Have the Washington Nationals assembled the greatest rotation ever?
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When Dan Haren came to terms with the Washington Nationals on a one-year, $13 million deal, the National League trembled with fear. All of a sudden, the team with the best winning percentage in 2012 will be even more formidable in 2013. Not only were they returning with one of the best rotations in all of baseball, but now they added another all-star caliber arm in Haren. The NL has officially been put on notice.
With Haren added to the mix alongside Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler, the Nationals have a rotation eerily reminiscent of the 1985-86 and ’88 New York Mets, the 1996-98 Atlanta Braves and the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies — all of which have gone down in history as arguably the greatest assembled. However, it is one of the Braves rotations (pick a year) that takes the cake.
Is it possible the Nationals have assembled a five-man rotation capable of being the all-time greatest? If so, what would the staff in D.C. have to do to prove to be the greatest ever assembled?
Prior to reviewing the logic compounding this puzzle, let’s clear some things up first.
The debate over the greatest pitching rotation of all time is highly contested. Some refer to the 1927 New York Yankees rotation, which consisted of Waite Hoyt (22-7, 2.63) and Herb Pennock (19-8, 3.00) or the 1954 Cleveland Indians. Some also argue in favor of the 1956 Indians, the 1971 Baltimore Orioles and the 1993 Atlanta Braves.
Arguing in favor of the pitching rotations from the aforementioned teams could win an argument depending on how well the argument is crafted in debate. However, for this analysis, the following rotations have been utilized for clear comparative purposes: the 1988 New York Mets, 1998 Atlanta Braves and 2011 Philadelphia Phillies. Each had a precise five-man rotation that at the time, appeared to be even stronger than the already dominant and familiar pitching rotations that preceded them.
In the case of the 1988 New York Mets, it was presupposed that the rotation was better than the 1986 Mets rotation that won the World Series. History tells us the ’88 Mets failed to win the title like the ’86 Mets did, but at the time, the ’88 Mets appeared stronger than the ’86 Mets because the rotation was upgraded by David Cone in 1988 over Rick Aguilera in 1986.
The same ideology applies with the 1998 Braves rotation compared to the ’96 Braves rotation that won the World Series. As for the 2011 Phillies, there is zero doubt the rotation was much better than the rotation which led the Phillies to the 2008 World Series title.
The difference between the Nationals and the teams mentioned above is obvious – Washington has yet to win a World Series. No one is saying that they are going to win a World Series, though. After all, these elite rotations, which will be compared to expectations for the 2013 Nationals, didn’t win a World Series either. No such conclusion will be drawn since there lacks a causal connection between being arguably the greatest rotation ever assembled and winning the Commissioner’s Trophy.
At 98-64, the Nationals finished as the best team in Major League Baseball last season. Led by an overpowering pitching rotation of Zimmermann, Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Detwiler and the innings-limited Strasburg, Washington did not disappoint in regular-season play. The playoffs, on the other hand, well, that’s a different story.
The rotation led the Nationals to the second-best team ERA in all of baseball. It also had the second-best WHIP and fourth-largest amount of strikeouts in baseball. Needless to say, it is hard to imagine getting much better.
This year will showcase a full season of Strasburg without the innings-pitched restriction. Zimmermann’s threshold will also increase, while Gonzalez looks to continue his momentum after winning 21 games in 2012. Detwiler has the most to prove. While he showed flashes of skill at times, his strikeout rate remained low, and his WAR of 1.8 was ordinary to say the least.
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