One of the hot topics during spring training revolved around the Tampa Bay
Devil Rays and how this would be the year they experienced significant improvement. Photos surfaced of an interesting shirt Troy Percival donned on which he compared Scott Kazmir, James Shields, and Matt Garza to John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Steve Avery. Steve Phillips added fuel to this fire by repeatedly mentioning how the shirt compared the three Rays youngsters to Greg Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz. With no disrespect towards Avery, he is not Greg Maddux, and any comparison to one of the best pitching trios in the history of the game is going to generate some buzz. As of right now, Kazmir is yet to pitch and Garza has not yet met expectations; Shields, however, has pitched quite well.
Great pitching trios are so valuable for the more obvious reason that, over the course of any given three game series, the team is likely assured of having at least one solid starter on the mound. Seeing as April is about to come to a close I decided to take a look at the WPA totals of starting pitchers from 2002 until now to generate a basic list of the best recent pitching trios. The only real “rule” stipulated that all three of the pitchers needed to have a positive WPA. For instance, last year, the combination of CC Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, and Paul Byrd accounted for a WPA of 7.13. This would normally qualify as second-best across the league, but the numbers broke down as follows: Carmona at 4.25, Sabathia at 3.49, Byrd at -0.61. Clearly the WPA total belonged to CC and Fausto; Byrd actually brought their total down. Here are the top trios from 2002 until now:
2002 – Athletics: Barry Zito (3.85), Tim Hudson (3.28), Mark Mulder (3.15)
2003 – Cubs: Mark Prior (4.37), Kerry Wood (4.05), Carlos Zambrano (2.46)
2004 – Twins: Johan Santana (5.52), Brad Radke (3.61), Carlos Silva (0.61)
2005 – Astros: Roger Clemens (5.77), Andy Pettitte (4.86), Roy Oswalt (3.91)
2006 – Tigers: N. Robertson (2.92), Justin Verlander (2.29), Kenny Rogers (2.21)
2007 – Padres: Jake Peavy (4.61), Chris Young (2.67), Greg Maddux (1.17)
A month into this 2008 season and there are three rotations very close to each other: the Cardinals (2.20), Mariners (2.11), and Angels (2.08). The Cardinals trio in question is Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse, and Braden Looper; the Mariners are Felix Hernandez, Carlos Silva, and Jarrod Washburn; the Angels are Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana, and Jered Weaver.
Update: The Indians can also be thrown into the mix, but not with Sabathia. The combo of Lee, Carmona, and Westbrook are currently at 2.35. Add them into your consideration. As I mentioned in the comments, though, for potential Mariners fans reading here, Bedard does not count because he does not qualify for inclusion yet. Clearly he is a better choice than Washburn, but the question pertains to the aforementioned threesomes.
Felix Hernandez is the best of the nine pitchers comprising these three teams but, overall, none of them appear to be on the same level as some of the aforementioned trios. Here’s the question: If you had to win a three-game series, which of these three 2008 trios would you pick, and which of the 2002-2007 trios would you pick?