Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Big Three ... 

For the last few years the Phillies have been sheparding young arms through the farm system on their way to the majors. Young pitchers are fragile commodities that have to be protected at all cost. Overwork and confidence-shattering failures (Rick Ankiel, anyone?) have destroyed more promising careers than at any other position on the diamond. The Phillies have been waiting for their corps of young starters to finally start producing and it appears they finally have (though I say this with some caveats):

Vicente Padilla, the team's #2 projected starter, returned to the rotation this week with (ahem) less-than-spectacular results.

Gavin Floyd, despite a terrible outing against the Braves, was sent to the bullpen until an opening appears in the rotation thanks to a sterling performance against the Cardinals. (The effect Tuesday night's horror show will have on his confidence remains to be seen.)

Right now the team's main three starters- Brett Myers, Jon Lieber and Randy Wolf -are off to a supurb beginning. Combined, the three are 5-1 in nine starts. Here are their numbers:

Lieber: 3-0, 2.49 ERA
Wolf: 1-1, 4.95 ERA
Myers: 1-0, 0.44 ERA

What the three have done this season is impressive, especially compared with the rest of the staff:

Big Three v. Rest of Team*
ERA: 2.61 / 5.67
BB/9: 1.01 / 3.17
K/9: 6.39 / 4.67
HR/9: 1.01 / 1.50*

* Not including last night or Tuesday night.

I'm nervous about Wolf because he is such a flyball pitcher, but Myers and Lieber are having terrific seasons and I'm fairly confident both will win 15-17 games this year.

Lieber has been what the Phillies wanted: a groundball pitcher who doesn't easily allow baserunners. In nearly 22 innings of work he's walked two batters. Since giving up three home runs on Opening Day to the Nats, Lieber has settled down and been very difficult to hit. Lieber is turning into what the Phillies wanted: an ace pitcher. I suspected Lieber would pitch well for the Phillies and I'm happy to see that this has been borne out.

Myers has been a revelation: he's surrendered one earned run in twenty innings of work. He's allowed just two walks and wiffed 20. (Lieber has just eight K's.) I hate to be one of those bloggers who reference themselves in a post (e.g., "As I predicted in my October 22nd post..."), but my gut feeling that the 31 home runs surrendered by Myers in '04 were a fluke is justified. Myers looks confident and strong on the mound. He's pitching with command and authority. He's the Phillies early front-runner for the Cy Young.

Lieber and Myers are terrific pitchers for the Phillies: they keep the ball low, on the ground and keep surplus baserunners (aka, walks) off the paths. These guys are the sort of pitchers that the Phillies need to rely on to be successful. It is no coincidence that pitchers with lower groundball-to-flyball ratios like Padilla have surrendered home runs by the bushel.

As for Wolf, I'm nervous. He's pitched decently well despite not being particularly dominating. After watching the Mets slug seven home runs against the Phillies Tuesday night, I worry that the Phillies inability to shake off the mental impression that Citizens Bank is a home-run paradise is killing the pitching staff. I also worry that Padilla and Floyd have seen their confidence shattered.

I know people who watched Tuesday's game will think I'm smoking wacky tobaccy for saying this, but I think the Phillies are pitching well. (Remember, until Tuesday's seven home runs the Phillies had surrendered just 16 home runs in 13 games.) They are keeping the ball down and they are getting guys to ground out. If Padilla and Floyd can shake recent events off, the Phillies will have a formitable pitching staff. They won't strike guys out, but they'll keep the ball down and keep guys off the basepaths. I'm very eager to see how Myers season is going to shake out. I really think he'll end the year well and he has a chance to be in the running for the Cy Young. He could be the Phillies next great pitcher.

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