Detroit Versus Oakland: The Battle for the Best Rotation in Baseball
Samardzija and Lester and Price, oh my! The arms race in the American League is on, baby, and the biggest winners are us.
This October now promises to be off-the-charts intriguing with the Oakland Athletics and Detroit Tigers jockeying for the top spot in the AL. Once they inevitably meet in the ALCS, it's finna get crazy up in here.
With the Athletics acquiring Jon Lester from the Boston Red Sox and the Tigers picking up that David Price guy, the question now becomes which team has the best starting staff. After all, I've heard rumors that pitching might play a role in a team's success. Those are all unconfirmed, though.
In order to answer this question, I (Jim Sannes) recruited numberFire's Jacob Adler to spar a little bit with me. I may have already given the A's the AL pennant about a month ago, so I'll bump with them. Jacob will represent the Tigers.
After you've read both of our arguments, let us know what you think! You can leave your thoughts in the comment box below, or you can do so here in the numberFire question forum. Let's not delay the lusciousness of the stats of these two squads any longer.
What Jacob Adler says:
The purpose of this exercise is to evaluate which starting rotation is better in a vacuum. We know Price is a better pitcher than Jeff Samardzija, but if Nick Castellanos boots a couple balls at third, the statistics might fool us.
On defense, the Athletics have registered 29 Defensive Runs Saved, good for fifth in the majors, while the Tigers' fielders have cost their pitchers 39 runs, which is the third-worst in baseball. Don’t penalize the Tigers’ starters for the defense behind them. Check out the stats for the four holdovers since July 31, 2013.
Now here is David Price over the last year.
If Sanchez can stay healthy, he could be the best third starter in the league. After years of teasing, he finally came into his own, and has done a great job reducing his walks allowed.
Speaking of walks, holy David Price! I have no evidence to back this up, but if he hates walks that much he’s got to be a cat person.
Barring injury, the playoff rotation would be Scherzer, Price, Sanchez, and one of Verlander and Rick Porcello. David Cameron of FanGraphs thinks Verlander could repeat what Tim Lincecum did for the Giants as a lights-out reliever, but his contract status could keep him in the rotation.
Jon Lester, when compared to Price, can hold his own. He’s eliminated his changeup and looks to be a legitimate ace. But after Price, the Tigers have Scherzer and Verlander, who have both won Cy Young awards, and Sanchez, who could be a number one on some teams. Whether it's Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray, or the Shark that is Oakland’s number two starter, any of those pitchers would be the fourth best pitcher in Detroit. If there’s a do-or-die playoff game and I get the choice between Kaz and Scherzer, there’s no contest; it’s Scherzer.
Jacob makes some pretty good points. In all honesty, no matter which team you choose, you're going to be pretty close to right either way. But here's why I'm chilling in the bay.
If we're looking at quality, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Price is the best pitcher between the two teams. Scherzer is probably second on that list, although you could make the argument for Lester. But once you get to that number three spot in the rotation, the A's depth really starts to show.
We've got this nifty little thing here at numberFire called nERD. It's a stat that, for pitchers, tracks the number of runs they would allow if they faced 27 batters in a game relative to an average pitcher. A mark of 2.18 means that pitcher would allow 2.18 runs per game less than an average pitcher. This is where the A's show how deep they are.
Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported yesterday that the A's would likely move Jesse Chavez to the bullpen and keep Hammel as the fifth starter. So, we'll go with that for our analysis.
The numbers reflect the sentiment that Price and Scherzer are the top. Once you get past there, things start to change. The A's top the Tigers in terms of nERD with their three, four and five starters.
Let's not forget that Justin Verlander isn't exactly Justin Verlander anymore. He has the seventh highest ERA in the entirety of the MLB. His strikeouts per nine innings has gone down each of the last three years (to 6.62 from 9.03), and his walks per nine has gone up each of the last four (to 3.28 from 2.04). That's not exactly the formula for a stud ace that you can rely on down the stretch.
As we have been made painfully aware this year, injuries to pitchers are a dime a dozen. If the A's were to sustain an injury or a slip in performance to any of their five guys, they could just plug Chavez back into the rotation. He's a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy that they now have as an extra luxury. The Tigers don't really have that after shipping Drew Smyly to the Rays in the Price trade. That would make me a bit nervous as a Tigers fan.
At the end of the day, though, both of these teams are unfathomably good. To have 10 starters with nERD's above 1.60 is bonkers. This is going to be a fun post-season, kiddos.