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Friday, December 15, 2006

Rotation Thoughts, Part I: Hamels & Moyer 

Well the 2007 Phillies will enter the new campaign with a starting rotation that bears little, if any, resemblance to the one they had in 2006. The Phillies had twelve different pitchers start games for them in ’06, a pretty good illustration of how much the Phillies starting pitching is in flux. The Phillies used eight different starters in 2005.

The original Opening Day rotation was largely washed away during the regular season as Ryan Madson was sent to the bullpen, Gavin Floyd was demoted to the minors and Cory Lidle was dealt to the Yankees. Brett Myers missed some time thanks to his criminal case in Boston and Jon Lieber missed some time for injuries, so nobody on the Phillies Opening Day roster threw 200+ innings. (Myers threw 198.)

During the season the Phillies tried Scott Mathieson out as a starter, and he lasted eight games; they returned Ryan Madson to the rotation, and he lasted eleven starts before being banished back to the bullpen; they promoted highly touted rookie Cole Hamels from the minors, and he threw 132 & 2/3 innings after his May 12 debut; they also welcomed Randy Wolf back from Tommy John surgery, and he threw twelve starts after July 30; and they traded for Jamie Moyer, who threw 51 & 1/3 innings after August 22. Along the way the Phillies gave starts to Aaron Fultz, Eude Brito and Adam Bernero.

Lots of instability there. Here’s both the rotation started and ended:

Old Rotation: Start / Finish
Jon Lieber / Jon Lieber
Brett Myers / Brett Myers
Cory Lidle / Randy Wolf
Ryan Madson / Cole Hamels
Gavin Floyd / Jamie Moyer

With Randy Wolf an L.A. Dodger and Jon Lieber suddenly expendable, the Phillies rotation will look radically different on Opening Day 2007 than what it looked like 365 days ago. Here is what it will look like:

New Rotation
Freddy Garcia
Adam Eaton

Brett Myers
Cole Hamels
Jamie Moyer

So is the Phillies rotation stronger? I think the answer clearly must be yes. Eaton and Garcia are going to be good for the Phillies (more on them Monday & Tuesday) and Cole Hamels is going to be a monster next season. Let’s take a look at Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer today, and then we’ll discuss Adam Eaton Monday and Freddy Garcia on Tuesday.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching: (13*HR+3*BB-2*K / IP) + League Factor Evaluates a pitching by how he would have done with an average defense behind him by keeping track of things that a pitcher can control (walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed) as opposed to things he cannot (hits allowed, runs allowed).
DER – Defense Efficiency Ratio: (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) How often fielders convert balls put into play into outs.
Hr/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings: (HR * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP

If Cole Hamels lives up to his potential he could rank right up there with Steve Carlton and Robin Roberts amongst the Phillies greatest pitchers. He’s that good. Initially I doubted all of the hype that surrounded him and predicted that he’d struggle in his first season, but he proved me wrong. Cole Hamels is the real deal. Oft-injured, Cole was finally healthy enough to emerge from the minors in 2006. Coming into the 2006 season he had pitched a combined 51 innings in 2004 and 2005. Cole threw just 49 innings for the Phillies minor league teams , facing just 184 batters, before joining the Phillies in May.

Cole Hamels finished the year with some nice stats:

W-L: 9-8
ERA: 4.08
FIP: 3.96
HR/9: 1.29
BB/9: 3.26
K/9: 9.86
K/BB: 3.02-to-1.00

Once you dive into the numbers though, you really get impressed. As I predicted, Cole struggled somewhat at the outset of his campaign with control, walking a fair number of batters (e.g., in his first start, against the powerful Cincinnati Reds lineup, Cole went five innings and surrendered just one hit while striking out seven Reds. The only blemish of the night was that Cole walked five of the 21 batters he faced). Over the course of the season Cole got his control and became a much deadlier pitcher. Scope out the differences between his May, June and July and his August and September:

May-June / August-Sept.
1.57 / 1.04
BB/9: 4.14 / 2.47
K/9: 9.86 / 9.86

The stat there that astonishes me are his strikeouts. From the get-go, Cole had unhittable stuff. Teams could only milk counts and try to draw walks. Cole got better than a strikeout an inning. But Cole became much stingier, much more difficult to get walks and much more difficult to hit home runs off of. As a consequence Cole’s ERA fell from 5.71 from May-June to 2.60 in August and September.

I don’t think, looking at Cole’s nearly identical strikeout rate, that he was lucky or that his performance was a fluke. He was exceedingly consistent and discovered a way to make himself more difficult to get a home run or walk off of without surrendering any of that blisteringly fast heat that he was throwing.

Cole is the team’s ace and almost certainly their Opening Day starter (and if he isn’t that is a disgrace). Cole is so good he will be a 20+ win, 3.00 ERA, 200+ innings, 200+ strikeout pitcher next season. I don’t think the Phillies have had such a dominant pitcher since Curt Schilling packed his bags for the Arizona desert. I think, if he stays healthy, Cole could be the best the Phillies have had since Steve Carlton.

Jamie Moyer is a little different. I really don’t think you even could have two pitchers any more dissimilar in terms of style than Moyer and Hamels. Acquired in August, Moyer has an impressive pedigree. The 2007 campaign will be his 22nd season in the major leagues. As Cole Hamels reminds me of Steve Carlton, the hard-throwing lefty who baffled hitters with his pitches, Moyer reminds me a little of Robin Roberts, the Phillies great whom I profiled in my Wiz Kids series. Roberts had a great fastball but was never a strikeout artist, instead controlling the game by inducing weak pop flys and refusing to surrender walks. Roberts always controlled the game without appearing to dominate it. Moyer seems to do the same thing, throwing lots of off-speed stuff, keeping the runners off the base-paths. Moyer’s career walks allowed is an impressive 2.54 BB/9, or 946 in 3,351 innings of work. His career home runs allowed are just 1.11 HR/9.

It is hard not to be impressed by his stuff. Teams that play behind Jamie Moyer tend to have good DERs, a fact that is probably a product of Moyer’s pitching style. Last year was a bad season for the Phillies defensively and yet the Phillies posted a .753 DER behind Jamie Moyer. The Mariners, a slightly better than average defensive team at .692 DER, posted a .710 behind Moyer. Whereas pitchers like Lieber and Lidle, the guys Hamels and Moyer are replacing in the rotation, threw lots of off-speed pitches and never had as much success controlling the game by inducing pop flies and groundballs, Jamie Moyer seems to have an exceptional ability to do that and succeeds. His stats aren’t great, but Jamie Moyer is that rare pitcher whom things like FIP or DIPS don’t accurately convey how good he is.

Monday and Tuesday I’ll talk a little about Eaton and Garcia, the Phillies newest pitchers.

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It was awesome to see Hamels mature so quickly last season. With the numbers you show backing that up. The shrinking HR/9 and BB/9 with the steady and very impressive k/9 is more than encouraging for a rookie. Moyer turned up just as he was flourishing and was straight in his ear about how to become a master craftsman. Moyer is really that. To have lasted this long and not be a strikeout pitcher is a credit to him. He is the sage, Hamels the apprentice. Its great to see. Kudos to Gillick to setup such an arrangement.
Really enjoy your column but I think you went a bit overboard on Hamels. Looks like a very solid starter who has the ability to exceptional but let's not go overboard.

I want to see how Hamels pitches and holds up over the course of an entire season. I would gladly settle for some periodic struggles if Hamels can stay healthy for the entire season.
Cole is a stud, but I think you need to protect him a bit more until he has a full season behind him before annointing him opening day starter. That should go to Garcia or Myers. I see the ideal rotation as:

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