I do hate to contribute to one more piece to the internet’s glut of Cliff Lee chatter, but I’ve been somewhat baffled by some Giant fans’ response to the Cliff Lee signing. There’s a vocal minority (or perhaps even a majority) that seem to think that even after the Cliff Lee signing the Giants have a better rotation than the Phillies do.
I get why people are reacting this way. All Giant fans are justly proud of their starting pitching. It is certainly the strength of the team and, save for one expensive back end decoration, completely a product of the farm system. Of course, some of the reaction is just meaningless, (yet hilarious) smack talk. I, for one, have not gotten tired of mentioning how the Giants beat Cliff Lee twice in the World Series. Because the Giants beat Cliff Lee twice in the World Series. They did. Then he made this face:
But there’s pride, there’s fun and then there’s straight delusion. And it is delusional to insist that the Phillies aren’t going into next year with the best rotation in baseball. Here’s a quick list of things that I think contribute to this delusion.
Being overly sure about what Madison Bumgarner projects to be. I like Madison Bumgarner. I think he’s going to be a very good pitcher . This is mainly because I think when his velocity is in the low to mid-nineties he’ll look more like what he projected to be in 2008 and 2009 than the up and down version in 2010. But that’s not much more than a guess, and a bit of a sunshine, lollipops and rainbows sort of guess at that. We have no idea whether he can keep his mechanics together for a whole season or whether he has the endurance to get through a whole season. Pencilling him in as a pitcher in the same class as Oswalt, Cain and Hamels is placing a pretty unfair expectation on the kid.
Overvaluing Jonathan Sanchez. The Phillies’ top four and the Giants top two starters are all elite level or at least very good pitchers. Jonathan Sanchez isn’t at that level, he’s just good. And good is good! I remember when I had to work hard to convince other Giants fans that he wasn’t a worthless, weak-minded sack of crap. It’s actually kind of a pleasure to point out that no, he isn’t quite as good as Roy Oswalt or Cole Hamels. Which he’s not. Sanchez still walks a lot of hitters, and while he did get deeper into games this year, he posted fewer IP than noted non-horse Barry Zito.
Projecting growth that’s not likely to happen. Lots of people have gone around saying that Giants pitchers are younger, and therefore likely to still improve. That may happen, but it’s not likely to happen. While hitters tend to peak in their late twenties, pitchers do not age along such a curve. According to MGL, the average pitcher peaks in his early 20’s, which means that for most pitchers, their first year is their best one.
Using playoff performance to project the next season. Look, just don’t do this. David Eckstein is not a good hitter, but he put up the worst line of his career in 2003. Jeff Weaver pitched himself straight out of the major leagues in 2007. The fact that the Giants beat Cliff Lee twice and Roy Halladay once is pretty awesome*, but it doesn’t mean those guys aren’t fantastic pitchers. Even ignoring the whole using the playoffs for projection issue, we needed a couple pretty stellar games from Tim Lincecum to go 3-1 against those guys. Unless someone completed my Clone Tim Lincecum Ray Gun project for me while I was at work, he can’t face both Lee and Halladay back to back.
If being rated as the best starting staff in baseball is super important to you as a fan, you might want to hang your hat on Jeff Zimmerman’s interesting new work on pitcher injuries. His data indicates that experienced pitchers in their mid-to-late 20’s have less risk of injury than experienced pitchers in their mid 30’s. This is fairly new stuff, and I’m a little skeptical of his statistical model, but his conclusions accord well with common sense.
The Giants still have a great pitching staff, and we don’t really need to make any overly optimistic assertions to help them out. The Phillies set out to surpass them, and at the moment – the easiest moment, the one where no one has played any games- they have.