Thursday, February 07, 2008
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
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
BB/9: 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.
Monday, February 04, 2008
I’m going to use pitching projections from the 2008 Bill James Handbook here because James predictions are uncannily accurate and they make as good a starting reference point as anything …
Let’s start with the Mets …
Win – Loss Record / ERA / K/BB ratio
Johan Santana: 16-8 / 3.00 / 4.00
Pedro Martinez: 10-4 / 2.88 / 4.65
John Maine: 12-11 / 4.05 / 2.08
Oliver Perez: 9-12 / 4.69 / 2.34
Oliver Hernandez: 8-7 / 3.95 / 2.31
Now Pedro’s numbers are based on his throwing just 125 innings, so I guess this presumes that he might still have some nagging injuries. That’s a reasonable presumption. The teaming of Pedro and Santana really might be deadly, but the rest of the Mets rotation looks pretty spotty. Maine and Perez had great, but largely fluky seasons in 2007. The Mets will have a great 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, but that's it.
Let’s move onto the Phillies …
Cole Hamels: 15-7 / 3.33 / 3.75
Brett Myers: 6-5 (29 saves) / 4.17 / 2.51
Jamie Moyer: 11-10 / 4.31 / 2.09
Adam Eaton: 8-10 / 4.89 / 1.94
Kyle Kendrick: unk.
The projections for the Phillies are a little screwy because they have Myers as the Phillies closer and there is no data for Kendrick to gain an accurate idea about because he’s pitched just one season. My gut tells me that Myers would probably have an ERA closer to 4.00 and his win-loss would be close to Hamels 15-7 if they ran his numbers as a starter … Hamels numbers strongly suggest that he’ll turn in another strong season and might be a player in the Cy Young race if he tosses enough innings … Eaton will be better than he was in 2007, but only with Adam Eaton would a 4.89 ERA be considered an improvement (2007 ERA: 6.29).
Basically, the Phillies rotation will be solid, but not great, though if Hamels and Santana cancel each other out, then the Phillies might have a slight edge here if Pedro struggles.
Let's move on to the Braves.
John Smoltz: 17-7 / 3.22 / 4.06
Tim Hudson: 15-9 / 3.67 / 2.19
Chuck James: 12-8 / 3.86 / 2.38
Tom Glavine: 11-10 / 3.99 / 1.59
Buddy Carlyle: 7-6 / 4.11 / 2.97
If the 2008 Atlanta Braves rotation isn’t the best in the N.L. East, I’ll eat my hat. Say whatever you want about the Braves, but they do know how to assemble pitching staffs and they’ve assembled another good one with their ’08 team. Glavine might not be the Cy Young Award winner he used to be, but he’ll be hurling behind a good defense and he’ll do what he does best: get lots and lots of pop-fly outs. Smoltz and Hudson look like Cy Young contenders, and James looks like a solid #3.
Clearly the Braves are tops here. It’s the ‘90s all over again.