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, February 07, 2008

Number Five 

Spring Training is almost upon us Phillies fans! Hard to believe that the preliminary stages of the 2008 season are just days away.

With the Mets acqusition of Johan Santana and the Braves revamped rotation, I've been mulling over pitchers and how important they'll be to the Phillies in 2008. The Phillies 2008 rotation looks like this, I think:

1. Cole Hamels
2. Brett Myers
3. Jamie Moyer
4. Kyle Kendrick
5. ?

Hamels and Myers are poised to be the Phillies primary starters (give Hamels the edge to start Opening Day), while Jamie Moyer will undoubtedly return for his 2,000th baseball season, still tossing sub-80 mph fastballs and changeups, the solid #3 guy in the rotation (although I think the Phillies might be better off trying to start Moyer behind Hamels, as they make a nice ying-yang combo for hitters to transition from). Kendrick seems to have earned a spot as the #4 starter with his solid (10-4, 3.87 ERA) season last year. So the question is: who will be the #5 starter?

Last year’s #5 starter, Adam Eaton, struggled … a lot. While Eaton’s 10-10 record was pretty respectable, his 6.29 ERA was not. So bad was Adam Eaton’s season that the Phillies banished him from the roster for the National League Divisional Series against the Rockies. Eaton’s immense salary – he’s in the second year of a three year, $21+ million dollar contract – guarantees that he’s going to figure into the Phillies plans for 2008. Whether that is as a starting pitcher or as a reliever, a role the Phillies envisioned for Jon Lieber last season when he was unseated by Eaton as a starter, remains to be seen.

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).
HR/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings: (HR * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP

No doubt 2007 was a season that Adam Eaton wants to forget … Eaton surrendered 71 walks and 30 home runs in just 161 & two-thirds of an inning pitched, while striking out just 97 batters. The nearly 1:1 ratio of walks to strikeouts (actually 1.36-to-1) is very atypical of Eaton, although his K/BB ratio has been trending downwards over the years: 2.94 in 2004, 2.27 in 2005, and 1.79 in 2006. Part of Eaton’s problem was that he gave up thirty home runs … incidentally, the “Citizens Bank Ballpark” explanation doesn’t really help explain why Eaton gave up so many dingers in ’07: his 1.88 HR/9 rate at home was enormous, but his 1.48 HR/9 rate on the road wasn’t much better … which I think led Eaton into making bad pitches. A pitcher so used to hurling at Petco (in 2004 and 2005) might need some time to adjust.

The 2008 Bill James Handbook says that Eaton will do better in ’08: 8-10, 4.89 ERA (and 1.29 HR/9, 3.31 BB/9 and 6.46 K/9). Tangotiger’s Marcels system locks Eaton in at 10-8 with a 5.39 ERA (and 1.40 HR/9, 3.6 BB/9 and 6.0 K/9) in 2008.

But Eaton isn’t the only candidate. There are two others, Chad Durbin and Travis Blackley. I want to talk about Blackley, the Phillies Rule 5 draftee from the San Francisco Giants. Blackley has just thirty-four innings of major league experience. He threw just eight and two-thirds of an inning for the Giants last season before being exposed in the Rule 5 draft. Blackley’s scant MLB experience is too small of a sample to look at, so we’ll look at what Blackley did with the Giants Triple-A franchise in Fresno, California, and with the Seattle Mariners Double-A franchise in Tacoma, Washington.

In San Antonio in the Texas League in 2006, Blackley threw 144 innings and finished with a 8-11 record and a 4.06 ERA. Defense or park effects helped Blackley’s numbers a little here, however, because his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA was somewhat higher: 4.68 … I mention park effects because it seems like San Antonio was the most pitcher-friendly park in the Texas League, and Fresno in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) wasn’t too far behind … Blackley’s numbers were quite good: 6.25 K/9, 2.81 BB/9, 1.13 HR/9. He seemed to have good control. After being traded to the Giants, Blackley went into their farm system and arrived in Fresno. His performance left something to be desired: 10-8, with a 4.66 ERA. Blackley’s FIP was an Adam Eaton-esque 5.08, and his strikeout and walk rates were worse than the PCL averages:

Blackley / PCL
3.77 / 3.45
K/9: 6.71 / 7.03

So will Blackley unseat Eaton? The numbers don’t support it, but if the Phillies want to develop him they’ll have to leave him on their roster in 2008 or else ship him back to the Giants. My gut tells me that Blackley will find his way into the Phillies bullpen.

Finally, we come to Chad Durbin. Durbin, who played on the Detroit Tigers American League-pennant winning squad in 2006, found his way onto the Phillies roster this off-season and is trying to unseat Eaton. Durbin’s numbers (8-7, 4.72 ERA, 4.65 K/9, 3.00 BB/9 and 1.48 HR/9), don’t exactly support him either. As bad as Eaton’s 5.93 FIP was in 2007, Durbin’s wasn’t much better: 5.73!

Marcels rates Durbin at 6-6 with a 4.67 ERA in 2008. Bill James rated Durbin at 4-6, 5.00 ERA and 1.4 HR/9, 3.4 BB/9, 6.0 K/9.

Incidentially, Bill James had no prediction for Blackley because he didn't toss many MLB innings.

I think Eaton has the edge in this race for two reasons:

1. The Phillies have already invested significant amounts of money into Eaton and it would be humiliating to the team to see Eaton, their big free agent in 2007, riding the pine while a guy making the MLB minimum is starting in his place.

2. It isn't obvious to me that Blackley or Durbin would be better choices. Sure, Eaton got shelled, but he's put up good numbers in the past and could do so again.

I'd like to see Blackley be given the shot, but the smart money here is on Adam Eaton.

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