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Two Badass Starting Rotations

Since the break, since the CC acquisition, since anytime recently--the Brewers starting rotation has been fantastic.  Lots of innings, not many runs, and best of all, little need for the bullpen.  And even littler need for the less reliable members of that bullpen.

At a glance, the only NL rotation that looks better than Milwaukee's (we're talking whole season now) is that of the Cubs.  Our rotation ERA is 3.90, while theirs is 3.78.  Really, I'd take either one.  I had high hopes for the rotation this year, but I never expected it would be this good--especially if you took Gallardo out of the mix.  The same could be said of the Cubs, who expected to get solid work from Rich Hill, but had no right to expect Ryan Dempster to be a Cy Young contender.

In last night's post-game thread, grant76 asked if the Cubs rotation is really any better.  It's a good question, and one that might get even more difficult to answer as CC represents a larger chunk of Milwaukee's starts and the Bush/Villanueva early-season disappointments shrink in comparison.

One obvious point for the Brewers is the sheer number of innings.  Our starters have thrown 740 IP; second-best is Arizona at 717 2/3.  The Cubs are 5th in the league at 704.  36 innings isn't much over the course of 120 games, but at the same time, those are innings that mean Ned can bury relievers (if only he buried the right guys!) and the guys we need are fresher when they have to pitch.  There are very few teams in the history of modern baseball that wouldn't be better off if their starters went deeper into games, lessening the workload on the weakest members of the pen.

Three simple metrics to measure pitching effectiveness without getting into the muck of accounting for defense (and, in some cases, park) are homers, walks and strikeouts.  Here's how the Cubs and Brewers compare:

  • Homers: In 36 more innings, the Brewers starting five have given up one more home run.  That gives them the edge as a rate stat: 1.03 per nine against 1.07.
  • Walks: More innings, but fewer walks for our guys.  Rates: 2.91 per nine for MIL, 3.32 for CHC.  (It's even a little better than that: two more of the Brewers walks are intentional, and the Brewers also hit fewer guys.)
  • Strikeouts: Clear edge for the Cubs, 7.26 per nine against 6.56. 

Subtract intentional walks and add HBPs, and you have the components for FIP.  Crunch the numbers and you get 4.31 for the Brewers, 4.39 for the Cubs.  (Both are higher than actual ERAs thanks to good defense (!?) and parks that can inflate homers.  I've seen home run factors for Wrigley that are all over the place, but that's a discussion for a different day.)

Long story short, we're looking at two great starting rotations.  It's no surprise that these teams have the two best records in the National League, and are among the top five in baseball.  Looking solely at simple peripherals, the Brewers guys may have the edge, and as I mentioned, another 8-10 starts from CC could tip the scales more conclusively.