On Monday night, Cliff Lee shocked the baseball world when he signed a five-year, $132 million dollar contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. Interest in Lee’s 2011 destination began as soon as he threw his final pitch to the Giants in the World Series, and all signs pointed to New York.
When the Phillies announced Monday that Lee would become a member of their already elite pitching staff, baseball fans around the country wasted no time in dubbing this fearsome four the best staff in baseball—and possibly, of all time.
On paper, it is hard to argue otherwise. The “Fearsome Four,” or “R2C2,” of Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels is a staff that one would have a difficult time assembling for a video game roster, let alone a Major League Baseball season. Halladay is arguably the best pitcher in baseball, and the other three would be considered number one starters on at least 25 of the other staffs in baseball.
Only the Giants boast a staff that is comparable, which brings us to the point of this column.
The question at hand is whether the 2011 Phillies pitching staff is the greatest ever assembled—and it is one deserving of serious debate. In reviewing various articles that address this question, I noticed something was missing from the debate, and from the conversation altogether. The Phillies are clearly the favorites to win the National League pennant, and they will—barring injuries—hold opposing teams to very few runs over the course of the season. However…so will the San Francisco Giants.
The 2010 San Francisco Giants pitching staff was finally able to thrust itself into the national spotlight when the group pitched itself past a solid Braves lineup, out-pitched the “best staff of all time at the time?” 2010 Phillies and then shut down the best lineup in all of baseball in the Texas Rangers.
Claiming that R2C2 is a better staff than the Giants', I can accept. Forgetting to mention the Giants in the conversation altogether, I cannot.
The Braves of the mid '90s had one of the best pitching staffs of all time. Their top three of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz all pitched in different styles, and all put together Hall of Fame numbers in the steroid era. The media seems to assume that the Phillies are destined to duplicate the success of this Braves staff.
They will run over their competitors in the National League and come face to face with the Boston Red Sox in the World Series: a perfect showcase of dominant hitting vs. the best rotation in baseball (Giants vs. Rangers anyone?). Another possibility is that the youthful and exuberant Giants pitching staff will do exactly as they did last year and beat the teams dubbed "unbeatable."
The potential for a matchup between these two teams in the 2011 NLCS is the real story, and it is being ignored. I find it almost comical that fans, writers and analysts can forget to mention the Giants in argument with the supremacy of the 2011 Phillies. Do you not learn from your mistakes?
The Phillies may be the best pitching staff of all time in 2011—they certainly have the potential. Yet, so do the Giants. Perhaps the articles prematurely slobbering over the Phillies and Golden Boy Cliff Lee should wait until NLCS Round 2. Halladay, Lincecum, Lee, Cain, Oswalt, Sanchez, Hamels, Bumgarner: A line of names such as these only exists in Cooperstown. This is the real story behind Cliff Lee signing with the Philadelphia Phillies.
To attempt to make the debate as simple as possible, I have compared the pitching of the Giants and Phillies in slideshow format, comparing each starter head-to-head. Before I address specific players, first let me address the pros and cons of each staff as a whole.
The Phillies are aging, but not necessarily for the worse. I believe, however, that Oswalt may be losing a bit of extra life on his pitches. The Giants are incredibly young, with only Barry Zito aging for the worse. The Phillies' incredible starting staff will hand games over to a solid, albeit limited bullpen, and a closer plagued by inconsistencies from season to season.
The Giants starters will hand games over to an elite bullpen. It is better than the Phillies', and it is not even especially close. I consider the closer a primary contributor of a staff, and it must be noted that the Giants are superior here as well.
Let's now take a look at the starters.