Greatest World Series Rotations of All Time

Between Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin on the Nationals and Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Zack Greinke on the Astros, six of the top 13 pitchers by WAR will be starting in the first three games of the World Series.

2019 Pitching WAR Leaders
Name IP ERA FIP WAR
Gerrit Cole 212.1 2.50 2.64 7.4
Jacob deGrom 204 2.43 2.67 7.0
Lance Lynn 208.1 3.67 3.13 6.8
Max Scherzer 172.1 2.92 2.45 6.5
Justin Verlander 223 2.58 3.27 6.4
Charlie Morton 194.2 3.05 2.81 6.1
Stephen Strasburg 209 3.32 3.25 5.7
Shane Bieber 214.1 3.28 3.32 5.6
Zack Greinke 208.2 2.93 3.22 5.4
Lucas Giolito 176.2 3.41 3.43 5.1
Walker Buehler 182.1 3.26 3.01 5.0
Hyun-Jin Ryu 182.2 2.32 3.10 4.8
Patrick Corbin 202 3.25 3.49 4.8
Jack Flaherty 196.1 2.75 3.46 4.7
Zack Wheeler 195.1 3.96 3.48 4.7
Orange = Astros
Blue = Nationals

That’s a staggering amount of good pitching packed into just one series. Even if both teams use a fourth starter, 75%-87% of all starters in the World Series will come from the list above. That has to be the best collection of present pitching talent in a World Series, right? Let’s test it out.

First, some general analysis. The Nationals rotation overall this season put up 21.4 WAR, first in baseball. The Astros rotation, which had Greinke for only one-third of the season, put up 19.4 WAR, fourth in the game. Since 1974, the 2019 Nationals’ WAR total ranks 17th (2011 Phillies are first) while the Astros’ ranks 47th out of the 1288 team seasons. The Nationals are the 11th team since 1974 to make the World Series with an MLB-leading rotation WAR. The previous 10 teams are 3-7, with the 1990s Braves’ 1-3 record not exactly helping. The last team to enter the World Series after leading baseball in rotation WAR was the 2012 Detroit Tigers with Verlander, Scherzer, Aníbal Sánchez, and Doug Fister, but they lost to the Giants. If we go back to 1947 (with both relievers and starters included from 1947-1973), this is just the 13th World Series matchup between two clubs ranked in the top five of baseball. It is just the fifth World Series matchup between teams ranked in the top four, and only the 2001 World Series between the D-backs and Yankees featured a better average ranking between two opponents.

Here are the top rotations along with average MLB rank and WAR.

Top World Series Rotation Matchups Since 1947
Year AL Team WAR MLB Rank NL WAR MLB Rank Rank Average WAR Average
1966 Orioles 17.5 6 Dodgers 25.5 1 3.5 21.5
2003 Yankees 23.8 1 Marlins 19 5 3 21.4
2019 Astros 19.4 4 Nationals 21.4 1 2.5 20.4
1996 Yankees 14.3 10 Braves 24.6 1 5.5 19.5
1999 Yankees 15.9 5 Braves 22.8 1 3 19.4
1974 A’s 20 3 Dodgers 18.7 4 3.5 19.4
1963 Yankees 20.8 3 Dodgers 17.7 7 5 19.3
2001 Yankees 18.4 3 D-backs 19.6 1 2 19.0
1969 Orioles 20.5 4 Mets 17.3 7 5.5 18.9
1968 Tigers 17.8 5 Cardinals 19.8 3 4 18.8
2005 White Sox 18.4 3 Astros 18.8 2 2.5 18.6
1964 Yankees 19.1 3 Cardinals 18.1 5 4 18.6
1998 Yankees 18.4 2 Padres 17.7 3 2.5 18.1
1986 Red Sox 17.2 5 Mets 18.8 2 3.5 18.0
1954 Indians 19.9 1 Giants 15.8 5 3 17.9
1977 Yankees 13.4 11 Dodgers 22 1 6 17.7
1967 Red Sox 16.8 7 Cardinals 18.2 4 5.5 17.5
1995 Indians 13.9 5 Braves 21 1 3 17.5
1985 Royals 21 1 Cardinals 13.6 7 4 17.3
1983 Orioles 14.5 8 Phillies 20 1 4.5 17.3
1992 Blue Jays 14.2 9 Braves 19.9 1 5 17.1
1978 Yankees 17.2 4 Dodgers 15.6 6 5 16.4
1970 Orioles 20.4 4 Reds 12 17 10.5 16.2
1959 White Sox 13.9 8 Dodgers 16.7 3 5.5 15.3
From 1974-2019: All Starters in Season
From 1947-1973: All Starters and Relievers in Season

That’s one way of looking at this pitching matchup, and it already finds this year’s competition as one of the greatest in history. What’s above doesn’t necessarily represent what we will see in the World Series though. We’ll likely see a lot more of the better starters on a team, and with Greinke as an example, the best pitcher might not be accumulating numbers for one team all season.

To get a better sense of this World Series matchup, I looked through the top-three starters for the World Series rotations going back to 1947 and required that they start at least one World Series game that year. I then took the geometric mean of those three starters’ WAR so that we can see the greatest World Series rotations — or at least top-threes — for most of baseball history.

Best World Series Rotations Since 1947
Year Team SP1 SP1 WAR SP2 SP2 WAR SP3 SP3 WAR AVG WAR GEO MEAN WAR
1996 Braves John Smoltz 8.4 Greg Maddux 7.8 Tom Glavine 5.3 7.2 7.0
2019 Astros Gerrit Cole 7.4 Justin Verlander 6.4 Zack Greinke 5.4 6.4 6.3
2001 Yankees Mike Mussina 6.9 Andy Pettitte 5.8 Roger Clemens 5.6 6.1 6.1
2005 Astros Roy Oswalt 6.1 Roger Clemens 6 Andy Pettitte 5.8 6.0 6.0
1974 A’s Catfish Hunter 6.3 Ken Holtzman 5.5 Vida Blue 5.5 5.8 5.8
1966 Dodgers Sandy Koufax 9.1 Claude Osteen 4.8 Don Drysdale 4.1 6.0 5.6
2019 Nationals Max Scherzer 6.5 Stephen Strasburg 5.7 Patrick Corbin 4.8 5.7 5.6
1999 Braves Greg Maddux 5.6 Kevin Millwood 5.5 John Smoltz 5.4 5.5 5.5
1995 Braves Greg Maddux 7.9 John Smoltz 4.6 Tom Glavine 4.3 5.6 5.4
1973 Mets Tom Seaver 7.3 Jon Matlack 4.7 Jerry Koosman 4.4 5.5 5.3
1970 Orioles Jim Palmer 6.2 Dave McNally 4.9 Mike Cuellar 4.8 5.3 5.3
2003 Yankees Mike Mussina 6.1 Andy Pettitte 5.1 Roger Clemens 4.5 5.2 5.2
2012 Tigers Justin Verlander 6.9 Max Scherzer 4.5 Aníbal Sánchez 4.5 5.3 5.2
1954 Indians Mike Garcia 6.5 Bob Lemon 4.2 Early Wynn 4.7 5.1 5.0
1985 Royals Bret Saberhagen 6.2 Danny Jackson 4.6 Charlie Leibrandt 4.1 5.0 4.9
1969 Orioles Mike Cuellar 6.6 Dave McNally 4.7 Jim Palmer 3.7 5.0 4.9
1977 Dodgers Burt Hooton 5.1 Tommy John 5.1 Doug Rau 4.3 4.8 4.8
1983 Phillies Steve Carlton 7.4 John Denny 5.8 Charles Hudson 2.5 5.2 4.8
1992 Blue Jays Juan Guzman 5.5 David Cone 5.2 Jack Morris 3.7 4.8 4.7
1960 Pirates Bob Friend 7.1 Vern Law 4.2 Harvey Haddix 3.3 4.9 4.6
2001 D-backs Randy Johnson 10.4 Curt Schilling 7.2 Miguel Batista 1.3 6.3 4.6
1963 Dodgers Sandy Koufax 9.2 Don Drysdale 5.8 Johnny Podres 1.8 5.6 4.6
1963 Yankees Whitey Ford 5.2 Al Downing 4.7 Jim Bouton 3.6 4.5 4.4
1968 Tigers Denny McLain 7.2 Earl Wilson 3.6 Mickey Lolich 3.2 4.7 4.4
2005 White Sox Mark Buehrle 5.9 Freddy Garcia 4 Jon Garland 3.5 4.5 4.4
1992 Braves John Smoltz 5 Tom Glavine 4.6 Steve Avery 3.5 4.4 4.3
1968 Cardinals Bob Gibson 8.6 Ray Washburn 3.7 Nelson Briles 2.4 4.9 4.2
1998 Yankees David Cone 5.1 David Wells 4.4 Orlando Hernandez 3.4 4.3 4.2
Top three starters on each team with at least one World Series start.

That 1996 Braves team took a 2-0 lead on the Yankees and were in extra innings with a 2-1 series lead in Game 4. They lost the final two games 1-0 and 3-2 and needed just a bit more hitting in those contests to beat New York. The 2001 Diamondbacks stick out almost comically when looking at average versus geometric mean, which ensures any one (or two) numbers doesn’t carry too much weight. As good as Johnson and Schilling were, they still “only started” five of the seven World Series games against the Yankees. The Yankees team they played was more even one through three as the two teams played a very tight series.

Despite the better WAR totals for their rotation this season, the Nationals trio doesn’t quite measure up to the Astros once we move Greinke to Houston, but they present two of the top seven rotations in World Series history. Of the top 12 rotations heading into this season, these clubs ended up 3-9 in the World Series, and with Houston and Washington they will be 4-10 after this year. If we wanted to take a look at the matchup between the teams, we can do an average and geometric mean of the six pitchers between the teams. When we do that, this season rises to the top.

Best Combined World Series Rotations Since 1947
Season AL NL WS Average SP WAR WS SP GEO MEAN
2019 Astros Nationals 6.0 6.0
2001 Yankees D-backs 6.2 5.3
2005 White Sox Astros 5.2 5.1
1996 Yankees Braves 5.2 4.6
1992 Blue Jays Braves 4.6 4.5
1963 Yankees Dodgers 5.1 4.5
2003 Yankees Marlins 4.5 4.4
1985 Royals Cardinals 4.6 4.4
1999 Yankees Braves 4.5 4.3
1968 Tigers Cardinals 4.8 4.3
1969 Orioles Mets 4.5 4.3
1983 Orioles Phillies 4.5 4.2
1986 Red Sox Mets 4.4 4.1
1974 A’s Dodgers 4.8 4.1
1954 Indians Giants 4.4 4.1
1964 Yankees Cardinals 4.3 4.0
1995 Indians Braves 4.3 4.0
Top three starters on each team with at least one World Series start.

We could argue that the 2001 matchup was better, but we’d have to ignore Diamondbacks pitching after Johnson and Schilling. We could also weight the individual starting pitchers based on how many games they start, but we don’t yet have that information for this season. What we do know is that heading into the World Series, there have never been six better pitchers matching up against each other based on how they pitched in the regular season. We have future Hall of Famers in Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and maybe Zack Greinke along with Cy Young contenders Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. It’s possible we’ve never seen a better collection of current pitching talent in one World Series.

We hoped you liked reading Greatest World Series Rotations of All Time by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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tung_twista
Member
tung_twista

2001 Diamondbacks rotation is hilarious.
Randy Johnson 10.4, Curt Schilling 7.2 and then Miguel Batista 1.3.