The Crow’s Nest: Breaking down the 2011 Phillies – The Rotation

Phillies ace Cliff Lee

Phillies ace Cliff Lee

By Barry Jeffrey Jr.:

The offense may have lost a big part in losing Werth but the Phillies went out and trumped that by getting the one thing people always say brings wins, pitching. 

The rotation that was already running three top flight pitchers in Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, adds another World Series caliber lefthander.  Cliff Lee replaces the ageless Jamie Moyer, who was injured halfway through the season last year and was let go as a free agent (Moyer also suffered another arm injury and will miss the 2011 season).  This moves Joe Blanton back to the 5th starter slot and Kyle Kendrick or Vance Worley to the bullpen as a long man with the other pitching at AAA as depth. 

Halladay, after coming over to the Phillies lived up to his billing as one of the top pitchers in the game.  Throwing a perfect game and a playoff no hitter and becoming the first Phillies pitcher to win 20 games since Steve Carlton back in the 80’s, Halladay in one season stamped his name as one of the best pitchers in team history.  His 21 wins could have easily been 24 or 25 had the Phillies offense scored some runs during a few of his quality starts.  A tireless and hard worker, his work ethic has rubbed off on the other Phillies pitchers and even some of the position players.  Halladay also proved his toughness during the playoffs pitching against the Giants on a groin that he injured while making a play in the field.  The one factor many point to as possibly alarming is the 250 regular season innings he logged last season.  In those 250 innings he struck out 219 and only walked 33 batters.  Inning numbers like that the Phillies fans haven’t seen since Curt Schilling left.

Cliff Lee has spent the last two seasons pitching in the World Series, albeit losing both times.  He is hoping a third time is the charm for him.  Lee was the most sought after free agent pitcher this offseason and took less money than was on the table from the Yankees, to re-sign with the Phillies.  Last season after his trade from the Phillies Lee was injured to start the season.   When he came back he was pitching extremely well for a Mariners team that did not produce a lot of offense or wins, before he was dealt at the deadline to the Rangers.  Lee almost ended up on the Yankees, the Yankees thought they had a done deal and were ready to fix paperwork to the MLB offices, when the Rangers jumped in and offered their top hitting prospect Justin Smoak and the Mariners reneged and sent him to Texas.  He didn’t pitch as well in Texas, and word is the heat affected him while pitching in Arlington.  The most amazing stat Lee had was he only walked 18 batters in 212 innings pitched. Back in the National League, Lee should once again flourish.

Roy Oswalt, like Halladay and Lee, knows what it is like to win 20 games having done so twice.  With bad run support in Houston he was 6-12 when the Phillies acquired him for J. A. Happ, Anthony Gose, and Jonathon Villar.  After escaping Drayton McClane’s faltering team Oswalt only managed to go 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and an opponent’s batting average of .186.  Those are pretty good numbers for someone who is “aging” and has “back issues”. The back issues remain a point of concern to some, but he made it through the entire 2010 season without having any relapse of the 2009 injury.  Oswalt even managed to make an appearance in leftfield for the Phillies during a wild extra inning affair.  No one expects Oswalts numbers to stay as dominant as they were down the stretch, but even if he goes back to numbers near his regular career numbers, the Phillies number 3 is still head and shoulders above most of the other team’s 3rd starters.

Cole Hamels had a season last year that was flat out dominant at the end but you would not know it just looking at his wins and losses.  He could have easily won at least 5 more games had the Phillies actually scored runs for him.  At one point Hamels had to toss a bunch of shutout innings to actually win his games, the Phillies offense was that bad.  The former World Series MVP struck out 211 batters in 208 innings while holding opponents to a .237 batting average with a very respectable 1.18 WHIP.  Being the 4th starter (in name only) Hamels luck should improve some as he won’t be tangling with the Zack Grienkes and Tim Linecums as much as he will be pitching more against guys like the Aaron Cooks, Charlie Mortons, and Aaron Harangs of the league.  Face it, it is a lot easier to give up 2 or 3 runs and beat a Kenshin Kawakami than it is a Tim Hudson.

That brings us to the overlooked man in the rotation.  Joe Blanton.  Blanton’s season last year started off bad.  An injury during spring training that meant he could not open the season with the team then he got off to a slow start from being on the shelf for so long.  Blanton also drew the ire of fans because many viewed his $8 million contract as a reason Cliff Lee was sent out of town.  One thing many of the fans have missed is, down the stretch the last two years Joe Blanton has been as sound as any of the pitchers on the team.  His overall numbers would be laughed at as compared to pitchers from the 70s and 80s, but those days are long gone and the Phillies do win most of the games Blanton starts in.  Some slide rule guys might scoff at Blanton even being mentioned with the four aces ahead of him, but honestly, he deserves to be mentioned with them.  Unless he is traded, he is the 5th starter and a pretty darn good one, considering what other teams run out there as their 5’s. 

So far the things I have seen being talked about the Phillies rotation drawback wise is injury concerns and age.  As I mentioned in an article I wrote a few weeks ago, these people say that Phillies have age and injury concerns slight the same concerns for the Yankees, Red Sox, Braves, and other teams.  Could not a tweaked elbow happen to a CC Sabathia just as easily as Cliff Lee?  Couldn’t Josh Beckett’s back injury pop up just as easily as Oswalt’s?  With these age and injury questions being brought up by the mainstream media, depth is being mentioned as necessary for the Phillies.  That depth is now provided by last year’s 5th starter Kyle Kendrick, and young Vance Worley. 

Kendrick is an enigma.  One game he has great stuff and pitches one of the better ball games you will see, the next two starts he is totally sub par and knocked around like he was a piñata at a birthday party.  He does not have overpowering stuff, so a move to the bullpen as a swingman long reliever might pay off for him.  He has the inside track to be the extra starter since he is a tried option, having been the 5th starter on the team during 2007, 2008, and 2010.

Vance Worley was just another arm in the system that had some promise but no one was sure of what he would deliver.  He then went out and in 2010 pitched his way into the Phillies plans.  The youngster was called up in July for a cup of coffee in the bigs and impressed Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee in his one outing.  After the AAA season was over and he was called up in September, Worley was even given a chance to get a few starts in and he still impressed including 5 innings of 1 hit ball against the Braves and a 5 strikeout, 2 earned run start against the Marlins.

A third option is Ex-Tigers swingman Eddie Bonine.  A knuckleballer the Phillies signed early in the offseason to help provide depth to both the bullpen and rotation, he may junkball his way onto the depth chart with a good spring. 

After them the depth gets noticeably thin.  Drew Carpenter, Drew Naylor, Nate Bump, and several AAA regulars make up the next set of options.  One intriguing option may be Ryan Freierbend, a former top Mariners prospect whose career track was derailed by Tommy John surgery.  If healthy he may provide a left handed option for the rotation or bullpen.  The blossoms of the Phillies farm system are still at least two or three years away at Clearwater and Lakewood, so in the event something happens the Phillies will either soldier on with the above mentioned or somehow work out a trade.  Or they could always call Pedro Martinez and see if he wants another go at pitching.

I will do the bullpen and the position depth charts in my next article.

Click here to Comment and Discuss on the PSC Phillies message board forum   

Barry Jeffrey Jr. writes “The Crow’s Nest” column for PSC. – Philadelphia sports news, rumors, blogs, & message board discussion forums