Between Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin on the Nationals and Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Zack Greinke on the Astros, six of the top 13 pitchers by WAR will be starting in the first three games of the World Series.
Blue = Nationals
That’s a staggering amount of good pitching packed into just one series. Even if both teams use a fourth starter, 75%-87% of all starters in the World Series will come from the list above. That has to be the best collection of present pitching talent in a World Series, right? Let’s test it out.
First, some general analysis. The Nationals rotation overall this season put up 21.4 WAR, first in baseball. The Astros rotation, which had Greinke for only one-third of the season, put up 19.4 WAR, fourth in the game. Since 1974, the 2019 Nationals’ WAR total ranks 17th (2011 Phillies are first) while the Astros’ ranks 47th out of the 1288 team seasons. The Nationals are the 11th team since 1974 to make the World Series with an MLB-leading rotation WAR. The previous 10 teams are 3-7, with the 1990s Braves’ 1-3 record not exactly helping. The last team to enter the World Series after leading baseball in rotation WAR was the 2012 Detroit Tigers with Verlander, Scherzer, Aníbal Sánchez, and Doug Fister, but they lost to the Giants. If we go back to 1947 (with both relievers and starters included from 1947-1973), this is just the 13th World Series matchup between two clubs ranked in the top five of baseball. It is just the fifth World Series matchup between teams ranked in the top four, and only the 2001 World Series between the D-backs and Yankees featured a better average ranking between two opponents.
Here are the top rotations along with average MLB rank and WAR.
|Year||AL Team||WAR||MLB Rank||NL||WAR||MLB Rank||Rank Average||WAR Average|
From 1947-1973: All Starters and Relievers in Season
That’s one way of looking at this pitching matchup, and it already finds this year’s competition as one of the greatest in history. What’s above doesn’t necessarily represent what we will see in the World Series though. We’ll likely see a lot more of the better starters on a team, and with Greinke as an example, the best pitcher might not be accumulating numbers for one team all season.
To get a better sense of this World Series matchup, I looked through the top-three starters for the World Series rotations going back to 1947 and required that they start at least one World Series game that year. I then took the geometric mean of those three starters’ WAR so that we can see the greatest World Series rotations — or at least top-threes — for most of baseball history.
|Year||Team||SP1||SP1 WAR||SP2||SP2 WAR||SP3||SP3 WAR||AVG WAR||GEO MEAN WAR|
|1996||Braves||John Smoltz||8.4||Greg Maddux||7.8||Tom Glavine||5.3||7.2||7.0|
|2019||Astros||Gerrit Cole||7.4||Justin Verlander||6.4||Zack Greinke||5.4||6.4||6.3|
|2001||Yankees||Mike Mussina||6.9||Andy Pettitte||5.8||Roger Clemens||5.6||6.1||6.1|
|2005||Astros||Roy Oswalt||6.1||Roger Clemens||6||Andy Pettitte||5.8||6.0||6.0|
|1974||A’s||Catfish Hunter||6.3||Ken Holtzman||5.5||Vida Blue||5.5||5.8||5.8|
|1966||Dodgers||Sandy Koufax||9.1||Claude Osteen||4.8||Don Drysdale||4.1||6.0||5.6|
|2019||Nationals||Max Scherzer||6.5||Stephen Strasburg||5.7||Patrick Corbin||4.8||5.7||5.6|
|1999||Braves||Greg Maddux||5.6||Kevin Millwood||5.5||John Smoltz||5.4||5.5||5.5|
|1995||Braves||Greg Maddux||7.9||John Smoltz||4.6||Tom Glavine||4.3||5.6||5.4|
|1973||Mets||Tom Seaver||7.3||Jon Matlack||4.7||Jerry Koosman||4.4||5.5||5.3|
|1970||Orioles||Jim Palmer||6.2||Dave McNally||4.9||Mike Cuellar||4.8||5.3||5.3|
|2003||Yankees||Mike Mussina||6.1||Andy Pettitte||5.1||Roger Clemens||4.5||5.2||5.2|
|2012||Tigers||Justin Verlander||6.9||Max Scherzer||4.5||Aníbal Sánchez||4.5||5.3||5.2|
|1954||Indians||Mike Garcia||6.5||Bob Lemon||4.2||Early Wynn||4.7||5.1||5.0|
|1985||Royals||Bret Saberhagen||6.2||Danny Jackson||4.6||Charlie Leibrandt||4.1||5.0||4.9|
|1969||Orioles||Mike Cuellar||6.6||Dave McNally||4.7||Jim Palmer||3.7||5.0||4.9|
|1977||Dodgers||Burt Hooton||5.1||Tommy John||5.1||Doug Rau||4.3||4.8||4.8|
|1983||Phillies||Steve Carlton||7.4||John Denny||5.8||Charles Hudson||2.5||5.2||4.8|
|1992||Blue Jays||Juan Guzman||5.5||David Cone||5.2||Jack Morris||3.7||4.8||4.7|
|1960||Pirates||Bob Friend||7.1||Vern Law||4.2||Harvey Haddix||3.3||4.9||4.6|
|2001||D-backs||Randy Johnson||10.4||Curt Schilling||7.2||Miguel Batista||1.3||6.3||4.6|
|1963||Dodgers||Sandy Koufax||9.2||Don Drysdale||5.8||Johnny Podres||1.8||5.6||4.6|
|1963||Yankees||Whitey Ford||5.2||Al Downing||4.7||Jim Bouton||3.6||4.5||4.4|
|1968||Tigers||Denny McLain||7.2||Earl Wilson||3.6||Mickey Lolich||3.2||4.7||4.4|
|2005||White Sox||Mark Buehrle||5.9||Freddy Garcia||4||Jon Garland||3.5||4.5||4.4|
|1992||Braves||John Smoltz||5||Tom Glavine||4.6||Steve Avery||3.5||4.4||4.3|
|1968||Cardinals||Bob Gibson||8.6||Ray Washburn||3.7||Nelson Briles||2.4||4.9||4.2|
|1998||Yankees||David Cone||5.1||David Wells||4.4||Orlando Hernandez||3.4||4.3||4.2|
That 1996 Braves team took a 2-0 lead on the Yankees and were in extra innings with a 2-1 series lead in Game 4. They lost the final two games 1-0 and 3-2 and needed just a bit more hitting in those contests to beat New York. The 2001 Diamondbacks stick out almost comically when looking at average versus geometric mean, which ensures any one (or two) numbers doesn’t carry too much weight. As good as Johnson and Schilling were, they still “only started” five of the seven World Series games against the Yankees. The Yankees team they played was more even one through three as the two teams played a very tight series.
Despite the better WAR totals for their rotation this season, the Nationals trio doesn’t quite measure up to the Astros once we move Greinke to Houston, but they present two of the top seven rotations in World Series history. Of the top 12 rotations heading into this season, these clubs ended up 3-9 in the World Series, and with Houston and Washington they will be 4-10 after this year. If we wanted to take a look at the matchup between the teams, we can do an average and geometric mean of the six pitchers between the teams. When we do that, this season rises to the top.
|Season||AL||NL||WS Average SP WAR||WS SP GEO MEAN|
We could argue that the 2001 matchup was better, but we’d have to ignore Diamondbacks pitching after Johnson and Schilling. We could also weight the individual starting pitchers based on how many games they start, but we don’t yet have that information for this season. What we do know is that heading into the World Series, there have never been six better pitchers matching up against each other based on how they pitched in the regular season. We have future Hall of Famers in Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and maybe Zack Greinke along with Cy Young contenders Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. It’s possible we’ve never seen a better collection of current pitching talent in one World Series.
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