The Cliff Lee signing has put together one of the greatest pitching staffs in recent memory.
The last staff that looked this dominant on paper was the 1993 Atlanta Braves.
Like the Phillies, the Braves had recently signed the best free agent pitcher on the market in Greg Maddux. Maddux had just come off a 20 win season for the Chicago Cubs, and won his first of four consecutive NL Cy Young awards.
Maddux led a staff of four dominating pitchers in Atlanta in 1993. In addition to Maddux, there were also future Hall of Famers in Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Steve Avery rounded out the four-headed monster in Atlanta that dominated the NL that year with a record of 105-57.
Greg Maddux/ Cliff Lee
The pitching staff comparison starts with Lee and Maddux. Maddux was perhaps the best pitcher of his era. He was a "pitcher's pitcher," nicknamed the "Professor." Maddux would paint the black of the plate consistently. Maddux was known for his control of the strike zone, and craftiness to get hitters out.
Lee has been the best control pitcher in baseball over the last three years. His K/BB ratio of 10.26 in 2010 was the second best of all time, falling only behind Bret Saberhagen in 1994. Fifth and ninth on the all time best K/BB seasons was none other than Maddux.
Maddux in 1993 won his second NL Cy Young. He went 20-10 on the year. He had an ERA of 2.36, with 197 strikeouts over 267.0 innings.
Lee went 12-9 last season, despite missing some time early in the season, and playing the majority of the season for one of the worst offensive teams in the American League.
Season Prediction for Lee: 18-9, 3.05 ERA, 175 K's over 215.0 innings.
John Smoltz/ Roy Halladay
John Smoltz compares most favorably with Roy Halladay.
Smoltz was the Robin to Maddux's Batman on the 1993 Atlanta Braves. Gifted with great talent, and a devastating split finger fastball, Smoltz was the strikeout pitcher in the rotation.
After being plucked out of the Detroit Tigers organization in 1987, for then 36-year-old Doyle Alexander, Smoltz dominated for the Braves. He made his debut for the Braves in 1988 and proceeded to put together a Hall of Fame career.
During the 1993 season, Smoltz went 15-11. He had an ERA of 3.62 over 243.2 innings, and struck out 208 batters.
In his first season in Philadelphia, Roy "The Doc" Halladay, made an immediate impact.
Going 21-10 and winning the NL Cy Young would be enough for some pitchers to be happy, Halladay went a few steps further.
On May 29th, 2010, Halladay pitched a perfect game against the Florida Marlins. In his first ever playoff appearance, Halladay went on to pitch the second-ever postseason no-hitter, while facing the Cincinnati Reds.
Season Prediction for Halladay: 19-10, 2.65 ERA, 220 K's over 230.0 innings.
Tom Glavine/ Cole Hamels
Tom Glavine was a crafty left-handed pitcher for the Atlanta Braves in 1993.
Glavine was a two sport star, being drafted early in the 1984 NHL Draft. Glavine was also drafted by the Atlanta Braves that year in the second round. He eventually decided on baseball, making his MLB Debut in 1987, marking the first season of the future 300 game winner.
Glavine, the 1995 World Series MVP and two time NL Cy Young winner, relied on location of an average fastball mixed in with great breaking pitches, most notably a circle changeup on the outside of the plate.
Glavine had his third straight 20 win season in 1993, going 22-6 that season. He had a 3.20 ERA over 239.1 innings to go along with his 120 K's.
Cole Hamels, 26, was drafted by the Phillies in 2002 and made his debut in 2006.
He has been instrumental in turning the Phillies into a National League powerhouse. His most notable accomplishment was winning the 2008 World Series MVP, while pitching the Phillies to the title.
Hamels, like Glavine, is a left-handed pitcher who spots a good fastball, and relies on a dominating circle changeup to get batters out.
Over the second half of 2010, Hamels may have been the best pitcher in the NL. Despite an underwhelming 12-11 record, this was not indicative of his season. He also sported only a 3.06 ERA over 208.2 innings with 211 K's.
Season Prediction for Hamels: 16-10, 3.30 ERA, 210 K's over 200.0 innings.
Steve Avery/ Roy Oswalt
Steve Avery, though many forget, was one of the best starting pitchers in the National League from 1991-1993. His unexpected and quick decline from dominance after the 1993 season tends to overshadow his accomplishments in the early 90s.
Avery, a left-hander, was the 1991 ALCS MVP. He had a great 1993 season, which was his best as a pro. He went 18-6 with a 2.94 ERA over 223.1 innings to go with his 125 K's.
Oswalt came to Philadelphia last season from the Houston Astros, after being one of the more dominant pitchers in the NL over the last decade.
The right-handed Oswalt still has electric stuff and could be one of the best fourth starters in MLB history. The 2005 NLCS MVP had another great season in 2010. He went a combined 13-13 between the Phillies and Astros. He had a 2.76 ERA over 211.2 innings with 193 K's.
Season Prediction for Oswalt: 17-8, 2.90 ERA, 190 K's over 210.0 innings.
The Phillies now have, with all respect to San Francisco, the best starting staff in all of baseball. Given the top five offense that they can also field, the Phillies should role through the NL East in 2011.
The Phillies in 2010 won the NL East with a ML best record of 97-65. This was quite impressive, due to the extended time missed by Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and others throughout the season.
The Phillies, if healthy, have one of the better lineups in the NL, despite losing Jason Werth to the Nationals this offseason.
If the rotation stays healthy, the top four pitchers could win 70-75 games all by themselves. Not to mention, Joe Blanton, as a fifth starter, won 9 games last season. Add that to the bullpen wins and you have a team that could potentially win 110 games next season.
2011 Philadelphia Phillies season prediction: Since we are doing a 1993 Atlanta Braves comparison, I think 105-57 season is a good barometer for the the 2011 Phillies.