The Second Best Pitching Staff in Baseball

By Asher B. Chancey, Baseball Evolution

 

Quick – who has the best pitching staff in baseball?

 

The Athletics, right? Oh, that’s right - “the Big Three” is no more, with Hudson in Atlanta, Mulder in St. Louis, and Zito in year three of this Cy Young hangover.

 

So it must be the Cubs – whoops – Kerry Wood is injured, and was downright wild before he got hurt. Carlos Zambrano has been inconsistent, as has Greg Maddux, leaving Mark Prior as the only really dependable starter.

 

What about the Yankees? With that payroll, they must be the best. Except, not really. It’s been a rough start for the Yanks, and even Randy Johnson has a 3.77 ERA at this point.

 

If you guessed the Florida Marlins, then you would be correct. The Marlins lead the majors with a 3.09 ERA, and have one of the most intriguing stories of the early season in Dontrelle Willis who has been outstanding (though, you heard it here first, he was outstanding at the start of his rookie year and merely mediocre for the second half of the year). But the real story does not lie in the NL East with the Florida Marlins but rather with the second ranked pitching staff in baseball, the AL Central’s Chicago White Sox.

 

Consider the following 2004 stats of the current White Sox starting five:

 

Player

IP

W

L

ERA

SO

BB

SO/BB

Buehrle

245.3

16

10

3.89/126

165

51

3.23

Garland

217.0

12

11

4.89/100

113

76

1.49

Garcia

103.0

9

4

4.46/110

102

32

3.19

Hernandez

84.7

8

2

3.30/136

84

36

2.33

Contreras

170.3

13

9

5.50/85

150

84

1.79

 

While this staff certainly had promise, there were many reasons to think that this staff would be mediocre at best. Both Hernandez and Contreras were Cuban imports from the Yankees who seemed to be aging quickly and had shown little in their time with the evil empire. As Keith pointed out at the time of his signing, Garland had been exactly average for three years, winning exactly as many games as he lost and posting ERA+ of 100, 99, and 100 over those same years, almost dead on average. The ace of the staff, Buehrle gave up a career high 33 homeruns and posted a solid but not fantastic 165 Ks in 245 innings. And Freddy Garcia, despite his solid half season with the Sox in ’04, was coming off of two and a half seasons of not living up to the promise of a fantastic 2001 season with the Mariners, in which he went 18-6, 3.05, 163/69.

 

As it turns out, this group just needed a little dusting off, a little consistency, and a little time together. All five of the White Sox starters have been healthy, and thus far each has pitched at least 46 innings. Buehrle and Garland have been fantastic, going a combined 15-1, with ERAs of 3.33 and 2.41, WHIPs of 1.06 and 0.96, and 8 total homeruns between them in 126.4 innings.

 

While this group has pitched the Sox to a major league second best 3.29 ERA, there is certainly cause for concern on the South Side. First, what the two Cubans 3.52 and 3.91 ERAs don’t tell you is that they have been having trouble keeping the ball over the plate, and each has walked nearly as many as they have struck out (Hernandez has a 30/24 K/BB, while Contreras has a 34/22). Contreras has been virtually unhittable, to the tune of a .208 opponents’ average, but he has walked enough batters to kick his WHIP up to 1.24. Hernandez his getting hit to the tune of .287, and his WHIP is up in the atmosphere at 1.65. And Freddy Garcia has been as average as his 3-3 record would indicate, striking out about twice as many batters as a he walks, and giving up and ERA of 4.02 and a WHIP of 1.29. Certainly, outside of Garland and Buehrle, none of the Sox’ starters have been outstanding, and, frankly, one has to wonder how long a Jon Garland can keep up such a torrid pace.

 

Thus, while this White Sox staff has had its success, it has enjoyed its success in a bend but don’t break manner, and when the bending begins to turn into breaking, this team’s second place pitching ranking could quickly become a distant memory.