance between 300 and his prior level?

7:46 AM May 4thCharlesSaegerWhile Bill points out the Diamondbacks, the Yankees are almost as bad above, and really don't have a #1 starter.

9:30 AM May 3rd337I'm not sure if Bill's system responds to a great new pitcher quickly enough. Take a hypothetical guy who makes Matt Harvey look like an average pitcher. He has a sensational, Cy Young winning, Koufax-shaming rookie season, gets hurt his second year (let's assume hypothetically, the hurt has nothing to do with his arm, and is totally non-chronic--a late in life severe case of the measles, for example). He comes back in his third year pitching better than Harvey has pitched so far this year, if that's possible. Thus far, he wouldn't have a very good starting pitcher ranking, and I think he'd be at least well into this year, if not next season, before he'd begin to show up on the rankings chart, yet such a pitcher would in reality be perceived as a dominating ace pitcher by around this point in his career.

10:41 AM May 2ndmattdI get the average as 405.56 for all pitchers. S1 average is 475.49, S2 is 428.25, S3 is 403.3, S4 is 373.55, and S5 is 347.23. The average rotation is 2027.83, so the closest rotation to average is the Mets.

12:59 PM May 1stllozadaIs it correct that the Angels are one of the best rotations? It seems that the Cubs, the Royals, and (gulp) the Giants have a higher score. It is kind of strange that the Giants rotation would take the Angels place among the strongest, but that's what the chart says.

11:35 AM May 1stchuckFor the hell of it, I used the site below, which gives starting pitcher rankings on any given day, going back to 1957, and I looked at a few of the Braves' rotations as of 4/30.

www.baseballmusings.com/cgi-bin/PitcherRatings.py?rankdate=04/30/1998

4/30/98 was the best one I saw, so far:

560.05 Maddux (#4)

532.34 Smoltz (#7)

520.81 Glavine (#9)

495.68 Neagle (#13)

335.97 Millwood (#130)

Sum: 2444.85, which is just slightly higher than the Nationals number above.

By the end of the 1998 season, this Braves rotation was over 2660.

But I haven't found a rotation yet where all 5 starters were ranked in the top 24, as of April 30, as the Nationals have today.

The Orioles on 4/30/72, after the 1971 of their big four:

498.87 Cuellar (#12)

493.62 Palmer (#15)

489.08 McNally (#16)

481.92 Dobson (#22)

The average of that foursome (490.87) is just about the same as the Nationals' top 4 now (491.95).

10:35 AM May 1stshtharSo what's the Average #1 starter? #2 and so forth? I'm guessing the average pitcher over all would be in the 400s.

10:08 AM May 1st