Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz has never been afraid to share his opinions on current baseball matters, even when he knows it might catch him some flak.
That will likely be the case again after the current MLB Network and Fox Sports analyst apparently rated a current starting rotation’s top three ahead of the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame trio from the 1990s and 2000s that featured himself, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.
According to MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart, Smoltz made a phone call to Houston Astros owner Jim Crane on Friday to rave about the team’s addition of Zack Greinke at the trade deadline.
In the same conversation, Crane says Smoltz claimed that Houston’s new top three, which features Greinke, Gerrit Cole and certain Hall of Famer Justin Verlander, is better than his Braves trio ever was.
Astros owner Jim Crane said John Smoltz called him today to gush about his rotation: "Smoltz said 'Man, you really did a great job of putting that together.' I said, 'Yeah, it looks like Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux.' He said, 'No, no, you guys are way better than we ever were.'"— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) August 2, 2019
We’ll take Crane’s word that Smoltz said it.
Smoltz was previously on record saying Houston was MLB’s most complete team when healthy. That was before Greinke was acquired, so it’s no surprise that he would offer even more praise after the Greinke trade.
The oddmakers in Las Vegas agreed that Greinke’s addition moved the needle, making the Astros World Series favorites in the immediate aftermath of the trade deadline.
Whether Smoltz thought the comment would be repeated is another matter.
Nonetheless, ranking Houston’s current big three over the Braves iconic big three will certainly raise a few eyebrows and perhaps ruffle some feathers. Particularly down in Atlanta.
How the trios compare
In looking at the career numbers, there's definitely a strong comparison to be made.
Justin Verlander: 3.35 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 9 K/9, 422 career games (all starts).
Zack Greinke: 3.36 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 478 career games (437 starts).
Gerrit Cole: 3.30 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 183 career games (all starts).
John Smoltz: 3.33 ERA, 1.17 WHIP. 8 K/9, 723 career games (481 starts).
Greg Maddux: 3.16 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 6.1 K/9, 744 career games (740 starts).
Tom Glavine: 3.54 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 5.3 K/9, 682 career games (all starts).
Who has the edge?
What we can take away from the numbers is there’s not a lot separating these groups based on their results.
Houston's trio is more overpowering with the much higher strikeout rates. If you like strikeout highlight reels, you'll definitely favor that side.
If you like more finesse pitching and efficiency, that's where the Braves excelled. They didn't strike batters out as much, but they got outs often times by setting up batters to get themselves out.
Smoltz gives the Braves side a little more versatility after notching 154 career saves during a 3 1/2 year stint as Braves closer. Then again, Verlander has spent his entire career facing American League lineups.
The biggest differences, obviously, are the sheer number of innings, outings and accolades. The Braves trio managed to sustain its excellence for nearly two decades, winning a combined seven Cy Young awards along the way. Verlander and Greinke each have one.
That leaves Cole as the man who will ultimately settle this debate. He has a long ways to go though to build up and solidify his résumé.
In the here and now, it’s fair to say the Astros trio deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. Better than the Braves ever were, though, might be blowing smoke.
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