A Surplus of Philly Starters But Only Five Spots: Who's In, Who's Out?
There is no such thing as too much pitching.
Welcome to the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies.
The Phillies feature an astonishing number of pitchers with the ability to start ballgames, but can only implement five in their rotation.
Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Joe Blanton are mainstays in the rotation. Brett Myers has already volunteered to join the 'pen upon his return.
That leaves it to J.A. Happ, Jamie Moyer, and Pedro Martinez to fight for the final roster spots. Not to mention that Chan Ho Park and Rodrigo Lopez are very capable starters being used as middle relievers.
Happ, Moyer, and Martinez. A rookie, a future Hall of Famer, and the oldest active player in the major leagues.
I thought I would visit this case to see what to do. I reviewed the three starters, then broke down an analysis of the three candidates.
The three starters:
The lefty ace is on track to become the best homegrown Phillies pitcher of all-time. He is a two-time All-Star and last year's postseason hero, taking home both the NLCS and World Series MVP awards while helping the city of Philadelphia to its first world title in 25 seasons.
Hamels has struggled at times this season and his current 4.68 ERA won't turn any heads, but he is still one of the game's elite pitchers when he is on his game.
For his career, Hamels is a much better pitcher in the second half of the season, with a second-half earned run average close to a full run than his first-half earned run average.
Phillies fans should expect to see their beloved World Series star pick up his game down the stretch as the Phillies get closer and closer to an attempt at becoming the first NL team to win back-to-back World Series in over 30 years.
Recently acquired in a trade with the Indians right before the trade deadline, Lee may not be Roy Halladay, but he and Hamels give the Phillies one of the best 1-2 punches in the National League.
Lee threw a complete game in his first start as a member of the Phillies and a dominating seven inning, one run outing in his second start. He has allowed just six runs in his first five starts, and despite just a 9-9 record for the season, he owns a 3.02 ERA for the year.
Lee is an experienced veteran who has been around for eight seasons and knows how to pitch effectively. He will be a huge part of the Phillies' playoff run.
His stock in the rotation is even more important given the overload of lefties in the rotation.
Blanton this season has become more than just an innings eater but quite possibly the most valuable Phillies starter since late May. Blanton has a 5-2 mark and 2.33 ERA in his last 12 starts, and he's provided the Phillies with solid starts nearly every single time he takes the mound.
He has gone at least seven innings in nine of them, including five straight. With Hamels and Lee as the 1-2 punch, Blanton has a huge role as the No. 3 starter.
The Phillies' rookie left hander is one of the biggest surprises in all of baseball this season. Happ wasn't even expected to be a starter at the beginning of the year, but has since proven he is well deserving of a spot in the rotation.
Although he is just the No. 4 starter for the defending World Champions, Happ could easily be a No. 1 or 2 on many other teams, and he is a huge reason why the Phillies have maintained a solid lead in the NL East.
Happ has had to pitch around trade rumors and the possibility of a demotion to the bullpen, but he's just continued to pitch well. Very well.
Happ's 2.74 ERA is over a run and a third better than the next best Phillies starter. He leads the team in winning percentage (.800). His 1.12 WHIP is one-sixth of a batter better than the team's second best pitcher. And he has 10 quality starts in just 14 starts, good for a team-best 71.4 percent.
In fact, Happ has been so dominant this season that he is a prime contender for the National League Rookie of the Year award.
Look how Happ fared Wednesday night with talk of a possible switch to the bullpen swirling. He tossed a complete game four-hit shutout, striking out ten batters. In doing so, Happ moved into a tie for first place in the National League with two shutouts.
Simply put, he is the Phillies' best starter each and every time he takes the mound. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. stated, “Happ's not going anywhere. He deserves to stay in the rotation. He's pitched very well. He's probably been our most effective starter.”
That should be enough to guarantee him a spot in the rotation.
But is it?
The fan favorite, the ageless one, the player-coach, the proven 23-year veteran born and raised just outside of Philly.
Moyer is a crafty lefty who gets by on experience and guile. He won't fool anyone with his 82-mile per hour fastball, but his changeup can be devastating. Moyer has proven to be an excellent mentor for young Cole Hamels, a similar left handed pitcher with a nasty changeup.
Last season, Moyer's 16 wins led the team and his quality start in Game 3 of the World Series helped bring a title back to Philly.
This year, Moyer has struggled. To say the least. His 10 wins still lead the team, but the more revealing numbers are the astronomic 5.55 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. He has pitched a quality start in just nine of his 21 starts this season, for a meager 42.7 percent.
Moyer has been very inconsistent, especially as of late. In his last nine starts, Moyer has either been very good or very bad. No in-betweens.
In the four even starts, he has pitched 26 innings and allowed just three runs, earning the win in all four games.
In the five odd starts, he has pitched 26 innings and allowed 26 earned runs.
I hate to say it, but it would have been nice if Moyer had retired after last season, just to go out on top.
That hurts me to say it, but Moyer doesn't have his best stuff this year, the first of a two-year, $13 million deal he signed last December with the Phillies.
So should he go to the bullpen?
Well... it's either him or Pedro.
A three-time Cy Young award winner and future Hall of Famer way past his prime, just barely hanging on in the major leagues.
Martinez has yet to pitch in the majors for the Phillies, but he has looked good in his rehab starts, particularly his last one in Double-A Reading, in which he struck out 11 while walking none in a six-inning, quality start.
Martinez is a righty, which would help mix up the core of lefties in the rotation. From what I understand, Martinez has a clause in his contract, which says he is not allowed to pitch in the bullpen.
At best, Martinez appears to be a fifth starter for the Phillies, but who knows? Maybe he'll be much better than we expect. Maybe he'll be the pitcher to push the Phillies over the top.
After all, Martinez has plenty of big league experience. He most likely won't start in the playoffs—given that he is likely to be the fifth starter at most and teams only implement four-man pitching rotations in the playoffs – but he could be vital down the stretch for a club looking to wrap up its third consecutive NL East title.
Martinez has only pitched 269.2 innings since 2006, and none yet at the major league level thus far this year. During that stretch, he has a 17-15 record with a 4.74 ERA, numbers that are marginal at best.
The Verdict: Well, it's not an easy decision, but I think I would go with Pedro as my fifth starter and Moyer to the bullpen. It is a very awkward move to send an experienced veteran and one of last year's postseason heroes to the 'pen, especially at his age, but I think it has to be done.
Moyer has pitched in the bullpen before. In 1996, he was briefly sent to the bullpen for the Seattle Mariners, where he posted a 2-0 record and 3.71 ERA in 13 games, before returning to the rotation.
Relief pitchers are normally expected to throw hard, and Moyer sometimes has trouble hitting 80 with his fastball, but I see no other logical decision.
Putting Pedro to the bullpen wouldn't make sense to me, because he has been doing well in rehab, he has been a capable starter before in his career, and Moyer is hurting the team vastly every other time he takes the mound.
I don't know if Amaro will necessarily demote Moyer to the 'pen—I would be surprised if he does—but I think if the Phillies want to win as many games as possible, that move makes the most sense.
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