Over the holiday weekend I had an opportunity to relax and spend some time with family in the beautiful Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. As is usually the case when meeting up with the family, it presents an opportunity for the men of the family to do what we do best, talk sports. Except this time, I may have stuck my foot in my mouth. In my zeal to sound off about all of the moves Cincinnati made this off-season to bolster their pitching staff, I found myself making a proclamation that I would be called out on. I remarked (and still maintain) that the Reds now boast a top five staff in the National League. In fact, I went on to say, they may have one of the top three. Book it! Well, hanging out with a gaggle of Cardinals and Braves fans, I should have expected some outcry. My declaration was met with chuckles, sarcasm and the issuing of a challenge to back up my claims with some real stats. So this is my attempt to do that.
This isn’t an exact science. There are numerous ways to quantify just how dominant a particular staff is, ranging from the most simplistic comparison of wins and saves to a deeper analyzation of the numbers. I chose to dig a little deeper because wins, losses, holds and saves are subjective. Team dynamics play a part in those statistics and I wanted to identify a better gauge of individual talent. The obvious choice was a comparison of WAR. For this study I chose only the top three rotation pitchers, a set-up man and the closer of every team in the National League. I took the individual WAR for those five players on each of the National League teams and determined what I dubbed a “Staff War Score”, which is simply the sum total of all wins above replacement added together. Keep in mind, this too is not an exact science, there are multiple scenarios that present complications for identifying a definitive WAR. Take Adam Wainright for instance, because Wainwright missed all of 2011 while recovering from Tommy John surgery there is no WAR data for him in 2011. Johan Santana is a similar case. There is also the matter of impending player movement. Juan Oviedo (formerly known as Leo Nunez) is an example of a player who could change scenery between now and the start of the 2012 season, and could drastically change these rankings depending on where he lands. In cases such as Wainwright and Santana, I simply took their WAR from 2010. Of course this isn’t entirely accurate because the likelihood of either Wainwright or Santana posting a comparable WAR to that of 2010 in their first season back from major surgery is extremely unlikely. Regardless, I felt that this would give Cincinnati even stiffer competition and force me to truly back up my claims.
Clearly, the Phillies, Braves and Giants remain the class of the National League when it comes to pitching. The Diamondbacks and Nationals have snuck into the conversation as well. Cincinnati fell in at #7, and I will admit that I was a little disappointed by these results, but there is a caveat. I had no problem admitting that Philadelphia, San Francisco and Atlanta were the benchmark for pitching in the National League even while making my statement. I had a feeling Washington and Arizona would place in the top five or six, but I admit that I didn’t expect either to land ahead of Cincinnati considering the reinforcements that were added in the Winter.
Now for the Caveat. The St. Louis Cardinals placed #3 in Staff WAR Score with a total rating of 15.9 wins above replacement, but that is using Adam Wainwright’s WAR from 2010 which was 5.9. While I have no doubt Wainwright will eventually return to the level of dominance he once enjoyed, I don’t see it happening in 2012 in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. With a WAR of 5.9, Wainwright would hold the #4 WAR in the National League behind only Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. No offense to Cardinals fans, but Wainwright might not even have a top 3 WAR in St. Louis, let alone the 4th highest rated WAR in the National League. Using Wainwright’s WAR from 2010 completely distorts the final results. Like I said, I wanted to assemble the numbers this way to provide the stiffest possible competition for Cincinnati’s staff, however I must in good faith at least point out this discrepancy. For the purposes of this study, I will keep St. Louis in the #3 slot, but not without acknowledging that simply adjusting Wainwright’s forecasted WAR to a more reasonable 3.5 (still very good) would drop St. Louis out of the top five and move Cincinnati up to #6 in Staff War Score.
The end result, I was wrong. Cincinnati doesn’t have a top five staff heading into 2012, they have a top six staff. And I’m perfectly fine with that.