Coming into the 2014 season, we here at That Ball’s Outta Here are going to be putting out Phillies roster predictions by segment (starting pitchers, relief pitchers, and position players).
This week, we begin with perhaps the biggest question mark heading into the season, the starting rotation.
|LHP Cliff Lee|
|LHP Cole Hamels|
|RHP A.J. Burnett|
|RHP Kyle Kendrick|
The best 1-2 punch outside of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are the foundation of this pitching staff, short of some mid-season fire sale. Both are elite strikeout pitchers, don’t walk batters, and are good for 200+ IP a season, but everyone reading this knows that.
Hamels’ off-season bicep injury puts some questions as to the strength of the rotation, but since he’s currently only slated to miss 2-3 starts, chances are it is a minor setback in the long run. Lee probably deserves the opening day start anyway, having had a better 2013, but this is not the way anyone wants that to happen.
Recently signed A.J. Burnett changes the complexion of the rotation. He’s had a late-career renaissance in Pittsburgh, earning FIPs of 3.52 and 2.80, respectively, over the last two seasons. He’s 37, but if he can handle a full season workload again, he’ll easily earn his $16 million.
All three ranked in MLB’s top 20 in terms of FIP, xFIP, and SIERA in 2013, and these locks provide Philadelphia with arguably the top 1-3 pitchers in the National League (yet again).
Kyle Kendrick is the less obvious lock, but equally as secure due to a lack of pitching depth. Given his relatively high cost, and overall value, there aren’t two other pitchers on the staff who can beat Kendrick for the job – it just won’t happen.
On the surface he had a bad 2013, with a 4.70 ERA and low strikeout totals, but in reality he pitched 182 innings, kept walks low, and actually had a surprisingly strong 4.03 FIP.
Given that similar pitchers have cost $30+ million on the open market this off-season, his arbitration rate is actually a bargain. Get over the “BUT HE’S KYLE KENDRICK” prejudices, and don’t be surprised if he has a more consistent 2014.
|RHP Roberto Hernandez|
|RHP Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez|
If you told me that neither of these two earned a rotation spot out of Spring, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’d also be very scared, but not surprised. The artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona was signed this off-season for a relatively cheap $4.5 million, but because that’s still a substantial cost, I’m inclined to assume he’ll get a job out of camp.
He ate 151 innings last year for the Rays, and experienced a lot of poor home run luck, leading to a higher ERA than deserved.
That should correct this year, and while Roberto Hernandez is not an impact starter, if healthy he could be remembered as an impressive “buy-low” acquisition when reviewing this off-season.
I could just as easily have put Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez into the “wildcard” section, because the team has admitted that they still haven’t seen their prized Cuban signee pitch.
But, because I’m a glutton for punishment and want to believe (but also because of only modest depth behind him), I’ll say he cracks camp with the major league club.
The most positive scouting reports claim him to be a #3 starter, and the most conservative say middle-leverage reliever. While he or Hernandez could both fill the swingman role this season, I’m inclined to say that Hernandez gets the spot, and Gonzalez is in the bullpen opening day.
|RHP Jonathan Pettibone|
|RHP Sean O'Sullivan|
|RHP David Buchanan|
This is where Adam Morgan‘s injury kills you. He and Jonathan Pettibone would have made pretty strong depth and instilled some confidence behind a questionable back-end of the rotation.
Without him, Pettibone becomes the only go-to guy in the event of any rotation emergencies. Pettibone did a great job last year when called upon, but the workload eventually ended his season pre-maturely.
His ceiling is around a #4 starter, but that looks to be a place he’s already reaching. I’d feel completely comfortable having him in the rotation opening day – however, his minimum cost and remaining options just make him look like the obvious choice to have in Lehigh Valley.
Behind Pettibone, it gets a little iff-y. I don’t think Spring Training-invitee Sean O’Sullivan has much of a shot of grabbing a job out of the gate, but he’d be intriguing as available depth.
Last season with San Diego, the then-25-year old pitched to an 3.21 FIP with 7.7 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9, in 115.0 triple-A innings. He has a less than decorated major league career, but he does have experience at the level.
Many invitees move on to other teams if they don’t get a major league job out of camp, but he’d be a valuable player if he could be kept.
Finally, there’s David Buchanan, the Phillies’ 7th round pick in the 2010 draft. He pitched 169.2 innings between Reading and Lehigh Valley in 2013, to a 4.40 ERA. He was known for good velocity around the time of the draft, but it hasn’t translated to strikeouts professionally.
Long term he’s probably a reliever, but as a starter he’s kept walks in a good place, and had a successful 6 start stint in triple-A to end last season. He probably has the most experience of the in-house options after Pettibone.
|RHP Jeff Manship|
|RHP Mario Hollands|
|LHP Jesse Biddle|
You’ll notice that two of these non-roster invitees are also in-house. I list them here as opposed to “depth” because both need seasoning in triple-A, after problematic end of year performances and neither having experienced the level before.
Jesse Biddle is the flashy top prospect, and while I don’t think he had a bad year overall, he certainly had a bad second half (Director of Player Development, Joe Jordan, attributed this to persistent illness). He pitched solely in double-A, and will probably be using Spring Training as a learning opportunity than as a true tryout.
Mario Hollands is the 25-year old 10th round pick (again of the 2010 draft class). He pitched out of his mind in high-A Clearwater during the first half of 2013, compiling a 1.56 ERA, 1.038 WHIP, and 5.08 K/BB in 69.1 IP.
This is somewhat deflated by his advanced age, and that his time in Clearwater was the result of a demotion (he reached as high as triple-A in 2012).
However, he finished out the year back in Reading, where his walk and hit rates increased, causing diminished results. His 3.81 FIP there was relatively strong, but at this point it’s unclear whether he’ll begin the season back in Reading or in Lehigh Valley.
Finally, Jeff Manship is a former Twin and Rockie who’s never had much major league success. He’s pitched at the level in each of the last five years, and has performed in both the starting and relief capacities. Despite Chad Gaudin’s release earlier this week, I expect either Hernandez or Gonzalez to fill the swingman role out of camp; there’s not really a spot for Manship.
Additionally, I really just don’t see anything in the track record right now to say he’ll crack the starting rotation. He’s a solid depth signing for Spring Training, but expect him to probably have moved on to another club by April.
2014 Phillies Rotation
|LHP Cliff Lee||RHP Roberto Hernandez||RHP Jonathan Pettibone||LHP Jesse Biddle||LHP Cliff Lee|
|LHP Cole Hamels||RHP Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez||RHP Sean O'Sullivan||RHP Mario Hollands||RHP A.J. Burnett|
|RHP A.J. Burnett||RHP David Buchanan||RHP Jeff Manship||LHP Cole Hamels|
|RHP Kyle Kendrick||RHP Kyle Kendrick|
|RHP Roberto Hernandez|