Last Thursday, the Los Angeles Angels signed both Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson in a sequence of moves that basically told the team's fan base "we're going to Disneyland, and I'm buying you ice cream!" This makes sense if you assume that the team's fan base is four. Ice cream is great and all, but nobody cares about ice cream when you're going to Disneyland, and nobody really cared that much about Wilson, what with the whole Albert Pujols thing at the same time. Wilson is a good pitcher now; Pujols is among the greatest hitters in history.
But the Angels did sign Wilson, and while Wilson isn't on Pujols' level, and could never dream of being on Pujols' level, the fact of the matter is that Wilson was probably the best starting pitcher on the free agent market. That's a good add, if an overshadowed add.
The signing has led some to wonder whether the Angels now have the best starting rotation in baseball. Here's a sample article from MLB.com, although this one only looks at top-fours. I probably wouldn't go so far as to say that the Angels have the top rotation in the game, because there are some awesome rotations, but the Angels have a good one. Wilson, as you know, joins Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana among well-known standouts.
I'm not here to investigate whether the Angels have baseball's best rotation, though. That could be a fun project for another day, but it's not what I'm doing now, not while various other rotations are still getting sorted out. Rather, thinking about the Angels, I've grown curious: who is the best starter on the team?
One's first response might be that this is a preposterous question. Jered Weaver just put up a 2.41 ERA. The year before, he put up a 3.01 ERA. Weaver's been talked about as a developing ace and then as an established ace throughout his entire career. It has to be Weaver, right?
One's second response might be that this is an irrelevant question. Who cares which starter is the best? They're all on the same team. They're not competing with one another, and rotation order is unimportant.
It's true - this is an irrelevant question, at its heart. It doesn't matter which of the Angels' starters is the best, because they're all Angels starters. But people love lists and rankings, even if the lists and rankings are insignificant, and I promise it's not as simple as saying "easy, it's Weaver." This is something to talk about, so let's talk about it!
Going forward, you should be familiar with FIP. If you aren't, read that link. It's not that long, I swear. Now then, C.J. Wilson has been a starter for two seasons. In the interest of fairness, let's compare Wilson to Jered Weaver and Dan Haren over the last two seasons. We'll go ahead and eliminate Ervin Santana from consideration right now, because, yeah.
Since 2010, Haren and Wilson have been good pitchers, but the numbers suggest that Weaver has been a step above. He has a small but significant edge in FIP, supported by an edge in strikeouts. If the past goes a long way towards determining the future, then this table indicates that Weaver is probably the Angels' best weapon.
But! Of course there's a but. I don't think it's that simple. The thing about looking at the past is that we should weigh the recent past more heavily than the more distant past, right? Here, 2011 is the recent past and 2010 is the more distant past, and in 2011, Wilson took a big step forward - maybe building off of the 2010 experience - while Weaver's strikeouts returned to earth. Haren reduced his strikeouts and walks. Observe the following table.
You don't want to put too much stock in one single season of data. At the same time, in this one single season of data - the most recent season of data - it's difficult to pick between the three starters, with Haren maybe looking like the best. Weaver has the advantage in runs allowed, but that's not a very predictive statistic. Wilson probably can't quite sustain his 2011 home run rate.
It's still not that simple - there are matters of park factors to take into account, and there are other things to take into account. A big question is how much you believe in Wilson's improvement, and it also matters where you peg Weaver's strikeouts. But, honestly, I'm having a hard time. I came into this trying to figure out which is the best Angels starter, and I don't know. I can see an argument for Haren. I can see an argument for Weaver. And, if I squint, I can see an argument for Wilson. Statistically, they're all that close, and they all look like workhorses to boot.
I guess, if you're looking for me to take a position, I'll go with Haren, by a little bit. But that isn't a pick I make with a ton of confidence. These guys are all great, and congratulations, LAnaheim - these guys are all yours.
It is, like I said before, an irrelevant question. It doesn't matter who's the best, because they're all Angels. And that's precisely what should make this question so much fun for Angels fans to ask one another.