Last night I watched as Charlie Morton hurled yet another gem for the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff in a 3-0 win over the Chicago White Sox. It was the 3rd straight shutout for the Pirates pitching staff and the 5th shutout in the last 6 games. It got me thinking – is this the best Pirates starting Rotation that I have ever seen?
I turn 40 years old next month. I was too young to have a memory of the World Series Champion 1979 Pirates. I do remember later versions of John Candelaria that pitched for the club in the early 80′s. I also remember what Bert Blyleven was like with the late 80′s Minnesota Twins. They were obviously very good pitchers that anchored a championship team in 1979. But statistically their 1979 seasons don’t compare to what Gerrit Cole and A.J. Burnett are doing, and even Francisco Liriano outpaces them. The early 90′s staff that won three straight NL East Division Titles was the best Pirates rotation that I can remember. Individually Doug Drabek won a CY Young Award in 1990 and John Smiley was a 20 game winner in 1991. The overall best statistical performance from the rotation in those years was the 1992 edition in which the starters posted a 3.25 ERA and a 3.30 FIP. Those numbers pale in comparison to this year’s rotation (2.83 ERA, 3.09 FIP). And when it comes to domination, forget about it. Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, and to a lesser extent A.J. Burnett rack up strikeouts beyond what those the Bucs’ starting pitchers of the early 90′s were capable of.
This year’s Pirates starting rotation isn’t just good – it is historically good. The numbers thus far bear that out. Here are the best ERAs from the Pirates starting pitchers in the last 40 years:
Right now Gerrit Cole leads the National League with a 1.71 ERA. He is a legitimate CY Young candidate, if not the front runner. A.J. Burnett is second in the NL with 1.89 ERA. Francisco Liriano‘s ERA is now below 3.00. Charlie Morton has a 1.62 ERA in 5 starts since returning from the DL. That makes 4 really solid starting pitchers that are being rolled out right now. Jeff Locke is the lone weak link, and even he has proven capable of pitching well in stretches. There are still close to a 100 games remaining in this season. Some regression is to be expected. I highly doubt any of these guys will finish with sub 2.00 ERAs. But I’ve already seen enough to declare this an extremely good starting staff. So, is this the best Pirates starting rotation in my lifetime? I’m not one to put the cart before the horse, but I think it is.