The old saying around baseball is “pitching wins championships.” But does it really win championships? After all, the point of the game is to get runs across the plate. Pitching plays a key factor, obviously, but is it the one factor that reigns over them all?
The Oakland Athletics believe it is, as they have traded arguably their best player, outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, to the Boston Red Sox for left-hander Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes. Lester was the big piece involved, as he has been the ace of two World Series’ staffs with the Red Sox in 2007 and 2013. But after trading earlier in the month for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, have the Athletics traded for too much pitching? Have they sacrificed too much offensive firepower with this recent trade to win the World Series?
Let’s look at all the World Series winners since the 1994 strike and assess their pitching rotations. First, let’s look at the team’s ERAs and where it ranked amongst the other clubs in baseball.
- 1995 Braves- 1st (3.44 ERA)
- 1996 Yankees- 18th (4.65)
- 1997 Marlins- 4th (3.83)
- 1998 Yankees- 6th (3.82)
- 1999 Yankees- 6th (4.13)
- 2000 Yankees- 16th (4.76)
- 2001 Diamondbacks- 4th (3.87)
- 2002 Angels- 4th (3.69)
- 2003 Marlins- 10th (4.04)
- 2004 Red Sox- 11th (4.18)
- 2005 White Sox- 4th (3.61)
- 2006 Cardinals- 16th (4.54)
- 2007 Red Sox- 2nd (3.87)
- 2008 Phillies- 6th (3.88)
- 2009 Yankees- 12th (4.26)
- 2010 Giants- 1st (3.36)
- 2011 Cardinals- 12th (3.74)
- 2012 Giants- 7th (3.68)
- 2013 Red Sox- 14th (3.79)
Taking a look at this, no team was below 18th, which is a solid number. However, only two teams, the 1995 Braves and the 2010 Giants, actually led the league in ERA. So although all these teams didn’t have terrible rotations, not many of them had superb rotations. Only seven of the last 19 winners have had a top five ERA, leaving few teams with that “elite” pitching staff. Oakland currently sits 4th in the league in ERA, which works against them looking at past World Series champions.
Next, let’s look at teams with a Cy Young award winner on their team. Only the 1995 Braves (Greg Maddux) and the 2001 Diamondbacks (Randy Johnson) had the Cy Young winner on their teams and won a World Series. This is important because Oakland has Sonny Gray, who is in contention for the Cy Young in the American League. He’s 12-3 with a 2.65 ERA, which is 7th in the AL. He’s one win behind Detroit’s Max Scherzer for the AL lead, and he’s .64 behind Felix Hernandez in the ERA department, who looks to be his main competition. Oakland is the best team in baseball currently, too, which could help his case in inning the award. In theory, though, the A’s don’t want Gray to win the Cy Young, as it’s highly unlikely Oakland would win the World Series if Gray won the Cy Young.
There have been a lot of teams recently who have had an incredible rotation, yet haven’t been able to find postseason success. The most recent example is the Phillies, who, in 2009, traded for Cliff Lee at the trade deadline to try and win another World Series. That didn’t work out, though, as the Yankees beat Philadelphia in the World Series that year. In 2010, Philly signed Roy Halladay, who was a former Cy Young award winner with the Toronto Blue Jays. After Lee left in 2010, he came back to the club in 2011, giving the Phillies a rotation including Lee, Halladay, and Cole Hamels. In the three seasons they were all together, though, they only made the playoffs once, failing to make the postseason in 2012 and 2013. A rotation with two former Cy Young award winners and a World Series MVP was suppose to win rings every year, but that didn’t happen.
The Atlanta Braves in the 1990s and 2000s, in theory, should have won multiple World Series titles as well. Yet, despite winning 15 straight division titles, they only won one World Series. This was arguably the best rotation is baseball history, as Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz anchored a pitching staff that led the league in ERA almost every year. When it came down to crunch time, though, they didn’t perform. They went 1-4 in World Series’, losing in 1991, ‘92, ‘96 and ’99. Now are Samardzija, Lester, Gray, Hammel, and Scott Kazmir going to be Hall of Famers? Most likely not. However, this current rotation in Oakland is showing signs that it could be dominant like those Braves teams of the 1990s.
Now, I’m not trying to take anything away from any of these pitchers. They’re all great talents, and they’ve all earned the right to have this talk about how great their rotation is. Samardzija is 2-1 since coming to Oakland. Hammel has struggled, but he could turn it around at any time. Gray and Kazmir have been solid all year, and Lester was having his best season statistically before being traded. It is a good rotation, and it does have the potential to do some serious damage, but if history is any indication, the odds of them winning the World Series are slim.
Thanks for reading. Make sure to check out the other blogs I’ve posted, and stay tuned as I go more in-depth on all the things going on in the sports world. This is Game of Sports.