By by Chris Jaffe, Hardball Times
Two weeks ago I wrote a column here called "Ten things I didn't know about bullpens" in which I took the splits info at Retrosheet to examine the best and worst of relief units of all time. Since I can just as easily study the starting pitchers, it makes sense to look at that as well.
Both this column and the previous one are outgrowths of work on my book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers, since I first started collecting info from Retrosheet to gain an idea about managerial preferences. These articles have one added feature: Because Retrosheet keeps updating, I can draw on a wider well of material from there.
In fact, since the bullpen column, Retrosheet has updated yet again, giving me splits info for the AL from 1942-44. I now have everything from 1920-onward the except the NL from 1940-44 and both leagues from 1949-51. That's it in the lively ball era. I have info for 1,834 different starting rotations.
That's fragmentary info, but a heckuva fragment! It's over 95 percent of all lively ball rotations, and almost three-fourths of all teams since 1876. The following statements are based on that supersized fragment.
1. The best rotation of them all
Let's hop to it. According to ERA+ (and I'm adjusting for park and league myself here), the best starting rotations that I know of are as follows:
Year Team ERA+
1998 ATL 139
1997 ATL 138
1931 PHA 138
1981 HOU 135
1926 PHA 135
1993 ATL 134
1922 STB 134
Well, I guess it shouldn't be too surprising that the 1990s Braves do so well. After all, they had Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. It still is s bit surprising because as great as they were, there have been a whole herd of other fantastic rotations over the years. For that reason alone, it should be tough for one unit to dominate the top slots.
From the above list, the real stunner—to the point where I double-checked the results—is the 1922 Browns. They had an overall team ERA+ of 123, but did much better as starters. Actually, looking at personal ERA+s at Baseball-Reference.com disguises their success because they almost all pitched out of the bullpen at times. Ace Urban Shocker posted a 1.88 ERA as starter, but "only" 2.45 in relief. The No. 2 pitcher, Elam Vangilder, had a 3.39 ERA as starter and 3.71 in relief. Others posted better marks in relief than as starters, but Shocker and Vangilder bore the main loads as starters.
Way back when, SG of the Replacement Level Yankee Weblog ran some computer sims for me showing the 1922 Browns were one of the best teams to miss the World Series. Well, this shows one reason why they were so good.
Read the rest of the list at: