Phillies rotation one for the ages

December 17, 2010

By Mark Gubicza
FOX Sports West and PRIME TICKET

When Cliff Lee joined the Phillies early this week, it immediately set off talk of the best rotation ever.

The quartet of Roy Halladay, Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels each have quite the resume and have already started drawing comparisons to the great rotations of all time including the 1971 Orioles, with four starters all winning at least 20 games, the Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale-led '66 Dodgers and the 1955 Cleveland Indians, led by the recently departed Bob Feller.

Another very strong four unit rotation was the 1985 Royals, the World Series-winning quartet of Bret Saberhagen, Charlie Liebrandt, Danny Jackson and's very own Mark Gubicza. Bud Black was the No. 4 starter in that '85 rotation, but Gubicza tallied more wins.

Gubie recently sat down and gave his thoughts on the signing as well as his memories of that rotation and his thoughts on some of the best ever.

The Phillies rotation is impressive and just by adding Lee to that staff, the bullpen got better. That pen will not be overworked. Those are four guys you can pencil in for at least seven innings each game. That makes everyone fresher and you don't have to worry about middle relief. Plus all four guys have above average stuff and just don't walk a lot of people. You don't see that too often and the rotation is even perfectly balanced with two righties and two lefthanders that you can rotate so hitters never get too comfortable during a series. That 1971 Orioles staff also had two right handers and two lefthanders. All four starters won 20 games, I don't think this Phillies staff could do that it's a different game. But that staff - Jim Palmer (20-9), Dave McNally (21-5), Pat Dobson (20-8) and Mike Cuellar (20-9) were all different types of pitchers and had balance.

They threw strikes, pitched deep into ball games and most importantly, didn't miss starts.

That was the recipe of those 1990s Braves rotations as well with John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and over the years Sean Avery, Denny Nagle and Kevin Millwood. The Braves had that solid rotation throughout the decade and were extremely successfull as a result. The group were competitive but also helped eachother out.

That was the way it was for us in Kansas City. The 1985 rotation was young and talented with Leibrandt (28), Saberhagen (21) Jackson (23), Black (28) and myself at just 22. Most of that team grew up in system together except for Leibrandt, who came in a trade from Cincinnati. The rest of us all drafted, grew up together an learned together. We were a tight group that competed with each other and always tried to have better games than each other.

Leibrant (237.2), Saberhagen (235.1), Jackson (208.0) and Black (205.2) all piched at least 200 innings, while Gubicza had 177.1 that season. Saberhagen led the way with 20 wins, Leibrant added 17 while Jackson and Gubicza chipped in 14. The five starters combined for 27 complete games and nine shutouts on the season.

We looked at tendencies of the hitter and studied the charts. We went over each other's starts finding out what these guys could or couldn't hit. We were competitive against each other to do better, but we shared everything we knew. We were all unique; Saber had a hard fastball, I had a sinking hard fastball, Jackson had a hard fastball and arguably one of the best sliders. Charlie had the change up and pitched backwards prior to anyone, using all those change ups in fastball counts. He was ahead of his time, kind of like Glavine before Glavine. He was as consistent as anyone from the left side and we had that right, left, right, left rotation.

Kind of like the Phillies.

People are talking about a 120 win season for the Phillies, but the reality is if they don't score runs it doesn't matter. They had their big three (Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels) in the playoffs and lost to the Giants because they didn't score runs. They need Jimmy Rollins to come back healthy and Ryan Howard too to step up and replace what was lost in Jayson Werth. Look at the Atlanta staff, they only won one world series. They have always been knocked down, which is unfair in my opinion because just to get there is one of the most difficult things. The pressure is on the Phillies, they have to win the world series with the new expectations. Other teams have improved as well and the Giants are the defending champs.

But undoubtely, you would have to put the Phillies at the top for the best rotation in baseball. The Giants are right there with them, the Angels are third, Red Sox fourth and the A's are fifth.

People are upset over not signing Carl Crawford. But the Angels have four strong starters as well. Jered Weaver is developing one of the best pitchers in baseball because of change up, his two-seem fastball and now with a new four-seem fastball, he is getting lots of ground balls compared to the fly balls he used to get. He is pitching to contact now more and going deeper into games. He is an ace. Dan Haren is already well established as an ace and can make bats miss and Ervin Santana has electric stuff, but he needs to put together a back-to-back good season. He could be even better this year, he was good last year but he is capable of more. Joel Pienero was solid when healthy and the big wild card is Scott Kazmir. If he can get straightened out, the Angels could have one of the best staffs in baseball this year.