I usually subscribe to the motto, “bigger equals better.” Having a bigger TV, bigger boat, and a bigger house are all positives. But today’s debate – the best rotation in baseball for the money – is not about being big. It is about value, and I am not going to argue that the New York Yankees have the best rotation in baseball for the money. Shocked (Editor’s Note: Yes.)? I can not say I blame you. But before anyone shouts, “Call an ambulance, Babe Ruthless has clearly suffering from head trauma” let me explain myself. I still love the Yankees, but I do not feel that their starting pitchers are the paradigm of value. C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Javier Vazquez, and Phil Hughes are all really good pitchers, but does anyone truly believe they are the best pitchers that money can buy? Certainly not. Does anyone even think that they are the best pitchers that the Yankees could have gotten for the money… an astonishing MLB leading $63,157,650? Again, I think not. In recent years the Yankees have allowed two of the best pitchers in baseball, specifically Johann Santana and Roy Halladay, to slip through there fingers in deals they Yankees should have made. As a result they have had to overspend on other good but less talented pitchers. So by now you are probably wondering who Babe Ruthless thinks has the best rotation for the money in baseball, if it isn’t the New York Yankees. Okay, I’ll tell you – it’s the Chicago White Sox.
The Southsiders have armed themselves in 2010, and are thusly dangerous, with a rotation featuring Mark Buehrle, Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, and Freddy Garcia. The price tag for this stable of hurlers in 2010 is approximately $36.2M. Broken down by individual contract it looks more like this – Mark Buehrle ($14M), Jake Peavy ($15M), Gavin Floyd ($2.75M), John Danks ($3.45M), and Freddy Garcia ($1M).
That accounts for the fifth most expensive rotation in MLB, but it is less than half of what the Yankees are spending this season. Some of you might be scratching your heads that I would write about value and then pick a club that spends so much, but you have to remember today’s debate is about value. I could have selected one of the bargain basement cheapest rotations in baseball, like the Blue Jays ($4,085,000), Pirates ($10,013,500), or Nationals ($10,224,000), but I do not think that many would agree that those rotations are worth the thrifty price tag that accompanies them. Sometimes you get what you pay for, and I believe the White Sox rotation is worth the money.
Let’s start with lefty Mark Buerhle. He has a career ERA of 3.79 and a WHIP of 1.27. Buerhle has always been a good pitcher, with flashes of brilliance. Throughout his time in the majors he has posted more seasons with 14 or more wins than without, and he has won at ten or more games every year except his rookie season in 2000. In 2002 he posted a 19 win season, and his numbers have not really fallen off dramatically since. Last season he put his brilliance on display when he recorded the 18th perfect game in MLB history, which warranted a phone call from the president. In the White Sox’ first game of the season this year he created a web gem moment when he made a ridiculous no look between-the-legs-toss using only his glove to record an out at first (you have to see it to believe it.) That is pretty impressive stuff from a guy who seems to fly under the radar in terms of media coverage and accolades. He is a true ace, and a steal for the money considering guys like Johan Santana and C.C. Sabathia figure to make more than $20M this season.
The number two pitcher, Jake Peavy, could be an ace just about anywhere else in the country. Chicago was willing to take a risk on the oft injured star, but it could pay off in a big way in 2010. He is a career 3.26 ERA and 1.18 WHIP pitcher who does not have an affinity for giving up the long ball – something that will serve him well at U.S. Cellular Field. Peavy is just three seasons removed from a 19 win season. This is even more encouraging considering the sick numbers he put up in three starts at with the Sox last year – three wins, 1.35 ERA, and a 0.85 WHIP. If he stays healthy, and displays form like he did last season, 15-plus wins is not unrealistic.
Gavin Floyd is an absolute steal at $2.75M. He is probably the best value play in the bunch. In 2001 he was the first round (fourth overall) draft pick of the Philadelphia Phillies, who know good pitching when they see it. I personally know the guy is good because I saw him pitch every game while he was playing for the Charlotte Knights, Triple A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, in 2007. He posted great numbers in a ballpark where homeruns fly out, and his minor league stats translated to big league success the very next season. He burst onto the Major League scene in 2008 delivering a stat line of 17 wins, 3.84 ERA, and 1.26 WHIP. While his 2009 numbers were worse, he is still learning. If I was a general manager I would be thrilled to get those sorts of results for that price.
John Danks, a young lefty for the club, figures to have Floyd-like promise. Like Floyd he was another first round draft pick (12th overall) with another organization, the Texas Rangers. Again, like Floyd, he broke into the majors in 2007 with the White Sox. He has posted back to back seasons of 12-plus wins and sub 4.00 ERA. He figures to be a great middle of the rotation guy. He is nearly 25-years-old, and is surrounded by veteran talent that will help him develop into a bigger stud than he already is.
Last, there is Freddy Garcia. While I am not a huge fan of Garcia, his price tag is just right. One million dollars is not bad for a hard throwing right-handed two-time all-star that has post-season, and more importantly World Series, experience. After his stint with the White Sox he became an unintentional journeyman. He signed a big $10M deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, and then failed to produce. Winning only one game for the Phillies in 2007 he was released and bounced around until he wound up back in Chi Town. The White Sox have not over invested in him and should know exactly what they are getting. To me he is sort of the poor man’s Javier Vazquez. Now back with their old teams, both pitchers will be innings eaters. I greatly prefer Garcia’s price tag than the $11.5 million attached to Vazequez’s contract.
The White Sox will be serious contenders in the AL Central this year. While they are not the cheapest rotation in the game today, they are definitely the best value. Big spending teams like my beloved Yankees would be wise to learn a thing or two from the White Sox, or at least drop a ton of money on the talent scouts that found Buerhle and Floyd.