Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Philadelphia Phillies' Starting Rotation in Profile

by Matt Gilmartin

Below is a preview of the Philadelphia Phillies' starting rotation, formatted to talk about each individual pitcher in the order in which they are listed on the Phillies' official depth chart. Without further adieu...

Cole Hamels stays around the plate, which is good because he strikes out a lot of hitters but doesn’t give up many walks. And oftentimes, when the batter does make contact, he just hits a grounder or a pop-fly to an infielder.

But this tendency also means he surrenders too many home runs for an elite pitcher.

Last year, his durability improved as he threw 227.1 innings in 33 starts—as compared to 183.1 in 2007—and he also began to establish himself as a strikeout machine (he had 196 strikeouts, whereas his previous best had been 177 in ‘07). Also, Hamels only walked 10 more batters despite starting five times more than he did in 2007.

Hamels’ win-loss record last season, 14-10, wasn’t super. But credit that more to a lack of run support than to his ERA of 3.09.

The only other knock on Hamels the number of home runs he gives up; he's averaged 24 allowed over his three seasons in the majors. But when you’re around the plate as much as Hamels, you’re bound to give up a few more dingers.

Keep in mind that Hamels’ command seems to have improved. In his first two years in the bigs, the 25-year-old southpaw didn’t throw any shutouts. But in 2008, he nabbed a couple.

While it would be nice if Hamels didn’t give up as many longballs, he is still definitely an elite hurler, and clearly deserving of being Philadelphia’s top starter.

Brett Myers looks more like a No. 4 or No. 5 pitcher. Maybe a No. 3. But a No. 2?

Get real. Since going 12-7 with a 3.91 ERA and tallying 189 strikeouts in 2006, Myers has a win-loss record of 15-20 with a 4.44 ERA.

He also has given up 38 home runs in 258.2 innings, or one homer each seven innings. His accuracy has been an issue, too (92 walks to 246 strikeouts).

To be an effective No. 2 pitcher, Myers will need a lot of run support.

Age doesn’t seem to affect Jamie Moyer, who's 46 years young, much. Since 2005, he has had only one losing season.

In 2008, he recorded 16 wins to seven losses and a 3.71 ERA. In that season, he surrendered a respectable 20 home runs; not bad, but not good, either.

Moyer does allow a lot of hits—in 18 of his 23 MLB seasons, he's given up more base knocks than he’s pitched innings.

Accuracy is the part of his game that has declined with time. He hit 11 batters in 2008, a figure that tied his career high set back in 2004. He’s not much of a strikeout pitcher, and his modest career high of 158 was achieved back in ’98.

He sat down a mere 123 hitters in 2008. Plus, in the last couple of years he has averaged 64 walks per season.

But on the bright side, Jamie has had a good spring, allowing 11 hits in as many innings but keeping the runs to a minimum (three, one was a homer). Moyer’s strikeouts (seven) have outnumbered his walks (four).

Despite his fading accuracy, it appears Jamie Moyer could have a competent season as the Phillies’ No. 3 pitcher.

Joe Blanton has been inconsistent in his four MLB seasons as a starter, but he is still a young player who could improve his game. He’s been doing fairly well in Spring Training and is currently sporting a 3.72 ERA.

Blanton has pitched 9.2 innings, yet has avoided giving up a home run and has only surrendered one walk. He has struck out four; if he cuts down on the hits, he could be in for a strong season.

Joe's unpredictable, and we will likely not know just how he will do until he has pitched a solid number of innings in the regular season. But he’s gotten off to a promising start, so things are encouraging.

J.A. Happ made a nice ML outing in 2008. He went 1-0 with a 3.69 ERA and 26 strikeouts to 14 walks in eight games (four of which were starts). Additionally, he didn’t cough up too many big flies, with just three allowed to his name.

Happ has impressed so far this spring, with 10 hits in 11 innings. The biggest drawback is Happ’s tendency to give up the long ball (two of his three earned runs have been surrendered via homers). But he just about makes up for that with his 9:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Playing with the Phillies’ AAA affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, Happ registered a combined win-loss record of 12-13 with a 2.11 ERA in '07 and '08. He surrendered a total of 26 home runs in 253.1 innings during those two years. Plus, he struck out 268 batters in that time but walked a mere 110 guys.

Happ is a talented prospect with plenty of potential who should find himself in the majors soon after the start of the regular season, if not at the start.

Chan Ho Park spent 2008 playing a relief role with the Los Angeles Dodgers, compiling a 4-4 win-loss record with a 3.40 ERA and 79 strikeouts while giving up just 36 walks and 12 homers.

The downside to Park is the number of hits he gives up and his endurance. Since 2002, Park has given up more hits than he’s pitched innings. But 2008 was better than usual in that respect, as Park surrendered 97 hits in 95 frames.

Keep in mind that Park hasn’t pitched true starter innings since 2001, when he worked 234 innings, so fatigue could be a factor late in the season.

Kyle Kendrick is a developing prospect who already has a lot of major league experience—and success—for someone entering his third season of MLB. In two seasons in the majors, he's had a combined 21 wins and 13 losses, 4.68 ERA, and 138 IP.

But Kendrick needs to improve his command and accuracy. In 276 innings, Kendrick has allowed 323 hits, which is dismal, even for someone with his lack of tenure. In that same span, Kendrick has given up 82 walks and notched only 117 strikeouts.

Kendrick is a tremendous prospect who could become the Phillies’ No. 2 or No. 3 pitcher of the future, but he still has some work to do.

After finishing 2008 in AAA Lehigh Valley with a 2-2 record, 5.17 ERA, and 46 strikeouts compared to a mere 13 walks, Carlos Carrasco hasn’t been doing particularly well in Spring Training. Despite a friendly 2-1 record, Carrasco gives up a run about every 1.4 innings. He also allows more home runs than is preferred (two of the seven runs he’s surrendered were longballs).

But when he isn’t giving up hits, Carrasco generally strikes out hitters: He’s fanned 10 batters thus far in the warmup games, and he often had a lot of strikeouts in the minors.

Carrasco appears to be a decent prospect, but he’s a likely at least a year away from the majors.

The Philadelphia Phillies have a solid rotation, boasting of a nice mix of veterans and prospects, all of whom bring different things to the table. The group should do its part to help the Phillies get back to the World Series, as long as it gets a little help from the potent lineup.

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