Opening Day Rotations

Friday, March 08 2013 @ 09:49 AM EST

Contributed by: John Northey

This year we have what looks to be our strongest opening day rotation, but is that just hype or is it real?

Lets go through the rotations...

YearPitcherPitcherPitcherPitcherPitcherNeeded #6PitcherNotes
1977 B.Singer D.Lemanczyk J.Garvin J.Jefferson S.Hargan May 23rd P.Vuckovich  
1978 D.Lemanczyk J.Garvin T.Underwood J.Jefferson J.Clancy June 13th B.Moore  
1979 T.Underwood J.Clancy M.Lemongello P.Huffman D.Lemanczyk May 1st J.Jefferson  
1980 D.Lemanczyk D.Stieb P.Mirabella J.Clancy J.Jefferson May 25th L.Leal  
1981 J.Clancy D.Stieb L.Leal J.Todd M.Bomback April 29th J.Garvin  
1982 M.Bomback D.Stieb J.Clancy L.Leal J.Gott June 1st J.Garvin May 16th first use of #5 starter
1983 D.Stieb L.Leal J.Gott J.Clancy M.Morgan June 21st J.Acker  
1984 J.Clancy L.Leal D.Alexander D.Stieb J.Acker April 21st J.Gott  
1985 D.Stieb D.Alexander L.Leal J.Key J.Clancy June 22nd R.Musselman April 30th first use of #5 starter, Game 20
1986 D.Stieb D.Alexander J.Key J.Clancy J.Acker May 20th J.Cerutti  
1987 J.Key J.Clancy J Johnson D.Stieb D.Ward May 12th J.Cerutti  
1988 J.Key M.Flanagan J.Clancy D.Stieb T.Stottlemyre April 23rd J.Cerutti #5 starter needed in game #6, #6 in game 16
1989 J.Key D.Stieb M.Flanagan J.Musselman J.Cerutti April 23rd T.Stottlemyre  
1990 T.Stottlemyre D.Stieb J.Cerutti M.Flanagan J.Key May 9th S.Cummings  
1991 D.Stieb J.Key T.Stottlemyre D.Wells D.Boucher May 21st J.Acker  
1992 J.Morris T.Stottlemyre J.Guzman J.Key D.Wells April 22nd D.Stieb #6 in game 16
1993 J.Morris A.Leiter J.Guzman T.Stottlemyre P.Hentgen April 28th S.Brow  
1994 J.Guzman D.Stewart P.Hentgen A.Leiter P.Spoljaric April 26th T.Stottlemyre  
1995 D.Cone P.Hentgen J.Guzman A.Leiter D.Darwin May 23rd P.Menhart #5 in game #5 for the first time
1996 E.Hanson P.Hentgen J.Guzman P.Quantrill J.Ware April 28th F.Viola  
1997 P.Hentgen R.Clemens J.Guzman W.Williams R.Person April 17th E.Hanson Game 11 was #5, game 12 #6
1998 R.Clemens P.Hentgen J.Guzman W.Williams C.Carpenter April 12th E.Hanson #5 in game #5, #6 in game #11
1999 P.Hentgen D.Wells J.Hamilton K.Escobar C.Carpenter April 18th R.Halladay  
2000 D.Wells R.Halladay C.Carpenter K.Escobar F.Castillo May 10th L.Painter  
2001 E.Loaiza S.Parris J.Hamilton C.Carpenter C.Michalak July 7th R.Halladay Game 87 - proof stability in rotation does not equal winning
2002 C.Carpenter R.Halladay B.Lyon S.Eyre B.Cooper April 8th L.Prokopec Game #6 saw starter #6 (wow) quite the shift from 2001
2003 R.Halladay C.Lidle M.Hendrickson T.Sturtze P.Walker May 3rd D.Davis  
2004 R.Halladay M.Batista P.Hentgen T.Lilly J.Towers April 28th J.Miller  
2005 R.Halladay G.Chacin J.Towers D.Bush T.Lilly May 31st C.Gaudin  
2006 R.Halladay J.Towers G.Chacin S.Downs T.Lilly April 15th A.Burnett  
2007 R.Halladay A.Burnett G.Chacin T.Ohka J.Towers May 2nd V.Zambrano #7 was May 3rd (McGowan), game #28
2008 R.Halladay A.Burnett D.McGowan S.Marcum J.Litsch April 18th D.Purcey  
2009 R.Halladay D.Purcey J.Litsch R.Romero S.Richmond April 18th B.Tallet  
2010 S.Marcum B.Tallet R.Romero B.Morrow D.Eveland April 23rd B.Cecil  
2011 R.Romero K.Drabek B.Cecil J.Reyes J.Litsch May 23rd C.Villanueva  
2012 R.Romero B.Morrow J.Carreno H.Alvarez K.Drabek April 21st D.Hutchison  
2013 R.Dickey B.Morrow M.Buehrle J.Johnson R.Romero -- J.Happ Projected rotation/#6

Phew, lots of guys there.  21 different opening day starters, 26 #2's, 27 #3's, 28 #4's, 31 #5's, and 30 #6's.  Combine the #1-5 slots and you get 82 different pitchers.  Add in #6 and you get 98 different pitchers.  Quite a few. 
Who has been in the #1-5 slots the most?  Dave Stieb 12 times, Jim Clancy 11 times, Roy Halladay 9 times, Jimmy Key and Pat Hentgen 8 times each. 
Who has been in the #1-6 slots the most?  Stieb 13 times, Clancy & Halladay 11 times, Key & Hentgen 8 times, and Todd Stottlemyre and Juan Guzman 7 times share the #6 slot.  This years rotation #1 for times in a Jays opening day rotation is Romero at 4 times followed by Morrow's 2 times. So at least 3 more years until someone cracks the top 6 opening day rotations again.

So, when figuring which rotation is the best we can check when there was a Cy Young winner in the #1 slot - 2013, 2003, 1998 and 1997.  Note: Stieb led in bWAR for pitchers in 1982/1983/1984 and was 2nd in 1981 and 1985 - in 1982 he won the TSN AL pitcher of the year but came in 4th for Cy Young, came in 7th in 84 and 85, and 5th in 1990 (geez were voters poor back then).  Jimmy Key won the TSN pitchers award in 1987 but was 4th in bWAR for pitchers.  So given that I think we should consider the 1982/1983/1984/1985/1986/1988 staffs as each easily could've had a Cy Young winner in them had voters been a bit more forward thinking (ie: not addicted to pitcher wins and saves).  Also of note: Halladay only got awards as a Jay that one season, but also led in pitchers WAR in 2002, was 2nd in 2009 and 3rd in 2008 and 2005.  So the year following those years should also be considered as it wouldn't have taken much for him to have gotten a Cy in those years too with the exception of 2010 (following 2009) as Halladay was no longer here then much like in 1999 the reigning Cy Young winner, Roger Clemens, was no longer here.  Also of note: in 1986 we had the #3 guy for WAR for pitcher, but he was a reliever (!) Mark Eichhorn (157 innings made it possible - he could've had 162 but he and Jimy Williams forgot how to do basic math as Eichhorn didn't want to steal the triple crown from Clemens that year - he didn't notice that Clemens had no shot at the K title as Mark Langston took a significant lead in K's on Saturday and the Jays had a double header on Sunday when Eichhorn might've got those last 5 IP in addition to the 4 2/3 he threw that day - there was talk of it).

So we are down to 13 staffs to dig into.  Lets see for those 13 what the pitchers did the season leading up to the year in question (as we are seeing which was the best coming into the season, not how they actually did).  Bold indicates the best the Jays had for that slot, italics the worst over these 13 years where a real #1 (top 3 in league or Cy Young winner) was here.
#1#2#3#4#5#6Top 5
All 6
1982 1.0: M.Bomback 4.3: D.Stieb -0.4: J.Clancy 1.1: L.Leal --: J.Gott 1.1: J.Garvin 6.0 7.1
1983 7.3: D.Stieb 4.8: L.Leal 1.2: J.Gott 4.7: J.Clancy 1.8: M.Morgan --: J.Acker 19.8 19.8
1984 1.5: J.Clancy 1.5: L.Leal 0.8: D.Alexander 6.7: D.Stieb 0.1: J.Acker 0.2: J.Gott 10.6 10.8
1985 7.6: D.Stieb 5.8: D.Alexander 2.6: L.Leal -1.0: J.Key -0.4: J.Clancy 0.5: R.Musselman 14.6 15.1
1986 6.5: D.Stieb 4.5: D.Alexander 4.7: J.Key 1.8: J.Clancy 1.0: J.Acker -0.3: J.Cerutti 18.5 18.2
1988 7.1: J.Key 1: M.Flanagan 4.7: J.Clancy 2.1: D.Stieb --: T.Stottlemyre 1.5: J.Cerutti 14.9 16.4
1997 8.2: P.Hentgen 7.4: R.Clemens 6.5: J.Guzman 0.8: W.Williams -0.3: R.Person 1.2: E.Hanson 22.6 23.8
1998 11.6: R.Clemens 5.4: P.Hentgen -0.2: J.Guzman 2.8: W.Williams -0.2: C.Carpenter -0.2: E.Hanson 19.4 19.2
2003 6.9: R.Halladay 3.3: C.Lidle 1.2: M.Hendrickson 0.6: T.Sturtze 1.7: P.Walker 0.5: D.Davis 13.7 14.2
2004 7.7: R.Halladay 4.1: M.Batista 3.3: P.Hentgen 2.0: T.Lilly 0.9: J.Towers --: J.Miller 18.0 18.0
2006 5.3: R.Halladay 2.2: J.Towers 3.0: G.Chacin 0.8: S.Downs 0.1: T.Lilly 3.2: A.Burnett 11.4 14.6
2009 5.9: R.Halladay -0.2: D.Purcey 2.3: J.Litsch --: R.Romero 0.3: S.Richmond 0.9: B.Tallet 8.3 9.2
2013 5.6: R.Dickey 3.2: B.Morrow 3.2: M.Buehrle 3.1: J.Johnson -1.7: R.Romero 0.6: J.Happ 13.4 14.0
 Wow, that 1997 rotation top 3 sure had a good '96 didn't they?  3 guys who were legit Cy Young contenders, then 3 who, well, just weren't.  As we can see the Jays in the 80's did a lot of odd things with the rotation - Stieb was clearly the best virtually every year yet they held him back until game 4 in 1984 and did the same in other seasons - sometimes to let him start opening day at home instead of the road.  Amazing to see that Clemens on his own in 1997 had a better WAR than the whole staff for opening day in '82, 84, and 2009 despite all 3 staffs having a guy who was coming off a near Cy quality season.  Also sobering to see how Guzman collapsed in 1997 (a drop almost as big as Romero's last year).

So which is the best all around rotation?  1998 clearly wins for #1 (Clemens had the 28th highest single season WAR ever, with only 2 better in the live ball era - Gooden 85 and Carlton 72, both within 0.3 of Clemens year)  and if you resort by WAR the best #2 would be 1997's Clemens (no wonder he got such a big contract eh?).  #3 is that 1997 rotation again with Juan Guzman, #4 is this years with Josh Johnson's 3.1, then comes #5 from 1983 with Jim Gott (bit of a surprise there given they did 4 man rotations often then) at 1.2 and the best 6th best WAR comes from 2003's Doug Davis and his 0.5.  In fact, only 3 times in these 13 years I checked did the #6 guy for WAR have a positive one - 1984 (Acker 0.1), 2003 (Davis 0.5), and 2006 (Ted Lilly).  None of those cracked 15 WAR for the total for the 6 though.  In 82, 83, 88, 04, and 09 there was a guy in the rotation who had not pitched the season before thus taking them out of the 'best 6' but only removing 82/88/09 from the best top 5 (if you have a guy who didn't pitch the year before as one of your starting 5 I have trouble counting you). 

Now, going by best 5 WAR out of the 6 (assuming if a good guy is #6 odds are he was hurt for the first week or two of the season) you get a peak in '97 still (24.1) followed by 83 (19.8) then 98 (19.4), 1986 (18.5), and 2004 (18.0).  Lets call those 5 the final contenders (no one else over 16.5 for their best 5).   I have trouble saying anyone is better than 1997 as it is so crazy strong with that top 3 but then it drops drastically to 1.2 for #4 (Hanson) and 0.8 for #5 (Williams).  1983 was in good shape with 5 guys over 1 WAR, thus no major obvious holes going in (especially given they skipped the 5th man as much as they could for a big part of that year it seems).  So for balance 1983 is your choice, for raw 'wow factor' it is 1997 (Cy Young winner from 96, eventual winner for 97, and a guy who was over 6 WAR as your 3rd starter).  This year is a lot weaker than these peaks but has the best 1-4 stability we've ever seen with 4 guys over 3 heading in.  If only Romero was coming off his 2011 season (6.2 WAR) or 2010 (2.9) then it would've been so close to #1 that the balance vs 1997's 3 man rotation could've made it arguably #1.

Thus 2013's is a fantastic staff but doesn't have the star power we've seen at times in the past - like 1997/98 and 1983/1986.  Its biggest plus is the great depth with 4 really good starters and a #5 who is a year removed from a star quality season (but what a removal).