Friday, May 11, 2012

Philadelphia Phillies: Aces Without a Lineup

Making our way into the NL East, we’ll start off with the defending NL East champion Phillies. For what it’s worth the Phils have recently made a good habit of fielding one of the best rotations in baseball. Looking at this rotation shouldn’t really reveal anything new to anyone but I’m determined to cover every team, and I might as well get a boring one out of the way now. The Phillies rotation is stacked about as well as one could ask for, and doesn’t look to be in bad shape though depth might not exactly be their ally.

Vance Worley is in his second season as a regular starter in the bigs, after a brief audition in 2010, and 21 starts last year, we’re still seeing the same kind of numbers across the board from Worley which bodes well for the young starter.The biggest changes Worley has seen are his home run numbers, giving up twice as many homers/9 so far this year than he has previously, but that’s not likely much more than his two rough starts skewing stats a bit. His BABIP is about 30 points higher than it was last year, and is 25 points above the league, so that might come down a bit, and he’d benefit from that a bit, but overall he has been able to limit the damage when opponents have gone yard, and has pitched 38 innings so far with a 2.84ERA. Worley has recorded 4 quality starts in 6 attempts so far, and has gone no less than 6 innings in an outing this year. If Worley can keep the ball in the park this is going to be a very good year for him, and will go a long way toward making the Phils look long and hard at giving him an extension.

Joe Blanton has been pretty widely considered an innings eater and not a ton more over the course of his career, and now at 31 looks to be putting together a pretty good early start to his walk year. Blanton has been a bit up and down so far but overall has pitched respectably even in his non-quality starts. He did give up 3 unearned runs against the Padres, which helps keep his ERA pretty this early in the season, but after missing most of last season, Blanton has come back looking more dominant than ever before, walking fewer batters and keeping the ball in the yard at a completely unsustainable rate. His BABIP is pretty close to his lifetime average, and not far off the league, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see that still close to the .292 it sits at now come the end of the year. I’d look for Blanton to continue looking good, but as the season wears on that home run number is going to have to come up, but even with that he could be putting up a better than league average year, and be well positioned for his next foray into free agency.

Cole Hamels has so far looked like... Cole Hamels. Aside from a rather stupid admission of guilt when drilling Bryce Harper, Hamels has looked sharp. He’s keeping his walk rate down, and strikeouts up while most of his other stats look right on board with the rest of his stat sheet from last year. I would be concerned about his Groundball to flyball ratio given the size of his home park, and the massive disparity from last year, but it’s actually more of a return to form (and a good bit of small sample size) after a very good year. He’s giving up a little over ½ as many ground balls per flyball compared to last year. Hamels will probably start to correct up a bit and give up a few less fly balls over the course of the season. His BABIP is higher than I’d expected, but it’s not really out of the question, and will probably come down a bit as he keeps the ball on the ground better.

Cliff Lee has missed 3 turns in the rotation so far, but has been a beast in 3 of the 4 other starts he’s made, and was merely good in the other. Lee isn’t lighting up the strikeout numbers like he did last year, but he’s still very close to his career numbers, and his walk rate is exceptional. Lee’s BABIP is an absolute joke, even if you look at only his very good/great years, he’s about 60 points below what he’s given up lifetime. I don’t think that’s going to continue. Lee is keeping the ball down at unprecedented rates as well, through 4 starts and 29 innings about 62% of balls in play are on the ground for Lee, who has never had a season at or over 50%, that’s going to change. Cliff Lee is a great pitcher, and will look good in just about every start he makes this year.

Roy Halladay has been an absolute monster for his whole career. He has managed to have an ERA over 4 all of twice in his career, and it just doesn’t look like that’s going to change this year. 6 of his 7 outings have been quality starts, and he’s only gone less than 7 innings once so far this season. Honestly looking over Halladay’s stats it’s a little jarring, aside from a dip in strikeouts and a slight rise in walk rate, there is nearly no other change in his stat line. His BABIP is probably a little low looking at his career numbers, and has been somewhat lucky on line drives so far. He’s getting ground balls (a shade over 50% of the time) right in line with the last 3 seasons all but exactly and isn’t giving up any more extra base hits than he has in recent years. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Halladay’s strikeout numbers come back up a bit, and will likely start to see his walk rate come down a bit too, and we’d see another great year out of Doc.

So after having had nothing really bad to say about any of the 5 starters that the Phils are putting out there, it’s amazing to have to say that they’re the worst team in their division right now. Granted, it’s early yet, the team is not looking good with Jimmy Rollins looking more like the shortstop many expected Jeter to be at 37-38 than the guy the Phils thought they were resigning at 33. The team is not at all handling the loss of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley so far, and need to find a better way to replace their production than Ty Wigginton and Freddy Galvis, or they need to find a way to get their lineup to hold on while the two injured players get ready to come back. That aside, their bullpen has been somewhat less than impressive so far. If the Phils can’t start shaking quality innings out of the ‘pen, and can’t find a way to get their lineup to produce for one of, if not the best rotation in the majors, the Phillies are going to look awful silly by the end of the year.

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