In baseball, there was a time when having one ace starting pitcher in a rotation was good enough, and having two made a team very formidable. In 2011, it is not good enough to only have one main workhorse, having two aces leading the way is the only way. Similar to football, where the two running-back system has become big, baseball has shown that in order to win not only in the regular season, but also in the playoffs having a solid 1-2 punch is critical. This was proven in the World Series last season, both representatives, the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants, had two aces (Cliff Lee and CJ Wilson for Texas and Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain for San Francisco).
Major League Baseball, like any other sport, is a copycat league, for this reason, free agent pitching has become a hot commodity, with teams shelling out big bucks in hope to get their very own pair of aces. Now big market ball clubs hold most of the top pitching tandems, owing millions of dollars to their rotation leaders. With the playoff stretch upon us, and the playoffs looming very soon, there is much debate across baseball of which team has the best 1-2 punch. Thus, I decided to use WAR (Wins over replacement player), FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), and total salary to analyze the 11 top pitching tandems to decide which team has the best 1-2 punch (economically) in baseball.
The Red Sox’ Beckett and Lester have been solid but not above average, luck has for sure been on their side this season, the highest FIP on this list and with their combined salaries of 22.75 million their value as a 1-2 punch sits at the bottom. Tampa Bay has a rotation bolstered by two aces in David Price and James Shields. These guys eat serious innings for the Rays, but they have the 2nd lowest WAR and FIP of the 11 “punches” analyzed. The Rangers have been lead this season by a couple of youthful starters in CJ Wilson and Alexi Ogando. They are both good, but not as strong as what Texas had last season or as some of the other frontline starters in baseball. The Mariners’ Pineda and Hernandez have been good, but not stellar. They get held back on this list by Hernandez’ contract and Pineda faltering of late.
Justin Verlander has been unhittable this year (literally and figuratively), but Ricky Porcello is not what you would call a top-end number 2 guy in this conversation, thus, the Tigers do not have a top 5 1-2 punch in their rotation. Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are always among the first pitchers to come to mind in a conversation about the best top of rotation guys for a while now. They delivered the Giants a World Series last year, and they have thanked them by not performing up to their standards of past years, as well as, now making a combined $21 million dollars this season. Lincecum and Cain have no business having the same combined WAR as Porcello and Verlander, and are only higher on this list, because of their 3rd lowest combined FIP.
C.C. Sabathia gives the Yankees one of baseball’s best #1’s, and if not for his otherworldly 24 million dollar salary and lack of number 2 starter the Yankees would surely have a higher spot than just 5th best. Bartolo Colon delivers good value for them at 900k a year but not enough to compete with the likes of the Phillies, Angels, and Diamondbacks. Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw have an extremely low combined FIP of below 6 (5.91), and Kershaw has a nearly negligible salary. However, neither is a true workhorse, with 300.1 innings between them not a huge workload, as well as, a combined WAR of 7.1, which is only baseball’s 6th best. These facts keep the Dodgers from breaking into top 3 of best 1-2 punches in baseball.
The Phillies’ combination of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee share the best numbers of this group with the Angels Dan Haren and Jered Weaver. Philadelphia’s starters have a unworldly combined FIP of below 5 at 4.93. No other team in baseball can boast of having two starters who combine for a lower FIP than that. And with a combined WAR of 10.4, the Phillies top two guys have numbers that are both bona fide and ridiculous. They are only number 3 on my list of best top starting pitching tandems; however, because baseball is a business. Thus, numbers should be looked at from not only a statistical point of view, but also an economic point of view, which is Lee and Halladay’s downfall. Together they make the most money on this list at 31 million dollars this season, which detracts from their value significantly enough to keep them from being number 1 overall (as most think they are).
Dan Haren and Jered Weaver have created more wins this season (10.5) than any other combination of teammates in baseball. They have the second lowest FIP also, that only trail that of the Phillies. Combined their salaries are about equal to that of Roy Halladay’s and are less than that of Sabathia in New York. The Angels’ top guys have put up better numbers than their big name West Coast pitching tandem rival in San Francisco for less money. Economically, Weaver and Haren make more sense than Halladay and Lee, when looking at the tandems with the best numbers. But why then are the Angels not the top pitching tandem on this list?
The answer to that question comes out of the desert heat of Arizona. The Diamondbacks have made a lot of large trades in the past seasons. Through those trades they acquired two of 2011’s best pitchers, two guys who have been aces, but do not get very much attention playing out in Phoenix. Words, that I would use, to describe Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy would be raw, talented, incomparable economically, and just plain filthy. By sheer statistics the Diamondbacks starters sit around the level of the Tigers’ and Dodgers’ tandems just outside the top 5. Ranking 7th with a combined (6.52) FIP, and 5th in WAR (7.1). There is one gigantic difference between the Arizona duo in comparison to the 10 other combinations that were analyzed, and that is in the money being paid to them. Excluding the Diamondbacks the range in total salary for the tandems is from just over 6 million (Rays) to 31 million (Phillies), with mean of almost 17 million dollars being shelled out for two bonafide ace starting pitchers.
The reason for why the Diamondbacks were excluded from the range and average total salary, is because the total salary for Hudson and Kennedy is an outlier on this list. The Diamondbacks’ aces are being paid a total of $842,000 for their more than average services this season. Ironically, the Phillies two aces, Halladay and Lee, make almost 37 times what Kennedy and Hudson are paid. C.C. Sabathia, the highest paid pitcher in baseball, makes 29 times as much as the two pitchers do combined. On the free agent market, its near impossible to sign a viable ace for any less than 10 million dollars per season. This is what makes the Diamondbacks 1-2 punch so remarkable. To have two aces, together, making under a million dollars this year make the Desert Duo a(n) (economic) no-brainer for the best 1-2 pitching tandem in baseball.
Stats as of August 8th,
Duo/Total Salary/Total FIP/Total/WAR Value