The starting rotation is an interesting and revered construct in baseball. It usually consists of a group of five pitchers who are collectively a unit but do not really play together. Every five days, a new pitcher steps onto the mound and his comrades follow in the four days in between.
Building a rotation is predicated on picking pitchers with a combination of effective stuff and enduring stamina. There have, of course, been experiments with the starting rotation model, like when the Tampa Bay Rays instituted the opener. However, for decades, the five-man starting rotation has served as a staple. It is just that staple that we will work with today by building a rotation using only pitchers who attended the University of Cincinnati and went on to appear in Major League Baseball.
When I first started out on this exploratory expedition, I hoped there would be a sizable collection of former Bearcats who had made starts at the MLB level. Unfortunately that is not the case. In fact, former Bearcats have made 431 combined starts across MLB history, with 314 belonging to just one man. (You’ll read about him shortly). Still, despite a small pool of pitchers to choose from, here is the most experienced five-man starting rotation you could construct using former Bearcats.
Remember that guy who has accounted for the large majority of UC’s contributions to starting pitching at the MLB level? That would be Koufax, who may have spent a short time with UC but it still counts. He could have driven his number of MLB starts much higher but much in the same way Barry Sanders stepped away from the NFL while still at the height of his powers, Koufax did the same by retiring after his age 30 season in 1966. During that campaign, the left-hander won his third NL Cy Young Award in three years and earned his second-straight finish as the runner up in the NL MVP vote. Koufax actually won an MVP award in 1963 when he went 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA, 1.85 FIP and 306 strikeouts while adding his first Cy Young Award.
Koufax finished his Hall of Fame career with a career 2.76 ERA and 2.69 FIP, which means he was actually better than traditional stats even indicate. He also struck out 2,396 batters across 2,324 1⁄3 innings and in his final year, he led all of baseball in ERA (1.73), wins (27), innings pitched (323), complete games (27), strikeouts (317) and plenty more. In fact, his Baseball-Reference page is littered with black ink. He is as good a pick as any to be the ace of any staff, let alone this one.
The dropoff from No. 1 starter to No. 2 starter on this rotation is pretty steep. Day is second all-time in career MLB starts by a former Bearcat, having toed the rubber as a starter 60 times across five seasons between 2002 and 2006. The bulk of his production came in 2003 and 2004 when he made 42 combined starts.
The 2004 campaign was the peak of his career as a starter. He posted a 3.93 ERA across 19 starts and 116 2⁄3 innings, although his mark in FIP (4.71) showed that he had gotten a bit lucky.
In total, Day ended his career with a 4.66 ERA across 372 2⁄3 innings, including 332 as a starter. He was actually a bit better as a starter (4.64 career ERA) than a reliever (4.87 ERA). That might not be enough to be a No. 2 starter normally, but it will have to do for now.
Faul is one of the best players to ever suit up for the Bearcats. He was an All-American in 1961, which was an honor never before attained by a UC player, and that was the season before he had a program record 0.80 ERA. Unfortunately, Faul’s potential was never fully realized at the next level. He ended up pitching in 71 games (33 starts) during parts of six MLB seasons, playing three with the Detroit Tigers, two with the Chicago Cubs and then one year with the San Francisco Giants in 1970. Faul was at his best in 1965 with Chicago when he went 6-6 with a 3.54 ERA and 3.56 FIP in 17 appearances (16 starts). His career line comes up short compared with those numbers (12-16, 4.72 ERA, 4.58 FIP), but he’s the No. 3 starter for this group.
Beard is an interesting case. He pitched in 13 games (10 starts) in 1954 with the St. Louis Cardinals, but that was it. He never pitched in the majors again. It’s curious since he was in his age 25 season in 1954 and since he was an above average starter that year (111 ERA+). Even if his career went no further, his resume has enough on it to give him a rotation spot.
With apologies to Jack Bushelman and George Glinatsis, the fifth spot in the rotation goes to Bouldin. The right-hander was pretty effective with the Bearcats, His 1.41 ERA in 1959 is still the third-best mark by a UC pitcher with at least 50 innings thrown in a season. Bouldin got a shot in the majors after UC, but he never really found success. He had a 6.15 ERA in 71 2⁄3 innings across 27 outings (10 starts) during a four-year run with the Washington Senators from 1961 to 1964. However, you could argue that luck played a role, as Bouldin also had a 3.85 FIP in that time. If he had pitched in this day and age, perhaps another team would have looked at those underlying metrics and given him a shot at a longer career. For now he’ll have to settle for the fifth spot in the all-Bearcat MLB rotation.