For any Major League club to secure each season's ultimate prize, a win in the World Series, just how much of that experience does a pitching staff need? A definitive answer to that question is bound to raise a debate on any street corner or message board around the baseball world.
I decided to look at this from a historical perspective, rather than try to make projections. Given the desired role is performing as a member of a major league starting rotation, that is the metric I chose to measure.
For the last ten World Series winners, I have listed below the number of career regular season major league starts the primary five rotation members had at the conclusion of their World Championship regular season.
For example, while Pedro Martinez currently has 375 career starts, he had "just" 321 at the end of the 2004 campaign. So, the latter number is what is listed for him for the 2004 Red Sox.
I then totaled the number of regular-season starts for each championship starting five at the time their World Series was earned.
|Ten -year average||927|
|2005 White Sox||Buehrle||Garcia||Contreras||Garland||Hernandez|
|2004 Red Sox||Lowe||Martinez||Schilling||Wakefield||Arroyo|
|2002 Angels||Appier||Ra. Ortiz||Washburn||Sele||Lackey|
|* assumes 30 starts each|
Not surprisingly, experience does matter.
With the lone exception of the 2003 Florida Marlins, every World Series champ since at least 1997 sported a starting five with a combined 779 career starts or more.
The most experienced quintet was the 2000 New York Yankees led by Roger Clemens and David Cone with almost 1400 career starts among the five. The ten-year average winning staff had 927 starts worth of experience.
The 2006 Cardinals, with Mark Mulder counted among the top five, came in at 1105 starts, considerably above the average. Substituting Anthony Reyes for Mulder (each had 17 starts last season) would drop the total to 924, almost right on top of the average over the last ten seasons.
Extending this analysis to 2007 paints a fairly bleak picture for the Cardinals, though. Whether Braden Looper or Brad Thompson is the fifth starter doesn't matter here, as the two have just one MLB start between them.
Even when generously projecting that every one of the 2007 Cardinals five will get 30 starts, their total MLB starting experience level at the end of next season would be just 574 games.
In totality, the Cardinals crew lacks the major league starting experience of nine of the last ten champions and its total is barely half of the previous year's club.
Unless anyone sees a 2003 Marlins-kind of potential here – the likes of Dontrelle Willis, A.J. Burnett, Josh Beckett and the others – one could draw the conclusion the 2007 Cardinals rotation is simply too short on experience to make the grade.
Yet, the 2006-2007 off-season is not over. Simply re-adding Jeff Weaver to the mix would push the Cardinals' starting experience level to well over 900 games, which would closely approach the ten-year championship average.
Not to harp on what might have been, but here are the career start counts for four former free-agent pitchers the Cardinals pursued but lost this off-season.
Clearly, any single statistic should not be used alone to draw specific conclusions, but this data likely does nothing to ease anyone's concern over the tenuous state of the 2007 Cardinals rotation.
On a related topic, over on our Message Board, posters "mikdo" and "Jmodene1" led a recent thread considering the number of innings-pitched, ERA and health expected from the top starters during a World Series-winning season.
The theory presented, while still under discussion, is that the 2007 Cardinals rotation as constructed lacks the necessary depth to lead the club to a repeat World Championship. A by-product of the depth problem is that the bullpen will become overtaxed and significantly negatively impact the team's overall record.
While not identical to this analysis, as its focus is depth, rather than experience, the subjects are clearly related. Make sure you stop by the Message Board to join in the discussion.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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