Every decade or so, we have a contender for “Best Rotation Ever?” in baseball. The conversation always comes up when three or more lights out pitchers converge on the same team and have an immediate impact on how the team wins, and how you approach playing that team.
This year, focus has been placed on the New York Mets, with their stellar trio of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard. Add to that the promising Steven Matz and ageless Bartolo Colon and you have an amazing rotation that strikes fear into the hearts of batters league wide.
The fact is that there will never truly be just one “Best Rotation Ever” because the game is constantly evolving and changing. While the Mets are amazing now, if they went head to head against some of the other Best Rotations Ever, how would it stack up? Let’s look at some previous BREs and marvel at how great they would be no matter when they played.
Most recently, the Best Rotation Ever belonged to the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies, and with good reason. Two Cy Young winners in Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, as well as perennial Cy Young vote getter Roy Oswalt and 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels as well as durable closer and Phillies World Series legend Brad Lidge combined to create a multi-armed monster that won over 100 games that year.
Another BRE that is mentioned a lot is the 1986 New York Mets rotation. The Mets have traditionally had some killer rotations – 1969, with the immortal George Thomas Seaver, the criminally underrated Jerry Koosman and a young unknown named Nolan Ryan comes to mind for me immediately – but the ’86 season saw Doc Gooden, Ron Darling, Bobby Ojeda, Sid Fernandez, and Rick Aguilera in action. Peep these stats: Gooden went 17-6 with a 2.84 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP. Darling went 15-6 with a 2.81 ERA. Fernandez went 16-6, and Ojeda – the fourth starter! – won 18. Rick Aguilera made only 20 starts, but won half of those. Remember, this was technically the fifth starter. Lordy.
The 1971 Baltimore Orioles had not one, not two, but four twenty game winners. We all know that Win/Loss is an inflated metric, but generally I feel it’s shorthand for excellent pitching. And the O’s rotation of Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, and Pat Dobson were formidable that year. Cuellar was the 1969 AL Cy Young Award winner, while Palmer ended up winning three times himself later in the 70s. However, this rotation seemed to catch lightning in a bottle for Baltimore, spearheading the team to the World Series that year.
You think super rotations are only a thing we think about in the last thirty years? Here comes the 1954 Cleveland Indians to prove you wrong. 1954 was a bad year for hitters all over the league. The New York Giants had a crack staff, as did the Milwaukee Braves (Warren Spahn represent), but the BRE for that year in my opinion belonged to those guys from the Magical Land of Cleve. Early Wynn, Mike Garcia, Bob Lemon (23-7 you guys. 23-7! Plus an ERA of 2.72), Art Houtteman, and bringing up the rear was the Heater from Van Meter himself, Bob Feller, with a W/L of 13-3 and an ERA hovering around 3. Three of these guys are legends in Wynn, Lemon, and Feller, but the other two were good pitchers on their own merits.
Finally, we have the Atlanta Braves of the 90s. I could say basically every year and it wouldn’t be a lie. There are legitimately four years that are among the finest pitching performances you’d ever see, but I have to choose the rotation that I use to measure all others. Because I’m biased, you see. I keep it 100 around here, and I stay true to myself. If I didn’t choose this rotation, I would be lying to myself and all of you.
The 1993 Atlanta Braves rotation, aka the Rotation of My Dreams. You had 1991 Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine, 1992 Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux, 1992 NLCS MVP John Smoltz, as well as Steve Avery and Pete Smith. Now, granted, Pete wasn’t that great, but when the rest of your staff was this ridiculous, you didn’t need a lights out fifth starter.
Maddux and Glavine each won twenty games – in fact, this was the second and last time that Maddux won twenty games, as well as leading the league in complete games. This was another year in which Maddux had a ridiculously low ERA – 2.36 for the season. Avery won 18 with an ERA under 3, and Smoltz won 15 while being second in the league in strikeouts.
Two righties. Two lefties. No mercy! Whew. Take a breath. Doesn’t that make your heart beat faster? This must be what falling in love feels like. For me, personally, this is my own Best Rotation Ever.
So, what’s yours?