Baseball Egg

Baseball for Egg Heads

Phillies "Big Four" could be best ever

By Dan Holmes ♦ December 20, 2010

Lebron, Wade, and Bosh? The Phillies have done one better than the Miami Heat.

With the acquisition of free agent left-hander Cliff Lee last week, the Philadelphia Phillies established a foursome of starting pitchers that rival the greatest in the history of the game. Based on their 2010 numbers, the Phillies rotation could make history next season.

Lee joins fellow southpaw Cole Hamels and right-handers Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt to give Philadelphia a vaunted quartet of hurlers, any one of whom could be an ace. Halladay is the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner and won another Cy Young in the American League. Lee won the 2008 AL Cy Young, and Oswalt has finished in the top five in voting for that award five times. He was sixth last season. Hamels, the youngest of the four (he turns 27 two days after Christmas), already has 60 wins to his credit and was the NLCS and World Series MVP in 2008 when he helped lead the Phils to the World Series title.

Last season all four pitchers posted an ERA+ of at least 130 while striking out at least 185 batters. Given their established career levels and assuming they remain healthy, in 2011 they should be able to match that performance. In the history of baseball no team has had more than two pitchers who accomplished that in the same season. In 2010, the Phillies became just the 14th team to have two pitchers match that criteria, when Halladay and Hamels did so. Oswalt also did it in 2010, but he split part of the season between Houston and the Phillies.

How rare is a season by a starter who posts an ERA+ of 130 or better and fans 185 or more? Just 78 pitchers have done it in the expansion era (since 1961). Halladay has done it four times in his career, Hamels and Oswalt twice, and Lee did it for the first time in 2010.

That sort of dominance doesn’t necessarily translate into wins – Oswalt and Hamels won 13 and 12 games respectively in 2010 – but it does ensure solid quality starts most of the time. The Phillies could get 130 starts from their “Big Four” in 2011, and if they pitch the way they are capable of, it could be an historic season.

As we’ve seen with other teams that had multiple aces in their rotation, the teammates can feed off each other. The A’s All-Star trio of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito motivated each other in the 1990s. As did the Braves staffs that featured future Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. The Diamondbacks had Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in the early 2000s, and Schilling joined Pedro Martinez in Boston. But no team has had a foursome as talented as this in years, if ever.

The 2011 Phillies may prove to be the most slump-proof team in baseball history. It’s hard to see how the team could get through one rotation of the Big Four without winning at least one game. Whomever ends up as the #5 starter (it appears it will be Joe Blanton, who won nine games for the Phillies in 2010) will have a serious case of headline envy. The Big Four have a combined total of 13 All-Star appearances, six 20-win seasons, 10 top-five Cy Young Award finishes, a World Series MVP award, two NLCS MVP awards, a no-hitter, and a perfect game.

With two ace righties and two ace lefties, the Phillies are poised to make another run at the World Series and the Big Four may etch their names into baseball history in 2011.

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