When the Phillies signed righty John Lannan to a one-year contract worth $2.5 million on December 18th, most thought that the Phillies 2013 starting rotation was complete.
Then, on February 17th, when General Manager Ruben Amaro announced that Lannan was the frontrunner for the final starting spot in the rotation, he solidified the rotation of Hamels, Halladay, Lee, Kendrick, and Lannan. Thus far in Spring Training, none of the other possible options to take the 5th spot, including Tyler Cloyd and Jonathan Pettibone, have shown any signs of knocking Lannan from his perch.
With the rotation most likely locked down, it’s time to look forward to who these 5 pitchers will look like this season. Using useful predictive pitching metrics, I’ll take a look at what we can best predict for the Phillies 2013 rotation. One metric I’ll use is kwERA, an ERA predictor created by Tom Tango and company. kwERA simply uses a pitcher’s walks, strikeouts, and plate appearances from the previous season, calculates a number scaled to ERA, that gives us a better picture of that pitcher’s true performance on the mound. Comparing a player’s kwERA with his ERA can oftentimes point towards a regression or progression in his pitching for the following season
I’ll also be using SIERA, a derivative of ERA, and xFIP, a derivative of FIP, to try and get the best picture we can for each of the 5 Phillies projected 2013 starters. For more on the predictive natures of xFIP and SIERA, click on the links I’ve provided. To get a quick sense of what the numbers look like for Hamels, Halladay, Lee, Kendrick, and Lannan, take a look at this chart:
Since John Lannan spent almost the entire 2012 season in AAA for the Nationals, I’ve included those numbers, but there are no minor league numbers for xFIP and SIERA.
A major difference between FIP and ERA concerns batting balls. FIP singles out strikeouts, walks, and home runs; proven to be the three outcomes a pitcher controls the most. All other batted balls have as much, if not more, to do with a pitcher’s team, field, and weather patterns as they do with the particular pitchers’ actions. Given this difference, for ground ball pitchers like Lannan, Kendrick, and to some extent Roy Halladay, SIERA should provide a better picture than kwERA or xFIP. On the other hand, put more credibility in kwERA and xFIP for pitchers who rely on strikeouts and pinpoint location, like Lee and Hamels. Since every pitcher, sinkerballer or not, allows balls to be put in play, each predictive metric should provide a decent glimpse into the potential of these 5 hurlers.
Both Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay had higher ERAs in 2012 than SIERAs/kwERAs and higher FIPs than xFIPs. In spite of the Lee’s incredible season, these metrics show that he has a good chance to be even better in 2013, a welcomed sign for Phillies fans as Lee will make $25 million this season. Halladay, who spent a large portion of the 2012 season on the disabled list, and who has admitted to pitching with pain in his back, has looked sharp this Spring Training. Given his predictive numbers, Halladay should return to some semblance of his old self. The velocity may dip a bit, but a crafty ace like Halladay should combat attrition in velocity with guile, experience, and sharp control.
Kyle Kendrick’s numbers point towards a pitcher who may have outperformed his true capabilities. His kwERA and SIERA were identical, and thus both higher than his ERA. On the other hand, this small difference of .19 better describes a pitcher who eclipsed his potential in 2012 and should perform at a similar level in 2013, a good sign from the team’s #4 starter. As for Lannan, his numbers prove less decipherable. He pitched mostly in AAA for the Nats in 2012, starting only 6 games for Washington at the big league level. Since ground ball pitchers have a tendency to age better than pitchers who rely on high strikeouts/low walks, Lannan should produce well, but from a purely numbers prospective, don’t expect Lannan to put up an ERA south of 4.00 (2012 league average ERA was 4.19).
The Phillies 2013 rotation looks formidable, even in comparison to the highly touted Nationals rotation, and the undervalued Braves starters. If the Phillies are to make the playoffs in 2013, pitching will most certainly be paramount to their success, and fortunately for fans, it looks like the numbers are a harbinger of good things to come.