The debate: Does Philly’s rotation trump Braves of the ’90s?

The comparison is so inviting that even a world-class dunce like yours truly has made it: With Cliff Lee, the Phillies would seem to have a rotation capable of challenging the best ever, and I’m of the opinion the best rotation ever worked here in the ’90s. Yes, there’s a major caveat: The Braves of the ‘9os went out and did it, while the Phillies must go out and do it. That said …

Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels. Roy Oswalt and now Cliff Lee. On paper, that’s pretty stinkin’ good. (Apologies to Mark Richt for borrowing his line.)

And it’s not just this world-class dunce who thinks so. All the smart guys who crunch baseball numbers are saying so, too.

From Dan Szymborski of ESPN Insider (link requires registration): “The 2011 Philadelphia Phillies rotation isn’t meant to just win; it’s meant to demolish other teams The Phillies’ new rotation could be the best one we’ve seen in more than 40 years — and beating out staffs with [Tom] Seaver, [Bob] Gibson, [Steve] Carlton, [Dwight] Gooden and ‘Greg] Maddux is no small matter.”

From Tom Verducci of SI.com: “It’s the rotation with the best pure stuff and proven track record since the 1966 Dodgers of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Don Sutton and Claude Osteen.”

From Buster Olney of ESPN Insider (requires registration): “On paper, it’s the best rotation we’ve seen in about 20 years.

From Eric Seidman of Baseball Prospectus (requires registration): “The 1998 Braves [of Maddux, tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Denny Neagle] had the best rotation going into their season in baseball history, and with the addition of Cliff Lee, the Phillies rank second … Do not forget the dynamic Braves rotations of the 1990s. They are still the gold standard in starting rotations, though history may soon be rewritten.”

A dissenting note from Cliff Corcoran of SI.com: “The greatest rotations since 1954 … were those of the 1997 Braves and 1966 Dodgers, both of which were worth 33.6 wins above replacement. That shouldn’t come as any great surprise. The Dodgers of 1966 were the last team to feature Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale and the first to include rookie Don Sutton. That’s three Hall of Famers to match the ‘97 Braves trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, all of whom are Cooperstown-bound … Where the Phillies’ four fall short is not on the back end, but up top. As great as Halladay is, he has never dominated over a full season the way Koufax or Maddux did.”

On paper, does Philly's rotation top the '90s Braves'?

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Projecting greatness, or the lack thereof, always makes for prime Hot Stove kindling. I know. In February 1993 I did a 100-inch story — for you lay people, that’s a long one — on where the Braves’ new rotation stacked up against the all-time best. I spoke with Bob Feller, who was part of a dandy one in Cleveland, and with Ray Miller, who was Earl Weaver’s pitching coach with the Orioles in the late ‘90, and with the aforementioned Sutton. Heck, I even went to the library — Al Gore hadn’t yet brought the Internet to the masses — to look stuff up.

And now I direct you to this fine (and lengthy) story by Jayson Stark of ESPN, in which he quotes Leo Mazzone, who knew the Braves’ rotations better than anyone. Rockin’ Leo employs a bit of revisionist history by saying the Braves “chose” to sign Maddux over Barry Bonds in December 1992 — actually, the Braves were devastated they didn’t land Bonds — but otherwise makes salient points. He likens Halladay to Maddux, Lee to Glavine, Oswalt to Smoltz and Hamels to Steve Avery.

Leo’s conclusion: “So these [Philly] guys all have signature pitches and stuff and makeup as good as anybody in the game in my opinion. And Lee, I think, is the best signing since Maddux in ‘93. But the one thing that Braves staff will always have is the longevity of greatness.”

And that’s the difference: The Braves’ rotation of the ’90s essentially stuck together. Maddux was 26 when he signed with the Braves. Lee is 32. Halladay and Oswalt are 33. These Phillies surely won’t have the staying power the Braves did. But they’re going to be mighty wicked in 2011.

By Mark Bradley



162 comments Add your comment

J Clay

December 15th, 2010
11:58 am

No comparison – Braves staff better…

Maddux – HOF over 300 wins
Glavine – HOF over 300 wins
Smoltz – HOF with the wins and saves

Lee – very good but 102 wins – not HOF material
Halladay – likely HOF, still needs to be on top a few years
Owalt – not really that great, past his prime, not a HOF candidate
Hamels- kidding right?

Trade Nate for a Bag of Balls

December 15th, 2010
11:58 am

ByteMe

December 15th, 2010
11:59 am

Your last paragraph is exactly what I thought when the question first came up on sports radio yesterday. It’s nice to do it for a season, but let’s see you do it for a decade.

But a point also made on radio was that they don’t have much money left for spending on hitting or bullpen, which will be an issue for winning in the playoffs.

ByteMe

December 15th, 2010
12:00 pm

Your last paragraph is correct, Mark: doing it for a season or two is nice, but let’s see you do it for a decade and then we can talk about which is better.

Enemas for Christmas

December 15th, 2010
12:00 pm

It’s football season ladies.

J Clay

December 15th, 2010
12:01 pm

By the way trade Nate and Mark – I actually put a thoughtful comment in and was still 1st over the juvenile first. Gotta love that.

Brock

December 15th, 2010
12:01 pm

uno!–Phillies will Phail!

Brock

December 15th, 2010
12:01 pm

Sanford Drive

December 15th, 2010
12:01 pm

(((((42-34))))) hahahahahahaha

Trade Nate for a Bag of Balls

December 15th, 2010
12:02 pm

If we had a better manager.
We would have 4-5 WS titles instead we have 1

Trade Nate for a Bag of Balls

December 15th, 2010
12:04 pm

We had 3 stud pitchers in their mid 20s and couldnt win more than 1?

ArkyTech

December 15th, 2010
12:04 pm

Also important to note that Braves staff accomplishments took place in live ball / steroid era. Phils current staff coming of the so-called “Year of the Pitcher”.

David Granger

December 15th, 2010
12:05 pm

It’s certainly a strong rotation. Keep in mind that we have the advantage of looking back and judging our Braves rotations with 20/20 hindsight…and as Bill James pointed out, one of the big strengths of the Braves rotations of the 1990’s is that they all stayed healthy year-in, year-out. And in addition to our “Big Three”, we also had a quality fourth-starter as well…Steve Avery, Charlie Liebrandt, Denny Neagle.
The Phil’s rotation sure looks impressive on paper…now they’ve got to go out and perform.

STRETCH

December 15th, 2010
12:09 pm

And this is all they have to write about?????

Hillbilly Deluxe

December 15th, 2010
12:10 pm

The debate: Does Philly’s rotation trump Braves of the ’90s?

Only time will answer that question.

Bryan G.

December 15th, 2010
12:10 pm

I think it’s a debate worth having after a year or two. You have to remember that in the mid-90s, Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz were peaking. I think Philly’s starters are on their downward trajectory based on their ages.

Mark Bradley

December 15th, 2010
12:13 pm

Kudos, J Clay.

Mark Bradley

December 15th, 2010
12:13 pm

Let me just note one thing: Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz weren’t Hall of Fame locks in 1993. They became that over time.

Abnerish

December 15th, 2010
12:15 pm

Except for Maddux, all of the others on our staff were either drafted by the Braves or acquired via a trade when they were minor leaguers (Smoltz). I think that says more about an organization than an ability to pull out your checkbook and pay for a bunch of free agents. So, in essence, it’s not a fair comparison.

PMC

December 15th, 2010
12:15 pm

Who knows…(the shadow probably)

One thing I do know…sportswriters LOVE hype and conjecture.

Long Time Braves Fan

December 15th, 2010
12:17 pm

It’s a shame that Ted Turner is giving away half of his wealth when he could easily buy the Braves and he (and us fans) could all have fun again.

10-3 Lead After 3

December 15th, 2010
12:20 pm

The greatest set of pitchers ever over a 10 year span, and yet only one championship. Embarrassing.

Supes

December 15th, 2010
12:21 pm

Mark, do u write about the Philly Paper now? All these articles about the Phillies the last 2 days…give it a rest.

You and Jeff and everyone else at the AJC have a fascination with Philly it seems…

Lowcountry Bulldawg

December 15th, 2010
12:21 pm

Nope, how many HOF do the Phillies have in the rotation? 1, Halladay, case closed.

1eyedJack

December 15th, 2010
12:22 pm

Which year? They haven’t even played a season together so how are you going to make a comparison?

Lowcountry Bulldawg

December 15th, 2010
12:23 pm

Mark,

At 32 Lee is highly unlikely to become a HOF, Oswalt is a good pitcher, but not a HOF candidate. Hamels is a solid lefty, but again nothing to right home about.

jeffrey d

December 15th, 2010
12:23 pm

And this is all they have to write about?????

Yes, the Phillies just unexpectedly signed Lee to give them the best rotation in baseball.

This is boring, Mark…why aren’t you talking about the exciting baseball stories of the week? Like what kind of sandwich Chipper ate for lunch, or how long of a nap McCann’s going to take

JoeFan

December 15th, 2010
12:26 pm

Only one very good pitcher / Hall of Fame type pitcher in the Phillies rotation and that is Halladay. The other 3 are just good. As a group they don’t measure up to Maddox, Glavine and Smoltz and Avery / Negle at their peak. It will be interesting to see if the the Phillies rotation holds up since 3 of them are 30 or older.

JJ (no relation)

December 15th, 2010
12:26 pm

ArkyTech. The steroid era did not start in earnest until the end of the 90s. Halliday, Lee, and Oswalt all pitched in the hayday of steroid use.

jeffrey d

December 15th, 2010
12:32 pm

Look, I loved the Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz era, but I can’t be a homer here…I think H2O + Lee is a better rotation

Dirty Dawg

December 15th, 2010
12:41 pm

I’m sorry, but this topic is for s**t…what difference does it make if the Phillie’s staff next season is better than one the Braves had sometime in the last decade? What matters is if their ‘11 staff will be better than our ‘11 staff, and we won’t now that until the season’s over will we?

Sometimes guys, you really seem to be digging down to the bottom of the barrel for something to talk about.

aaron

December 15th, 2010
12:42 pm

the 90’s braves rotation was 4 young ace pitchers. at the time they were unproven, very talented, but with age on their side.

no doubt, the phillies have the best staff in baseball now, but their arm’s are much older, and because of that halladay, oswalt and lee are obviously past their primes. in fact, i wouldn’t be surprised if workhorse guys like halladay and lee start having arm issues in the next year or 2.

Enemas for Christmas

December 15th, 2010
12:44 pm

Lets get to the Superbowl first.

beone

December 15th, 2010
12:44 pm

Thank the good lord that I am just a layman when compared to the almighty newspaper stiff.

Joe Tess Fish House

December 15th, 2010
12:45 pm

Why wory about the pitcing for the Braves? We need 2 wory about the loosing manager they hired. He has a loosing record! FAIL!

papadawg

December 15th, 2010
12:48 pm

Who cares about the 90’s, what matters is it trumps the heck out of what the Braves have today and I don’t see any positive improvements with the GEEKY ownership we have at this time. Unless we get some more pitching and big time hitters its going to be a long hot summer

Jaydawg

December 15th, 2010
12:48 pm

WHO CARES?IT’S FOOTBALL SEASON.

Hoosier Aaron

December 15th, 2010
12:51 pm

Ask every GM, Manager and Pitching Coach if they’d rather have Smoltz/Glavine/Maddux in their prime or the Phillies group in their prime.

I’m betting 100% take our guys – including Charlie Manuel.

chief pitchanono

December 15th, 2010
12:51 pm

I agree on paper its a great rotation, but the Braves rotation of the 90’s had youth on their side where the philly rotation does not. They will be lucky to stay healthy, effective and together for a couple of years so I don’t think they will be as good as the Braves rotations of the 90’s. I think this was a silly move by philly, they put all their eggs in one basket and if they have a couple of cracks in this allstar rotation they could go from World Series favorites, to not even making the playoffs because they have no depth behind these 30 something year old guys and not much of a bullpen to ease the workload. Maybe it will work for them and they will win another World Series, but they had better do it sooner than later because I think they are destined to end up like the Braves a few years ago where we lost, hudson, glavine and Smoltz all in the same season – (we won’t mention hampton) with no where to turn – then we’ll see if they are really committed to this huge new payroll when they don’t even make the playoffs.

brian

December 15th, 2010
12:55 pm

Mark, check your records. If I’m not mistaken, Maddux signed with the Braves long before he signed with the Giants.

stinger

December 15th, 2010
12:58 pm

All I know is that Heyward will have to gets his hits off some other team, He’ll bat below .200 against the Phillies

DNice

December 15th, 2010
1:05 pm

Instead of worrying about the 90 Braves they need to be compared to the current Giants who shut down that vaunted lineup of the Phillies and the Rangers with the real beast of all young pitchers in the NL Mr. Timmmmyyyyyy. The current Braves are not to shabby either but they dont have what the 90 Braves had going for them and thats what we call D-Fence.

Stargazer

December 15th, 2010
1:05 pm

Rockin’ Leo Calzonne is a dweeb. Ever hear him on a Braves pre-game show? He should be wearing a cheerleader’s skirt. Though that is not a particularly pleasant thought.

Dawgpound

December 15th, 2010
1:09 pm

Do it for a decade + and continually plug in effective starters and reclamation projects for that 4th and 5th spot in the rotation while winning 14 straight division titles and then, yeah they might be on par with the Braves staff of the 90’s.

Buzz ME

December 15th, 2010
1:17 pm

are you serious…of course it does.

oasisbraves

December 15th, 2010
1:25 pm

Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz/Millwood/Neagle……three of them were home grown players…. vs this Phillie roation which bought all but one.

Braves Sorry

December 15th, 2010
1:26 pm

THIS IS THE LAST TIME I WANT TO READ AN ARTICLE LIKE THIS THAT LIKENS THE BRAVES TO THE PHILLEYS BECAUSE THE PHILLIES HAVE THE GREATEST ROATATER IN MLB HISTORY EVER WITH HALLADAY, LEE, OSWALT, AND HAMELS DONT YOU PEOPLE REMEMBER THAT HAMELS WAS THE MVP OF THE WORLD SEARIES A FEW YEARS AGO??????? I THOUGHT NOT CAUSE THE BRAVES ARE SORRY THEY SHOULD HAVE SIGNED LEE AND HALLADAY NOW THE BRAVES WILL BE IN FOURTH PLACE COME NEXT OCTOBER LOOKING AT THE OUTSIDE FROM THE INSIDE AND IT WON’T BE PRETTY!

Mark Bradley

December 15th, 2010
1:27 pm

Maddux wasn’t homegrown. Smoltz came from Detroit, Neagle from Pittsburgh. Just sayin’.

Mark Bradley

December 15th, 2010
1:28 pm

Nope, brian. I covered those winter meetings in Louisville. Bonds signed with the Giants before Maddux signed with the Braves.

STONEMAN

December 15th, 2010
1:33 pm

JJ,The steroid era began long before the late 90’s.