Ranking the Top 10 Starting Rotations of the Last 25 Years
Baseball is definitely becoming a more offensively-minded game, but there is still a large role for the starting rotation. This group of five pitchers is responsible for neutralizing this growing threat for a majority of every game.
I intend to celebrate some of the best starting rotations in recent memory with my article today. I am going to select the top 10 rotations of the past 25 years since using a much longer period of time would be incredibly difficult and would admittedly omit plenty of deserving teams.
Still, with only 10 positions for every team since 1989, it is a tall order, but I hope to hit the best of the best.
All stats are from Baseball Reference.
10. 2002 Oakland Athletics
Tim Hudson (15-9, 2.98 ERA)
Barry Zito (23-5, 2.75 ERA)
Mark Mulder (19-7, 3.47 ERA)
Aaron Harang (5-4, 4.83 ERA)
Cory Lidle (8-10, 3.89 ERA)
I had a hard time including this rotation on the list, but Hudson, Zito and Mulder created one of the best trios that we have seen in recent history. If you put together their records, they ended at going 57-21. That is definitely a strong performance.
The rest of the rotation obviously left something to be desired, but if you met the Oakland Athletics and had to face their top three consecutively, it wasn't going to be an easy road.
9. 1989 Oakland Athletics
Dave Stewart (21-9, 3.32 ERA)
Mike Moore (19-11, 2.61 ERA)
Bob Welch (17-8, 3.00 ERA)
Storm Davis (19-7, 4.36 ERA)
Curt Young (5-9, 3.73 ERA)
This team ended up winning the World Series, and while Oakland was generally more well-known for their offensive attack, this team was driven largely by the pitching staff. While several of these men had great careers overall, this season with a combination of many of their best campaigns.
Of course, when many strong pitchers have some of their best seasons concurrently, the result is going to be a good thing.
8. 1989 Los Angeles Dodgers
Orel Hershiser (15-15, 2.31 ERA)
Tim Belcher (15-12, 2.82 ERA)
Fernando Valenzuela (10-13, 3.43 ERA)
Tim Leary (6-7, 3.38 ERA)
Ramon Martinez (6-4, 3.19 ERA)
This is the only team on this list you will find that had a sub-.500 record. However, there is no way that you could fault the starting rotation. The team averaged only 3.4 runs of support and that makes it difficult for any pitcher to consistently win.
The mediocre records posted by each of these men were not a testament to their true ability. They really were an excellent unit.
7. 2013 Detroit Tigers
Justin Verlander (12-9, 3.51 ERA)
Max Scherzer (17-1, 2.85 ERA)
Doug Fister (10-6, 3.60 ERA)
Rick Porcello (9-6, 4.33 ERA)
Anibal Sanchez (11-7, 2.50 ERA)
This rotation is not even finished yet, but they have had an excellent season so far. Admittedly, they probably should have a few more victories apiece even, but their bullpen has not necessarily lived up to the high standards set by the rotation.
Scherzer has quite simply been ridiculous this year in particular, but this whole rotation is doing a great job and will put Detroit in the playoffs.
6. 2001 Seattle Mariners
Jamie Moyer (20-6, 3.43 ERA)
Freddy Garcia (18-6, 3.05 ERA)
Aaron Sele (15-5, 3.60 ERA)
Paul Abbott (17-4, 4.25 ERA)
Joel Pineiro (6-2, 2.03 ERA)
It is hard for me not to include a starting rotation that led the Seattle Mariners to 116 victories. Even though the numbers are not necessarily stellar across the board, when you look at the end result, they did what they needed to do to win a remarkable number of ends.
Pineiro was not in the rotation for the entire season, but he obviously added some talent to the bottom end of the rotation as a young 22-year-old.
5. 1991 Los Angeles Dodgers
Mike Morgan (14-10, 2.78 ERA)
Ramon Martinez (17-13, 3.27 ERA)
Tim Belcher (10-9, 2.62 ERA)
Bob Ojeda (12-9, 3.18 ERA)
Orel Hershiser (7-2, 3.46 ERA)
With the exception of Martinez, each of these men was approximately 30 years old. The importance of that is that we were still in their prime, but they had certainly had enough time to develop into a mature rotation.
Obviously, they channeled their maturity into a high level performance and kept the team in the game on most nights.
4. 2012 Tampa Bay Rays
James Shields (15-10, 3.52 ERA)
David Price (20-5, 2.56 ERA)
Matt Moore (11-11, 3.81 ERA)
Jeremy Hellickson (10-11, 3.10 ERA)
Alex Cobb (11-9, 4.03 ERA)
The Tampa Bay Rays’ staff deserves a lot of credit because they were able to put up these impressive numbers while playing in the American League East. In such an offensively oriented division, Tampa Bay was able to succeed with a different approach.
Despite being severely outspent, this team has managed to put together a strong product for several years thanks in large part to their pitching.
3. 1992 Atlanta Braves
John Smoltz (15-12, 2.85 ERA)
Steve Avery (11-11, 3.20 ERA)
Tom Glavine (20-8, 2.76 ERA)
Charlie Leibrandt (15-7, 3.36 ERA)
Mike Bielecki (2-4, 2.57 ERA)
Pete Smith (7-0, 2.05 ERA)
The Atlanta Braves were the best team in baseball for most of the 1990s, and most of that success was driven by their dominant starting rotation. However, even before they acquired Greg Maddux, they had a pretty dominant group.
Bielecki and Smith each pitched approximately half of the year in the rotation, and I didn’t want to leave either one out because they each had such strong complementary performances.
2. 2011 Philadelphia Phillies
Roy Halladay (19-6, 2.35 ERA)
Cliff Lee (17-8, 2.40 ERA)
Cole Hamels (14-9, 2.79 ERA)
Roy Oswalt (9-10, 3.69 ERA)
Vance Worley (11-3, 3.01 ERA)
This team ended up as somewhat of a disappointment when they exited the playoffs in the first round, but at the time, they had four extraordinary arms and one who was developing into a serviceable option.
Obviously, having a powerful offense behind you is helpful, but this team had the arms to hold their opponents in check despite the fact that they had quite a bit of run support.
1. 1998 Atlanta Braves
Greg Maddux (18-9, 2.22 ERA)
Tom Glavine (20-6, 2.47 ERA)
John Smoltz (17-3, 2.90 ERA)
Denny Neagle (16-11, 3.55 ERA)
Kevin Millwood (17-8, 4.08 ERA)
This team won 106 games, and even though they did not win the World Series, this rotation is the best in the past 25 years. Maddux will easily be in the Hall of Fame while Glavine and Smoltz could be borderline selections.
When each of your pitchers has won at least 16 games, you know that something was going right. Atlanta was a dominant pitching factory.
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