When the Yankees signed CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett to complement Chien-Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlain, and Andy Pettitte, I said that they had assembled their best rotation since 2003. That statement, however, is more an indictment of the 2004 rotation than anything. The 2003 rotation was pretty damn solid, and even the 2009 squad doesn’t appear to approach its greatness. TusconRoyal at Beyond the Boxscore takes a look at that team in terms of how good they were at the time, and then at their careers.
The analysis uses the increasingly-popular WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. You can get an idea of how to calculate WAR from the inimitable Tom Tango. Mike Mussina was lights out that season, and it’s highly unlikely that even CC Sabathia touches his WAR from that season — and “highly unlikely” is an understatement at this point. There’s quite a gap between Moose and the second-highest-rated Yank, David Wells, but he still posted an excellent season.
The top five starters for the Yanks that year — Moose, Wells, Clemens, Pettitte, and Contreras — posted WARs of 6.3, 4.6, 4.1, 3.4, and 1.9. This year’s top five — CC, Pettitte, Joba, Burnett, and Hughes — have posted WARs of 1.9, 0.8, 0.8, 0.5, and 0.2. It’s not really fair to extrapolate that to cover a whole season, since performances will obviously vary over the next three and a half months, but that would put the Yanks’ starters at 3.1, 2.1, 2.1, 0.8, and 0.3. The 2003 rotation that is not.
In fact, the extrapolated data wouldn’t even put this 2009 rotation ahead of its 2004 counterpart. The top five starters on that team — Jon Lieber, Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown, Javy Vazquez, and El Duque — posted WARs of 4.0, 3.3, 2.5, 2.2, and 1.7 (though the last, Duque, pitched only 84.2 innings). In other words, the Yanks rotation will have to show quite an improvement if they’re going to live up to the billing of best rotation since 2003. As it stands now, they’re falling a bit short (though, again, the method for projecting their WAR isn’t exactly the most scientific).
To take some of the attention off the current team, the BtB post also notes the careers of the 2003 rotation and where they stand relative to the average HOFer and a Replacement HOFer (though I’m not really sure what that means). Clemens stands far, far above the pack. Mussina, it appears, deserves a nod to the Hall given its current standards. His WAR in his best season matches up with that of an average HOFer, and 10th through 17th best WAR seasons stand well above those of an average HOFer. I believe the Hall’s standards have sunken considerably, and given that you can make a strong case for Moose. However, if baseball held the Hall to the loftier standards it deserves, the only one of that crew who would get the nod would be Clemens.
So check out the post and remember the 2003 pitching staff. Perhaps it will relieve some of the frustration caused by the 2009 version.