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.
|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|
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.