Previously, we’ve looked at the best case and worst case scenarios for the starting infield and four of the most prominent Phils outfielders. Today, we delve into what is undoubtedly the strongest element of the team, that vaunted starting rotation.
Seriously, how much can things improve over 2011? The answer is, not a lot. Probably not at all actually. They were undoubtedly the best starting rotation baseball has seen since the mid-90s Braves. And despite a clunker each from Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt in the playoffs last year, the rotation completely lived up to its pre-season hype.
This year, Roy Oswalt is gone (at least until the Phillies sign him at mid-season) and Vance Worley begins the season as the #4 starter, so the pedigree of the staff isn’t what it was last year. However, based on Oswalt’s health problems and his up-and-down performance, the staff could be right where it was last year.
On the other hand, the Phils’ best pitchers are all another year deeper into their 30s, their youngest stud is in the midst of contract negotiations, and their second-year man could be due for a regression.
What’s clear is that, however the rotation goes in 2012, that is how the Phils will go.
With that, let’s take a look at best case/worst case for the Phils likely rotation.
Best-Case Scenario: Roy Halladay continues to be what he has been for the last half-dozen years… the best one or two pitchers in baseball. One could argue that Justin Verlander was better last year, and he probably was. Still, Halladay’s numbers were ridiculous… over 233 innings, a 2.35 ERA, a league-leading eight complete games, one shutout, 220 K’s, and a WHIP of 1.040. Those numbers mirror closely the ones he put up in 2010, only without the no-hitters and perfect games. I know, what a slacker. A 2012 with similar numbers would be all anyone could ask for.
Worst-Case Scenario: Halladay’s workload the last few years catches up with him a bit and age starts to fatigue his arm. His ERA jumps up over 3.00, his strikeouts go down, and for the first time in his career, he gets hit around more than in the past. It’s hard to fathom a worst-case scenario for Halladay, other than him hitting the disabled list for any period of time. The Phils are so dependent on Halladay, any missed time from him would be devastating.
Best-Case Scenario: Complaining about Clifton Phifer Lee is like complaining about owning too much gold, or that the internet connection in your mansion is too spotty. Cliff Lee is still one of the best three or four left-handers in baseball right now, and certainly worth the 5-year, $120 million deal he signed before 2011. The only issue with Lee is his streakiness. When Lee is hot, he’s blistering hot and completely unhittable. The best case scenario for Lee is another season like his Cy Young season in 2008, when he stayed hot the whole season, going 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA, and ERA+ of 168 and a WHIP of 1.110. Honestly, a repeat of 2011 would be great, and that’s probably what he’ll give the Phils.
Worst-Case Scenario: When Lee is cold, he can be cold for a month or more, and becomes very hittable. Lee has more of an ability to throw a clunker than either Halladay or Hamels, and the fear is that as he gets older, he’ll have more months like he did in May (3.78 ERA, .281 opp. BA, 20% LD) and July (4.91 ERA, .287 opp. BA, 26% LD), than he did in June (0.21 ERA, .151 opp. BA, 15% LD) and August (0.45 ERA, .173 opp. BA, 16% LD). And, of course, at 33 years old, health will be a concern as well.
Best Case Scenario: The Hamels situation all depends on your point of view. If Amaro can’t sign Hamels to an extension before the regular season, and the priority is to get him a deal that is team-friendly, then you probably don’t want him to have another season like he did in 2011 (2.79 ERA, 216 innings, 138 ERA+, and a ridiculous WHIP of 0.986). A season like that would undoubtedly make him a Cy Young front-runner and might even propel some team to give him CC Sabathia money (if that isn’t already a foregone conclusion). However, that type of season would give the Phils a better chance to win the World Series, so of course everyone wants Hamels to put together another season like last year. The hope is that Hamels agrees to a deal before April and everyone can focus on him putting forth the best numbers of his still-blossoming career.
Worst Case Scenario: To reiterate what I wrote above, if there’s no deal before the season, and he puts up monster numbers, and say, wins the Cy Young, he’s gone. THAT would be the worst case scenario. Should Hamels re-sign before the season, then the worst-case would be a revisit of 2009, when Hamels couldn’t get out of his own way and posted a 4.32 ERA in the regular season, finalized by a complete collapse in the playoffs. I think that Hamels is gone forever, especially now that he’s added a devastatingly effective cutter, but another season like ’09 would probably torpedo any chance the Phils have at getting back to the World Series.
Best Case Scenario: One of the biggest questions going into 2012 is, will there be any regression in Worley’s performance and, if so, how much? No one expected him to post a 3.01 ERA and to average 8.1 K/9. Worley’s season was all about pitch control and magnificent location. His two-seam slider seemed to baffle left-handed hitters all season, resulting in an inordinate amount of called third strikes. Can Worley do that again this year? Or will hitters be more aware of that pitch now that they have a full season’s worth of tape on him? I think a slight regression should be expected, probably resulting in an ERA around 3.50, with a drop in his K/9. Best case would be a repeat of Worley’s 2011, only expanded over the entire season. A slight regression would still make him a very good #4 on this staff.
Worst Case Scenario: We’ve seen it before with Phillies phenoms. In 1980, Marty Bystrom took the franchise by storm, winning five games in September with a 1.50 ERA, helping the Phils to a division title and a world championship. The following year, he started only nine games, posted a 3.35 ERA, and finished his career with only 79 starts and a career 4.26 ERA, retiring at age 26. In 1986, Bruce Ruffin went 9-4 with a 2.26 ERA and an ERA+ of 158 in his rookie season at age 22, taking the spot in the rotation vacated by Steve Carlton when the Phils released him. The next year, he started 35 games and finished with a 4.35 ERA, bottoming out with a 5.38 ERA in 25 starts in 1990. There are countless other tales like this in Phils history. The worst case for Worley, is that he is the next Bruce Ruffin.
Best Case Scenario: I hate to say this, but the best case scenario for the Phils is that they are able to trade Blanton and get some salary relief. If he’s healthy, he’d be a decent #5 starter. But for $8 million, you’d hope to get something more than an ERA around 4.25-4.50 and a WHIP of 1.4. The Phils need Blanton to show that he’s healthy in spring training and hopefully ship him to a team like Boston, who still needs another viable arm for the rotation.
Worst Case Scenario: Blanton’s arm falls off while in Clearwater and we’re stuck with him for the entire season, with no production whatsoever. Or, he absolutely stinks in the preseason and no one wants him. Both would not be ideal situations.
Next week, we’ll look at the bullpen, in the hopes that Jonathan Papelbon’s monster salary doesn’t suffocate the Phillies payroll with a huge feather pillow.