Gz up. Foes down.

Every year, teams go into Spring Training with high hopes. Fans and players alike feel that this could be their year provided a few things break right. If Young Player X finally breaks out or if Veteran Player Y shows he still has something left in the tank… Adjust the pipedream to suit your local side but, invariably, the prayers are the all same.

Well assembled teams loaded with talent have more to look forward to than a young, rebuilding side but the one thing all teams wish for is health. “As long as we stay healthy, we think we really have a chance.” Get ready to hear that old saw a few dozen times in the next three weeks. Maybe the “chance” is competing for a title or perhaps making key development steps, staying healthy is what everybody wants.

Like any good axiom, the quest for health is born out of truth. Injuries hit all teams but those teams that avoid the injury “bug” and keep their core talent on the field are generally ahead of the game. If winning games and titles is the goal of your team, its needs are more specific: the longer you can keep your starting rotation healthy, the better your chances at making the post season.

Writing about the Braves this week got my thinking about how valuable it must be to extract as many starts from your best pitchers as possible. The more the ball stays in the hand of your top three, four, or five starters; the better off you’d be.

Using the Baseball Reference Play Index, we can create a list of all teams since 2001 to receive 30 starts from four or more pitchers. The list is very long, but rather interesting.

Rk Year Tm #Matching
1 2011 Texas Rangers 5 Matt Harrison / Derek Holland / Colby Lewis / Alexi Ogando / C.J. Wilson
2 2006 Chicago White Sox 5 Mark Buehrle / Jose Contreras / Freddy Garcia / Jon Garland / Javier Vazquez
3 2005 Cleveland Indians 5 Scott Elarton / Cliff Lee / Kevin Millwood / CC Sabathia / Jake Westbrook
4 2005 St. Louis Cardinals 5 Chris Carpenter / Jason Marquis / Matt Morris / Mark Mulder / Jeff Suppan
5 2004 Boston Red Sox 5 Bronson Arroyo / Derek Lowe / Pedro Martinez / Curt Schilling / Tim Wakefield
6 2003 Seattle Mariners 5 Ryan Franklin / Freddy Garcia / Gil Meche / Jamie Moyer / Joel Pineiro
7 2011 Detroit Tigers 4 Brad Penny / Rick Porcello / Max Scherzer / Justin Verlander
8 2011 Los Angeles Dodgers 4 Chad Billingsley / Clayton Kershaw / Hiroki Kuroda / Ted Lilly
9 2011 Milwaukee Brewers 4 Yovani Gallardo / Shaun Marcum / Chris Narveson / Randy Wolf
10 2011 New York Mets 4 Chris Capuano / R.A. Dickey / Dillon Gee / Mike Pelfrey
11 2011 San Francisco Giants 4 Madison Bumgarner / Matt Cain / Tim Lincecum / Ryan Vogelsong
12 2011 St. Louis Cardinals 4 Chris Carpenter / Jaime Garcia / Kyle Lohse / Jake Westbrook
13 2010 Baltimore Orioles 4 Brad Bergesen / Jeremy Guthrie / Brian Matusz / Kevin Millwood
14 2010 San Francisco Giants 4 Matt Cain / Tim Lincecum / Jonathan Sanchez / Barry Zito
15 2010 Tampa Bay Rays 4 Matt Garza / Jeff Niemann / David Price / James Shields
16 2009 New York Yankees 4 A.J. Burnett / Joba Chamberlain / Andy Pettitte / CC Sabathia
17 2009 San Francisco Giants 4 Matt Cain / Tim Lincecum / Jonathan Sanchez / Barry Zito
18 2008 LA Angels 4 Jon Garland / Ervin Santana / Joe Saunders / Jered Weaver
19 2008 Chicago White Sox 4 Mark Buehrle / John Danks / Gavin Floyd / Javier Vazquez
20 2008 Cincinnati Reds 4 Bronson Arroyo / Johnny Cueto / Aaron Harang / Edinson Volquez
21 2008 Milwaukee Brewers 4 Dave Bush / Manny Parra / Ben Sheets / Jeff Suppan
22 2008 Philadelphia Phillies 4 Cole Hamels / Kyle Kendrick / Jamie Moyer / Brett Myers
23 2008 Tampa Bay Rays 4 Matt Garza / Edwin Jackson / James Shields / Andy Sonnanstine
24 2007 Chicago Cubs 4 Rich Hill / Ted Lilly / Jason Marquis / Carlos Zambrano
25 2007 Chicago White Sox 4 Mark Buehrle / Jose Contreras / Jon Garland / Javier Vazquez
26 2006 Colorado Rockies 4 Aaron Cook / Josh Fogg / Jeff Francis / Jason Jennings
27 2006 Detroit Tigers 4 Jeremy Bonderman / Nate Robertson / Kenny Rogers / Justin Verlander
28 2006 New York Yankees 4 Randy Johnson / Mike Mussina / Chien-Ming Wang / Jaret Wright
29 2005 Boston Red Sox 4 Bronson Arroyo / Matt Clement / Tim Wakefield / David Wells
30 2005 Chicago White Sox 4 Mark Buehrle / Jose Contreras / Freddy Garcia / Jon Garland
31 2004 Detroit Tigers 4 Jeremy Bonderman / Jason Johnson / Mike Maroth / Nate Robertson
32 2004 Minnesota Twins 4 Kyle Lohse / Brad Radke / Johan Santana / Carlos Silva
33 2004 Oakland Athletics 4 Rich Harden / Mark Mulder / Mark Redman / Barry Zito
34 2004 St. Louis Cardinals 4 Jason Marquis / Matt Morris / Jeff Suppan / Woody Williams
35 2003 Atlanta Braves 4 Mike Hampton / Greg Maddux / Russ Ortiz / Shane Reynolds
36 2003 Chicago Cubs 4 Matt Clement / Mark Prior / Kerry Wood / Carlos Zambrano
37 2003 Chicago White Sox 4 Mark Buehrle / Bartolo Colon / Jon Garland / Esteban Loaiza
38 2003 New York Mets 4 Tom Glavine / Al Leiter / Jae Weong Seo / Steve Trachsel
39 2003 New York Yankees 4 Roger Clemens / Mike Mussina / Andy Pettitte / David Wells
40 2003 Philadelphia Phillies 4 Kevin Millwood / Brett Myers / Vicente Padilla / Randy Wolf
41 2002 Oakland Athletics 4 Tim Hudson / Cory Lidle / Mark Mulder / Barry Zito
42 2002 San Francisco Giants 4 Livan Hernandez / Ryan Jensen / Russ Ortiz / Kirk Rueter
43 2001 Anaheim Angels 4 Ramon Ortiz / Pat Rapp / Scott Schoeneweis / Jarrod Washburn
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/10/2012.

You might notice that, largely, the teams represented on that list tend to be pretty good. Not all great teams but the World Series champions from 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2005 are on this list. The World Series losing sides from 2011, 2008, 2006, 2004, 2003, and 2001 are also represented above.

The average number of wins among these 43 teams is a hair under 90; the median win total is 92. Which is to say: recent history suggests getting more starts out of your best starters is good for business. Who knew?!

Durability isn’t the be all and end all. The Chicago White Sox rotation appears five times on this list but with only two playoff appearances (1 WS) to their name. They have more losing seasons than playoff berths over this eleven-season span.

On some level, this becomes a long advertisement for the concept of replacement level and WAR. Even if a pitcher isn’t particularly skilled, his ability to turn in 30 starts of questionable quality (hi, A.J!) is still better than handing the ball to a player unable to demonstrate even passable big league skills. Would you prefer 140 innings of Brandon Beachy’s tantalizing brilliance or 200 hideous innings from Colby Lewis?

The aforementioned Braves can’t really complain about the innings Julio Tehran and Randall Delgado gave them in a handful of starts, I’m sure they’d prefer if Beachy, Tommy Hanson, or Jair Jurrjens took the ball on at least one of the five days the team lost when the two kids got the starting nod.

At the risk of regrettable hyperbole (or being just straight-up wrong), we can say identifying durability and keeping pitchers healthy is the single most important thing a front office can do. It is, to borrow a term, the new inefficiency (something I’ve probably said 200 times in my life.) Find good starters. Keep them on the hill. Simple! Plan the parade.

The economic impacts of injured pitchers are tremendous. The amount of money throw Mark Buehrle’s way is all the proof in the world to show how highly baseball teams value the eating of innings and the ability to stay on the field. No team can afford — both on the field and in the accounting department — to watch their top arms sit out.

Comments (14)

  1. There’s also a bit of selection bias, I’d imagine. Teams that are successful tend to have more money, and pitchers that are both good and durable cost the most money. Lesser teams have to take fliers on injury-prone guys, sometimes more than one at a time.

    • Excellent point. I had a point comparing the fates of the Rays and A’s but took it out. The Rays keep their cheap pitchers healthy, the A’s aren’t as able to keep their top talent on the mound as often. The Rays are good, the A’s are bad. That’s too broad a stroke, I believe.

  2. Another point might be that any team with five good starters is probably a good team. Any team that has to replace starters during the season- not necessarily due to injury (hi Jo Jo)- has more of a challenge. I notice that the Jays are not on the list above even once. That speaks volumes.

    • One thing: not all the starters listed above are good starters. Colby Lewis, well, he’s terrible. But he took the ball and kept the team from bringing up pitchers who could be even worse. This is the value – the known commodity,

      • I agree with KK. Colby Lewis has been worth between 5.5 (bWAR) and 7 (fWAR) WAR over the last 2 years. Better than league average is not terrible.

        If you have two starters playing below replacement level then the team won’t make your list, not necessarily because of poor health but because they had two ineffective pitchers.

        If the money thrown at Mark Buehrle is “all the proof in the world to show how highly baseball teams value the eating of innings and the ability to stay on the field” then what does Edwin Jackson’s off-season prove?

        • You can’t use WAR against me in this case because playing time is a huge factor in WAR. He was worth 2 rWAR last season despite pitching to a 4.54 FIP. Look at Burnett – he made 32 TERRIBLE starts yet still managed 1.5 fWAR – not even a full Win behind Lewis.

          Edwin Jackson’s off-season proves his agent misread the market, wanting more and waiting too long.

          • That’s a fair enough criticism of me saying Lewis is above average, but terrible to me would mean that his performance is bad enough to completely offset the positive contribution from building up innings.

            Jo Jo would fall into that category. Lewis wouldn’t.

  3. If average salary was also thrown in as a consideration, perhaps one could start seeing different trends in the data. It’s important to identify that these teams are good, but I think it’s important to take steps to identify how they’re keeping these pitchers on the hill. Are they, like Bill said, paying for them? Or, if we look at the lower budget sets, is there another factor we can identify in the longevity (high scouting budget, pitching coach, training staff, etc etc).

  4. I wonder how much this has to do with the culture. A lot of the teams are limiting the innings for their younger pitchers (the (in)famous Verducci effect), so these are less likely to get 30 starts.

  5. Deck McGuire likes this analysis!

  6. You do see the 2011 dodgers on that list, don’t you?

  7. Not to be crazy nitpicky (well I’m going to be, but I’m apologizing in advance), but I like the post and was thinking about how to separate teams with 4 or more guys they actually wanted to start and teams just so low on depth they pitched guys no matter how bad they were (btw, I think I’ve decided it’s too subjective an idea to actually figure out how to apply it IMO), but I noticed something in your stats. I’ve only looked up two teams so far and both were incorrectly labelled as having 4 or 5 30 game starters. The 2010 Orioles and 2011 Rangers. 4th guy for BAL (Bergesen) and 5th guy for TEX (Ogando) had 28 and 29 actual games started respectively. So I am being crazy nitpicky, but there you go. It makes zero difference, except if you included 28 games there’s probably quite a few more examples that scatter all over the success spectrum.

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