Coming off one of the best seasons in history, fans expect great things from the Phillies rotation in 2012. While no one really believes they’ll repeat the pure dominance we saw last year, most think that they’re still the best collection of starters in baseball. We know they’re going to be good–but just how good?
Forecasting pitching performance is a difficult thing to do, but sabermetrics pioneer Bill James produces a yearly publication in which he does a pretty damn good job of providing projections for next year. Let’s take a look at how his projection model thinks each member of the rotation will perform in 2012.
The first thing that jumps out here is the ERA. Doc has posted sub-3 ERAs for the last four seasons, and it’s almost hard to imagine him not doing so. Regardless, that is still a very impressive number, and his peripherals over the last few years would seem to agree that he’ll be in the neighborhood of a 3.00 ERA. Everything else, however, looks like the Halladay-patented numbers that we know and love: the win column nearing 20, 230+ innings pitched, and an astronomically low walk rate. James expects a small amount of decline from the staff ace, and that is fair. After all, he does turn 35 next season. But it’s no reason for alarm because, well, he’s Roy Halladay.
Lee’s projections are nearly indistinguishable from Halladay’s. James believes Lee will continue on his path of piling up innings in which he doesn’t really walk anyone, ever. His ERA, however, is projected to shoot up from last year’s career-low of 2.40, and this makes sense. In 2011, Lee posted a K/9 of 9.21, well above his career average. Most view this as unsustainable since his swinging strike percentage (a great predictor of strikeout rate) was essentially on par with his recent years. Because of that, James has Lee’s K/9 regressing to a more reasonable 7.53, and less strikeouts will likely mean a raise in ERA.
Hamels had a career year in 2011, pitching 216 innings of 3.05 FIP baseball. This career-low figure was driven by his sudden ability to prevent balls from leaving the yard, which had been his bane in years past. Yet after his late season shoulder injury, Hamels started allowing home runs again, and it appears that James believes this issue will continue. If he does regress to his career HR/9 rates, a projected 3.50 FIP seems about right. But it could certainly be much lower than that if his 2011 home run rate proves to be an indication of skill rather than luck. In spite of all this, these projections view Hamels as top-tier lefty than any team would love to have as a third starter.
Halladay, Lee, and Hamels are among the league’s textbook examples of consistency, so there is not much surprise in projecting their future performance. The final two spots in the Phillies rotation are where real question marks begin to appear, the first of which being Vance Worley. The young righty seemingly came out of nowhere in 2011, going from obscure minor leaguer without much hype to big-league success, ultimately posting a very impressive 3.22 FIP in 25 games last season. The fact that Worley possesses very average stuff concerns many people, and that’s why it is probably unreasonable to expect him to replicate his 2011 performance. Still, James projects him to put up solid numbers in 28 appearances (23 being starts). It will be incredibly interesting to see how Vanimal progresses in his second full year of major league baseball.
Poor Joe Blanton. After missing nearly all of last season and with the level of talent around him, it’s easy to see why people forget about his existence. If he maintains his health though, he can provide value in the form of eating innings. James projects him to start 26 games, indicating that it is unlikely he pitches an injury-free season. The rest of the forecasted numbers are unexciting and slightly below league average, descriptions that seem to encompass Blanton’s career. In his time as a Phillie, home runs have been a real problem for him, and at a projected 1.12 HR per nine innings this issue is unlikely to magically disappear. No one really expects much from him, and it is hard to ask for much more than what James calls for. But again, if he can stay off the DL, Blanton has the opportunity to quietly put together a nice season at the back of a great rotation.