Last year the Phillies were going to make history with the greatest rotation in recent baseball history. They did make history as the team won more games than any other Phillies team in history but they also made history as the first team with the greatest rotation to be knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. While the offense did not help things, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt both turned in uncharacteristic starts against the Cardinals which helped the Phillies ouster.
This year there is certainly less ballyhoo around Spring Training with the rotation. Having lost Roy Oswalt to Free Agency and partial retirement the Phillies only have three of their four aces intact for the upcoming season. Even last year there was a monkey wrench thrown into the gears as Joe Blanton got hurt, tried pitching through it with awful results, and subsequently missed most of the rest of the season. Later on Roy Oswalt’s tricky back began to act up and after returning to his home to help deal with hurricane devastation he also ended up spending time on the disabled list. Oswalt came back for the stretch run but he was not the same pitcher he was at the same time the previous year.
This year the Phillies will open the season in the capable hands of the best pitcher in baseball righthander Roy Halladay. Halladay since he has come over from the Toronto Blue Jays has been everything the Phillies could have asked. He has consistently won games by pitching deep and dominating hitters (.239 BAA) and being the Cy Young pitcher the Phillies hoped. He could have just as easily won the Cy Young award for a second straight year last year and probably would have had he pitched in a park like Chavez Ravine where the eventual winner Clayton Kershaw pitched most of his games. Not taking anything away from Kershaw who had a tremendous season but Halladay pitched in a bandbox and won consistently, even with a sputtering offense for most of the year. Halladay has completed 17 games in his two years in Philadelphia, giving the often over-used bullpen a bit of a rest. Halladay’s workout regimen in second to none so the Phillies know he will be in shape and ready to go from the opening bell.
The number two spot goes to lefthander Cliff Lee who returned triumphantly to Philly after his year away in Seattle and Texas. Lee started out a bit slow but in the middle of the season through the second half was almost unstoppable. He had a span of several shutouts (3 straight ending up with 6 total and in two other starts he was pulled after 8 shutout innings) at one point that no one in Philadelphia had ever seen in the team’s modern history. Lee won the same way Hallday was by going deep into games, walking few batters, and just dominating opposing hitters (.229 BAA). Lee also helped himself on the offensive end with a few home runs and even stealing a base. Enough so that Cliff Lee was actually on the team’s depth chart as a pinch hitter. Lee was also heavily in the Cy Young Award voting at the end of last season.
The third spot is locked down by the home grown Cole Hamels. The former World Series MVP had his best season as a Phillie. Hamels looks to repeat his performance this year while remaining completely healthy. Last year he missed some time in August and had a tic tac sized bone chip in his elbow and a sports hernia which offseason surgery fixed. Hamels says he is ready to go and more importantly the Free Agent to be says he wants to get a deal done and stay in Philly with the Phillies for a long time. Few teams across the league can say they have three starters as good as the Phillies since Hamels also, like Halladay and Lee, was in the Cy Young Award voting. Batters only hit .214 against Hamels and his WHIP was 0.99 which was a fraction better than both Halladay (1.04) and Lee (1.04). One reason some people believe Kershaw won the Cy Young was because three Phillies were competing amongst themselves for the award and Kershaw was able to grab it while the Phillies pitcher’s votes got split into three parts.
The fourth starter is another home grown product of the Phillies system in young Vance Worley. After spending time between Lehigh and Philly the previous year and getting his first taste of big league action the 24 year old Worley was expected to spend another full season at AAA. Blanton and Oswalt’s injuries changed that plan and Worley ran with the opportunity he was given. After some time in the bullpen and a short stint back at AAA Worley cemented himself into the Phillies rotation with very good pitching. He pitched to an 11-3 record with a 3.01 ERA a 1.23 WHIP and a BAA of .237 in 131 innings. He even pitched his first complete game in the Majors on July 26th.
Many predict Worley will take a major step back this season as they say he pitched way over his head. They think he will be like JA Happ who impl oded after being dealt to Houston. One difference between the two is that the Phillies do not have minor leaguers playing and subpar fielding infielders in their defense. Some of those ground balls which went through in Houston on Happ would have been fielded had he been with the Phillies. Another point in Worley’s favor is most scouts think he does have better stuff than Happ did. As long as Worley keeps the balls on the ground it should not be very hard to think that he can have some success in 2012.
For the second straight year Joe Blanton opens as the 5th starter. After his injury decimated 2011 Blanton spent the offseason working out and has come to camp in the best shape he has been in since the Phillies acquired him from Oakland for Matt Spencer, Josh Outman, and Adrian Cardenas, none of whom still play for Oakland in any capacity. Before his injury troubles Blanton was a dependable inning eating back of the rotation guy most teams would have been envious to have, just not at the price the Phillies are paying. Blanton is a free agent at the end of the year and he wants to have a big year. His hold on the 5th starter spot is not set in stone however as Kyle Kendrick, Dave Bush, and Joel Piniero are also competing for the spot.
The Phillies even tried upgrading the spot by trying to acquire AJ Burnett and have been discussing moving Blanton in both that deal and in an effort to bring Roy Oswalt back. Their failure to do either mean Blanton is the favorite to begin the season as the five. However part of that may be because teams want to see him throw after the injuries before they will trade for him. Even then the Phillies will most likely have to eat a good amount of his contract to move him.
The 6th starter/long man in the pen is once again Kyle Kendrick. The same Kyle Kendrick who pitched well enough last season splitting time in the rotation and bullpen than Ruben Amaro decided he just had to extend his contract for two years (after already signing him to a one year deal, which was voided by the new deal). He is also the same Kyle Kendrick who was bombed in many starts from 2008-2010 and the same one with one of the worst strikeout per 9 inning rates among active starters. In fairness he did show good value last year filling in for Blanton and Oswalt and also in pitching in the bullpen. If his career is any indicator though he is very Saberhagenesque in that he has a good year, bad year, good year, bad year and the bad news is, he had his good year last year and the Phillies may have just wasted money that could have been better spent.
After Kendrick the Phillies signed Joel Piniero for depth. Piniero was once the top prospect in Seattle’s system and had an arm scouts drooled over but that was many years ago and also a few injuries back. He seemed to right himself in St Louis but two injury plagued seasons in Los Angeles for the Angels lead to him signing only a minor league contract with the Phillies. He is a sinkerball pitcher and despite his shoulder problems he has not lost a lot of movement on his sinker. If healthy Rich Dubee might be able to bring Piniero back to his St Louis form, if he doesn’t and he cannot pitch effectively the Phillies really have not lost anything except some cash. It was a chance worth taking.
Down at AAA young Drew Naylor blew out his arm and needed Tommy John surgery missing the season. He is fully recovered and while it is a long shot he makes it to the Phillies he is on the depth chart along with veterans Dave Bush and Nate Bump. The younger prospects are Austin Hyatt and JC Ramirez. Hyatt really put himself on the map and might be the first arm called to the Majors if the Phillies need help, if he is pitching well at AAA. Ramirez had an up and down season at AA and projects more as a reliever than a starter but he may see action anyway. Ryan Feierabend, Tyson Brummett, Tyler Cloyd, and Scott Elarton round out the pitchers who may be in the AAA rotation waiting for a call to come up and pitch for the Phillies.
If the Phillies really want to reach down, the baby aces will all be at Reading, Trevor May, Brody Colvin, John Pettibone, and Julio Rodriguez probably are not ready, but it is not unheard of for the Phillies to bring a pitcher up from the Reading Phillies. May in particular took tremendous strides in his development at Clearwater.
One name to also not rule out is Roy Oswalt. He is sitting out the beginning of the year, but if injuries and ineffective pitching show a real need on the team the Phillies just may reach into the vault and bring the 4th ace back to the team.
Are the baby aces ready?
Be sure to check out the rest of this series:
Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies – The Infield: First Base
Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies – The Infield: Second Base
Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies – The Infield: Third Base
Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies – The Infield: Shortstop
Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies: Catcher
Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies: The Outfield
Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies: Pitching – The Bullpen
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Barry Jeffrey Jr. writes “The Crow’s Nest” column for PSC.