The Best Pitching in Baseball

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That’s right, another post series from yours truly. On a side note, I hate people who refer to themselves as yours truly. Not long ago I covered a few pitchers I felt to be the luckiest in baseball, and then followed up with a few pitchers I thought were the unluckiest in baseball. Now that I wrote about the game’s best offense (and revealed my true bias for the first time at Call to the Pen), it’s time to take a look at the other end of the spectrum. Because the other end of the spectrum would be pitching in this case, you probably already guessed where I’m going with this. You might have also guessed I was going that direction by, you know, reading the headline you had to click on to get here. Good choice, by the way, and one you may not regret!

I didn’t generate any irate feedback on my last post by suggesting my favorite team had the best offense in baseball, which means one of two things: I did an amazing job of presenting the facts (Allen Craig is incredible and no one knows who he is), or more probably no one cares what I say anyway. This time around, however, I won’t have to risk coming across as a fan-obsessed nerd with an agenda, since I’m not going to suggest the Cardinals have the best collection of pitchers (we’re talking both rotation and bullpen combined, by the way, so sit down Cincinnati fans; your team is not going to get the honors just because of that ridiculous bullpen and admittedly solid but not as impressive starting rotation). I’m going to instead suggest a team I didn’t think I’d be mentioning: the Yankees. That’s right, the Yankees.

First of all, you know what the American League East is like. It’s home to several of the best teams in baseball, and while the records are skewed from playing each other so frequently, only two teams have a below .500 record based on run differential: the Orioles, who have no business being in second place and are not one of the best teams and baseball, and the Blue Jays, who as I wrote months back here, are better than you think. Even though they sit at -7 in the run differential department, their expected record is still two games better than their actual one (53-59). Based on actual standings, that’s the worst team in the division, and it’s not like they’re an embarrassment. So this division is very tough, and it’s not a friendly environment for opposing pitchers. That’s what makes the Yankees’ accomplishments so much more impressive.

We’ll of course start with the rotation, where it hasn’t seemed to matter who pitches; whoever it is, he gets the job done. C.C. Sabathia is having his usual solid season complete with a ton of innings (141.2 in just 20 starts) and pleasing enough peripherals. Hiroki Kuroda is having much the same season as his better known rotation mate is having minus a few of the strikeouts. Phil Hughes is back and pitching quite well in his own right. He’s been a little homer prone, but that’s what happens when you’re a fly ball pitcher (just 32.4% of his outs have come on the ground this season) in that home stadium. Hughes has actually been the worst of the five who began the season as starters for the Yankees in terms of WAR, as both Ivan Nova (1.5) and Andy Pettitte (1.4) have him beat just slightly, the latter of which needed just nine starts to do so. Even stopgap solution Freddy Garcia has filled in capably since being brought in from the bullpen; he’s made 12 appearances as a starter and 10 as a reliever, and while his ERA may not look great, his peripherals all indicate he’s been better than it looks. Even without Pettitte, that rotation is rock solid and ranks among the top five in baseball.

The bullpen is even better, and that’s without Mariano Rivera. If they hadn’t lost Rivera to injury early in the season, that would likely give them another 10-20 WAR by this point. Seriously, Rivera is a total freak who will die of natural causes at a very advanced age before he ever stops dominating every hitter he faces. In his absence, the bullpen has managed quite well, though. Despite stranding far too many runners for it to be sustainable, Rafael Soriano has done a fine job as the team’s replacement closer, striking out more than a batter per inning and letting no one homer off him ever. David Robertson, too, has been filthy; his 12.9 K/9 leads the team in that department, one they excel in as a whole. David Phelps and Boone Logan help continue the trend for an overpowering bullpen, as they each boast stellar strikeout rates in addition to other peripherals that prove their success is not luck-based.

As a collective unit, this Yankee team does a lot of things well. Out of baseball’s 30 teams, they rank fifth in K/9 (8.25), third in BB/9 (2.71), ninth in FIP (3.85, a total that is third if you just consider AL teams), and first in WAR (16.2). There are certainly teams you can debate about having superior pitching, but the Yankees could win that argument over all of them. Considering they face lineups with a DH every night and play in a park that encourages home runs, I’ll take the Yankee staff and bullpen over every other team’s personnel through this point of the season. And you thought the Yankees were known for their offense.

Can’t get enough of Spencer? Check out his work at StanGraphs and follow him on Twitter at @shendricks221.