Teams

August 6, 2021
  

Teams

 

The 98 years in my study (1921 to 2018) include 2,176 teams.  1,428 of those teams, or 66%, had at least one game started by a pitcher who qualifies as a #1 starter. 

You might guess that the record for most starts in a season by pitchers qualifying as #1 starters would be by one of the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz teams, which is a really good guess but not exactly right.  They topped out at 142.  The team with 143 was the 1975 Dodgers, with a starting rotation of Andy Messersmith (19-14, 2.28 ERA), Doug Rau (15-9, 3.11), Don Sutton (16-13, 2.87) and Burt Hooton (18-7, 2.82)—all four #1 starters. 

These are the 10 teams with the most games started by #1 pitchers:

 

Year

Focus Team

GS

GS by #1

Number One Starters

1975

Dodgers

162

143

Andy Messersmith, Doug Rau, Don Sutton, Burt Hooton

1993

Braves

162

142

Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery

1997

Braves

162

135

Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Denny Neagle

2001

Athletics

162

133

Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, Cory Lidle

1999

Braves

162

130

Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Kevin Millwood

2005

White S

162

130

Mark Buehrle, Jose Contreras, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland

2018

Astros

162

130

Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton

1977

Dodgers

162

127

Andy Messersmith, Don Sutton, Burt Hooton, Rick Rhoden

2011

Giants

162

127

Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong

1998

Braves

162

124

Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Denny Neagle

 

Those are all teams working on a 162-game schedule, so that extends the conversation for a moment.  The record for a team on a 154-game schedule is a tie at 119, between the 1924 Pittsburgh Pirates and the 1941 Cincinnati Reds. 

Both of those teams were managed by Bill McKechnie.  McKechnie, like Al Lopez, was an absolute, committed, balls-to-the-wall defense-is-everything manager.  It fits the mold of a Greek tragedy, not saying that it is one.  Many times, the things that you believe in the most firmly will eventually drag you to your ruin.  McKechnie eventually had a team with three brilliant defensive outfielders who didn’t hit a lick, while he had a guy in the minors—Hank Sauer--who had had three trials with the Reds and had hit well all three times.  Sauer would be in the Hall of Fame if McKechnie had put him in the lineup when he deserved to be there.  But he (McKechnie) did have fantastic pitching-and-defense combinations, which did win a lot of games. 

The famous strong starting corps which aren’t listed here—the Orioles of the early 1970s, the Dodgers of the 1960s, the Cleveland Indians of the 1950s—they all did very well, all had seasons with 100+ games started by #1 starters; they just didn’t quite make the list.   No conclusion should be drawn from this; it’s just a kind of arbitrary outcome.  You can’t rely on marginal choices as to who is and who is not a #1 starter to draw any easy conclusions about a particular team. 

 

Another observation here is that the Yankees—the strongest franchise in baseball history—have never really had fantastic starting rotations.  Their strongest ever was 1963—Whitey Ford, Jim Bouton and Ralph Terry.  If Al Downing had joined that rotation just a couple of weeks earlier, Downing would quality as a #1 starter, and then that team would have had four #1s.  Downing made his first start on June 10, but then dominated for the rest of the season.   Also, the Yankees had some very strong rotations during World War II.

 

 
 
 
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