Other ReclinerGM 2010 MLB previews
Lost in all the Hello Lee, Hello Halladay, Goodbye Lee business is the fact that Brett Myers was our opening day starter last year. And the year before. Brett “career 4.40 ERA” Myers. And we went to the World Series both years. This year, for the first time since Curt Schilling left, we have an honest-t0-goodness proven ace for an entire season and on paper, the best rotation we’ve had in years.
1st Starter – Roy Halladay, RHP
2009 Recap: Arguably the best pitcher in baseball, Halladay went 17-10 with a 2.79 ERA and 208 strikeouts while pitching in a division that featured 3 of the top offenses in baseball. Everything you want to know about Halladay can be found here and here. If you don’t know everything there is to know about him already, you probably wouldn’t be visiting this website in the first place.
Cool Stat: Only 5 pitchers have had the following season twice: 235+ IP, 2.80 ERA or better, 5.0+ K/BB ratio. Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, Juan Marichal, Randy Johnson and Roy Halladay (’08 and ’09).
Room For Improvement 2010: He really doesn’t have any. He eats up more innings than any pitcher around, doesn’t walk people, strikes people out. I guess he could improve on his hitting, which is rumored to be pretty horrible.
2010 Outlook: How low can Halladay go? He put up an ERA of 2.78 over the last 2 seasons playing in the AL East. On average, those teams averaged 5.03 runs per game during that time. NL East teams (minus the Phils) averaged 4.51. If you attribute that ratio (4.51/5.03) to his ERA, you come out with 2.50. So while some people are expecting a huge drop in ERA, it’s likely that it will be something along those lines, if he pitches the same way he does last year. My guess is 220 IP, 18 wins, 2.50 ERA, 215 K’s and a very good chance at his 2nd Cy Young award.
2nd Starter – Cole Hamels, LHP
2009 Recap: Hamels had a historic post-season in 2008 that led us to our first World Series title in 28 years. However, he slacked a little in the off-season, came into camp unprepared and never really got off the ground in 2009. He velocity was down for the first part of the year, and then once that got up, his control struggled. His K/9 and BB/9 rates (the same as ’08) indicate that he was also the victim of some bad luck. In the playoffs, his lack of a 3rd pitch was glaring, and he got hit around a couple times. Despite all this, he still almost pitched 200 innings (193.2) and had a 4.32 ERA.
Cool Stat: Since 1930, the Phillies have only had 12 pitchers pitch at least 700+ career innings for the club with an ERA under 3.70. That’s pretty sad. Joining Hamels on the list are (in chronological order): Pete Alexander, Schoolboy Rowe, Russ Meyer, Curt Simmons, Robin Roberts, Larry Jackson, Rick Wise, Jim Bunning, Chris Short, Steve Carlton and Curt Schilling.
Room For Improvement 2010: Probably the biggest discussion this off-season, aside from player movement, has been whether or not Hamels can bounce back in 2010. There are 2 major things that needed to be done for this to happen. First, he had to show up in shape. Check. Second, he had to develop a reliable 3rd pitch to mix with his fastball and change-up. I had been hoping for a cutter after seeing how dynamic it made Cliff Lee and also because of how bad Hamels’ curve can look at times. After tinkering with a couple pitches, he’s seems to be listening to me and going with the cutter for now. How well he uses this pitch will have a huge impact on his 2010 season.
2010 Outlook: It’s my opinion (and the opinion of the readers, according to the poll on the left) that Hamels is THE most important player for the Phillies this year. So far, so good. If he keeps his velocity up, and develops an effective 3rd pitch, he could be in for a career year. It’s rare that you get the best case scenario from someone though, so I’m going to predict a season just above him 2008 numbers. Something in the neighborhood of 200 IP, 3.30 ERA. His bad luck in ’09, good prep in ’10, addition of a 3rd pitch, and well-documented competitive drive make me believe that he will have a big-time comeback year.
3rd Starter – Joe Blanton, RHP
2009 Recap: Just horrible to start the season (6.14 ERA in first 9 starts), but was then our most reliable starter the rest of the way (3.31 ERA in 22 starts, going into the 7th inning 13 times). Before Cliff Lee came around, he and J.A. Happ were holding this rotation together, which is saying something. Strangely, he had his most productive strike-out season ever, by far. His 7.5 K/9 were 2 full strikeouts higher than his previous best (5.5) and 1.3 higher than his number in 2008 with the Phils (6.2). Based on his FanGraphs page, it looks like he didn’t make any major changes in pitch selection (threw sliders and change-ups a little more instead of curves) and velocity (no change). The big change was that he got people to swing and miss at more pitches outside the strike-zone than in years past. In 2008, batters made contact with 71% of his pitches that they swung at outside the zone. In 2009, they only made contact with 57.6%.
Cool Stat: Why do “innings eaters” with high ERA’s get such big contracts? Well, only nine pitchers have pitched over 190 IP in each of the last 5 seasons. Nine. They are Blanton, Javier Vazquez, Jon Garland, Dan Haren, Andy Pettitte, Mark Buehrle, Bronson Arroyo, CC Sabathia and Derek Lowe.
Room For Improvement 2010: Get off to a strong start. If not for his horrible start, Blanton could have demanded a lot more money from us if he was coming to the table with a 3.31 ERA for the season.
2010 Outlook: It will be interesting to see if Blanton can duplicate his strong finish and also keep his strikeout rate up. I don’t think he is good enough to go through a whole season at an ERA around 3.30 like he did in his last 22 starts. Blanton has a 4.09 ERA since in 266 innings since joining the Phils, and I think that’s right around where he will be this season. I also think his K/9 rate will drop because it is too strange to me to see it jump as much as it did this far into his career.
4th Starter – J.A. Happ, LHP
2009 Recap: Happ was arguably the MVP of the pitching staff last year. He finished the year 8th in the NL in ERA (2.93) and put up one of the best rookie seasons in team history.
Cool Stat: Happ was only the 3rd Phillies pitcher since 1983 to pitch over 160 innings in a season with an ERA under 3.00 (John Denny and Curt Schilling).
Room For Improvement 2010: We all know that Happ was aided by some crazy RISP numbers which he won’t be able to sustain so it is extremely likely that he will “regress” in 2010. So he’s not going to really be looking to “improve” as much as he’s going to be trying to put together a solid season. To do so he’s going to have to have to be able to do 2 things. First, he’s going to have to deal with adversity, because he’s likely going to get hit around once or twice more than he did last year and he needs to be able to bounce back. Second, he’s going to have to be able to use his secondary pitches more. 70% of the pitches Happ threw last year were fastballs. This isn’t uncommon for young pitchers (Kershaw, Porcello and Scherzer were among the 9 pitchers who threw more), but unless it’s an electric fastball (those 3 guys are) hitters are going to be able to hit it after they see it enough times. He’s going to need to mix it up a little more this year to be effective.
2010 Outlook: Sabermetric folks and regular folks have been debating all winter about what to expect from Happ in 2010. In this case, I’m going to have to side with the Saber-people who say that Happ will have a natural regression due to uncommonly good “luck” last year. Happ is smart and seemed to handle pressure well last year and I think he will be a solid starter for us this year. Bill James prediction formula puts Happ at 188 IP with a 4.31 ERA. CHONE gives him 161 and 4.36. PECOTA puts him at 174 IP and a 3.80 ERA. Let’s assume that all these measurements are smarter than me and just average them out for “my” prediction: 174 IP, 4.16 ERA, 146 K. I would take that in a heartbeat from our 4th starter spot.
5th Starter – Jamie Moyer, LHP
2009 Recap: Unwatchable for the first part of the season, Moyer threw batting practice in his first 9 starts with an ungodly 7.42 ERA. But in his 17 appearances (12 starts) from June 23rd on, he actually had a 3.81 ERA. Before he got hurt, he was playing a valuable role in long relief with a 1.92 ERA in 5 long-relief appearances (average of 3.2 innings per appearance). His season was ended by some torn groin muscles.
Cool Stat: Only 6 left-handed pitchers in history have 250 wins and 2,300 strikeouts for their career. Hall-of-Famers Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, Steve Carlton and Warren Spahn, and non-HOFers Jim Kaat and Jamie Moyer.
Room For Improvement 2010: Here is a weird stat. For whatever reason, 58% of Jamie Moyer’s pitches in 2009 were fastballs, compared to 40% in 2008. He threw more fastballs than he has in the last 8 years and probably beyond that, but the data only goes back that far. The fastball’s came at the expense of his cutter, which he threw less frequently. Why the change? I have no idea – but I have reason to believe (the reason being that his fastball is 81mph) that throwing less fastballs in 2010 will be a very good idea.
2010 Outlook: Everyone, myself included, has left Moyer for dead. But as the season gets closer, it really wouldn’t surprise me if he pitches well this year. Am I counting on it? Absolutely not. But it’s possible. Moyer’s pitch velocity has not changed ONE bit since 2002. His FB velocity from 2003-2009 is 81.7, 81.6, 81.8, 81.7, 81.1, 81.2, 81.4. He has had the EXACT same repertoire (with the exception of his cutter losing a little velocity) for the last 7 years. Here are his numbers for those seasons…
2003- 215 IP, 3.27 ERA
2004- 202 IP, 5.21 ERA
2005- 200 IP, 4.28 ERA
2006- 211 IP, 4.30 ERA
2007- 199 IP, 5.01 ERA
2008- 196 IP, 3.71 ERA
2009- 162 IP, 4.94 ERA
Everyone though Moyer was done after the 2004 and 2007 seasons as well. But he wasn’t. Don’t be surprised if he puts together a decent final year, after all, he hasn’t changed one bit. (note: my official prediction is that he will start the year in the 5-spot and eventually be replaced by Kendrick).
6th Starter – Kyle Kendrick, RHP
2009 Recap: Kendrick spent most of the season in the minors, working on his change-up so that he could improve against lefties. He pitched well in AAA, with a 3.37 ERA in 143 IP. Lefties still hit him much better than righties, but he was dominant enough against righties (0.96 WHIP) that his numbers were solid. He performed very well after a September call-up (2.99 ERA in 21 IP) and that catapulted him into the 5th starter discussion for 2010.
Cool Stat: Since 1990, only 2 pitchers have even made it to 1,000 career innings with a K/9 ratio under 4.0: Aaron Cook and Kirk Rueter. Kendrick’s carrer K/9 rate is 3.9.
Room For Improvement 2010: See the “cool” stat. There are mounds of data that indicate you cannot have a productive MLB career with a K/9 rate as low as Kendricks. Cook and Rueter are the exceptions, not the rule. 170 pitchers have pitched 1000+ innings since 1990. 1.1% had Kendrick’s K/9 rate. You really need to get your K/9 rate up to about 5 before you start seeing decent pitchers. He showed improvement in his brief, 26 inning stint last year, with a 5.1 K/9 rate, but his rate was very low in the minors (3.9). He’s got to develop an out pitch of some kind or else the odds are really stacked against him.
2010 Outlook: Combine his strong finish, with a strong off-season and his complete attachment to Roy Halladay in Spring Training and a lot of people are optimistic about Kendrick. He has apparently improved his change-up and developed a more effective cutter. If both of those pitches are truly improved, he can drastically improve his chances of being in our rotation long-term. He’s only 25, so it’s certainly not too late for him in re-invent himself. I think he starts the year in the bullpen, and then replaces Moyer, coming in at about a 4.60 ERA for 2nd half of the season.
I have the Phillies rotation rated as the 2nd best in the NL (San Francisco) and the 4th best in the majors (NYY, BOS). If Cole Hamels comes around, Joe Blanton and Happ provide consistency and either Moyer or Kendrick step-up, we could win 100 games. Do I think that’s going to happen? No – there are always things that don’t go as planned in baseball, but the fact that’s it’s possible is pretty exciting.
If for some reason we get hit with injuries – we do have a couple minor leaguers who could step up including Drew Carpenter, Yohan Flande, Joe Savery or Drew Naylor. None of them are top prospects, but they could catch fire a la Kendrick in ’07.