The Rotation Conundrum


The trade deadline has come and gone. On July 31st at 4:01 p.m. there was no work order put in to start printing Roy Halladay t-shirts with a Phillies logo on the front. J.A. Happ took a step down off the chopping block and breathed a sigh of relief. Cliff Lee was mentally preparing for four at bats against Giants pitching. Rodrigo Lopez was lamenting a tough loss from the night before. Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer & Cole Hamels were all coming off of wins in their last starts anxious to see the reigning AL Cy Young award winner pitch for the reigning World Series champions. Brett Myers was throwing long-toss and gearing up for a weekend bullpen session. Pedro Martinez was gearing up for a rehab start with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Wait… Is Philadelphia about to have seven starting pitchers at their disposal? When was the last time anyone was able to say the Phillies had too much pitching? And how are they going to narrow it down to five?

Lopez has already made the move to the bullpen and will most likely stay there. Myers is scheduled to throw a simulated game in Clearwater on Thursday and although he may be back in Citizens Bank Park sooner than originally anticipated he will most likely pitch relief initially. Martinez gave up five hits leading to four runs (three earned) in six innings pitched on Wednesday versus the Trenton Thunder but more notably recorded eleven strike outs. Every day he inches closer to being major league ready and when he is he brings with him the question everyone has started to ask lately – will he be a starter and if so who is he replacing?

250px-Cliff_Lee,_philly.jpgCliff Lee was a force to be reckoned with on Friday at AT&T Park and proved quickly that the Phillies made the right move by investing in him. In his national league debut Lee pitched a complete game four-hitter in a 5-1 win over the Giants striking out six and walking two. Not only did he pitch brilliantly, he also went 2-3 at the plate hitting a long double in the eighth that would have easily been a homerun in Philadelphia. I’m fairly confident in saying Cliff Lee will not be sitting in the outfield any time soon.

hamels.jpgCole Hamels is battling to prove he can pitch like the Cole Hamels we saw in the 2008 post-season where he earned both NLCS & World Series MVP titles. Despite being statistically the second worst pitcher in the Phillies rotation his spot is secure.

Thumbnail image for joeblantonworldseries01.jpgBlanton is skating along proving to be one of the more consistent pitchers on the mound for Philly this season. So far he is 7-5 with a 4.02 ERA and 107 strike outs. Almost every one of his stats rank third of all of the Phillies current starting pitchers and the city knows they can generally expect a good solid outing from him even if his efforts sometimes go unanswered by the team’s offense.

So that leaves Moyer, the 46 year old that has had a rollercoaster of a season, and Happ who has been auditioning for his job since spring training. Happ has bullpen experience having started out there in the beginning of the season after losing the spring training pitching duel to Chan Ho Park (who has proved to be phenomenal in relief as of late). It’s almost natural for him to go back to the pen now that the Phillies have created a stock pile of starting pitchers to fill the voids left by Park and Myers earlier in the season.

happ_JA-735045.jpgIt’s not exactly as though Happ has been throwing like a substitute, though. In fourteen starts, Happ is 8-2 which is the best win/start ratio on the team. He boasts a team low 2.74 ERA and on Wednesday he threw his second complete game shutout of the season and his career. He only has 86 strike outs so far but has also pitched the least amount of innings of the rotation – even so he is averaging about 6.5 strikeouts per game ranking him ahead of Lee & Moyer. Happ is turning out to be the Phillies ace and he didn’t even start the season in the rotation. He is arguably the best transaction the Phillies did not make.

2008524169.jpgMoyer is the only Phillies pitcher to have secured 10 wins so far in 2009. Of the 21 starts he has made this season he is averaging about five and two thirds innings pitched per game. In those five and two thirds innings pitched per game he has given up 22 home runs. That works out to be roughly one trip around the bases per game. When you add that he has also given up a team high 74 earned runs (13th highest of all MLB pitchers) it isn’t hard to see why his ERA is third lowest in all of baseball at 5.55 trailing only Francisco Liriano (MIN, 5.63) and Todd Wellemeyer (STL, 5.67).

The numbers don’t lie. Anyone could look at a page of statistics and deduce that of the Phillies current starting pitchers Moyer should be the one to have to give up his seat to make room for Pedro but the organization says he isn’t made for the bullpen. Although he has pitched relief before it hasn’t been for quite some time with his last bullpen appearance coming in 1996 with the Rex Sox. Clearly he has done well with age, though. It took him twelve years to notch his 100th win and just eleven to scoop up 150 more to hit the 250 milestone in the 2009 season with the Phillies. He had remarkably impressive numbers with the Mariners and ranked among one of the best American league pitchers at the time. But does an impressive run in the late ’90s earn Moyer a spot in the World Series champions’ rotation?

Lee will pitch Thursday to try and recreate Friday’s game in his Citizens Bank Park debut. Joe Blanton will pitch Friday and Hamels will pitch Saturday. Moyer is scheduled to start against the Marlins on Sunday afternoon, but will that be his last start? It’s time to Jamie to step up to the plate and show Philly what he’s got and that he’s still got IT. If he can’t the Phillies may end the season with a rotation that has been almost completely replaced, but the ultimate goal is clear: Repeating. And back to back World Series wins may be worth a little more to the front office than sparing feelings.

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