In my last article on the Phillies fantasy impact, I wrote about the bullpen being the strength of the team going into 2015. As I started to examine the candidates for the rotation, I began to think that this group might prove to be better than their 2014 successors.
That was until getting past the first two thoroughbreds, lefties Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, both of whom are written in Sharpie type permanent ink. Once you get past the two of them, the rest of the rotation will be filled in by guys written in pencil. Assuming the depth chart over at MLB.com is correct, the soon to be 37-year old veteran Aaron Harang will slot into that 3rd rotation spot.
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Harang is coming off a good season in Atlanta. He went 12-12 with a 3.57 era, the lowest of his 13-year career, and tallied just over 200 innings. The 204.1 innings that Harang pitched in 2014 are the most that he’s pitched since 2007 when he tallied 231.2 with the Cincinnati Reds. He also finished 4th in voting for the NL Cy Young Award that year. He should be a durable back-end option for your fantasy rotation.
Leading contenders for the 4th and 5th spots in the Phils rotation are David Buchanan (25), Chad Billingsley (30), Kevin Slowey (31), and Jerome Williams (33), with a bunch of wildcards also in the mix.
Buchanan will be going into his second MLB season after starting 20 games in 2014. Slowey and Williams started 13 games for 157.1 innings combined in 2014, while Billingsley hasn’t pitched more than 12 innings since 2012. Billingsley, a victim of Tommy John surgery in 2013 and a torn flexor tendon in 2014, probably will not be ready to pitch until sometime in April.
It’s anybody’s guess as to how the rotation will be filled out after Spring training. If I had to guess, I would say that Buchanan will get that 4th spot while Williams and Slowey fight it out for the 5th slot until Billingsley is ready to go. Once Billingsley is ready, he could be a nice sleeper to target in free agency after the season gets under way.
Lee is a wildcard who can make or break the real Phillies and any fantasy rotation in 2015.
(Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
Both, Hamels and Lee are guys that you want to go after on draft day and go after early. Hamels has gone 5 straight seasons with over 200+ innings, and no less than 30 games pitched in each. He clearly is not only the Phillies ace, but should be the top Phils starter for you to target on draft day, one of the top dozen or so starting pitchers on the board, in fact.
Lee is 36 and coming off of a season cut short due to elbow problems. Prior to that he has been nothing but solid gold in the fantasy world and holds a career ERA of 3.52 in 13 major league seasons. His elbow is a bit concerning at his age, but you don’t want to be stuck second guessing yourself on draft day, if you pass up the chance to grab him and he reverts back to his old pre-2014 self.
Still, you cannot ignore the injury risk. It’s going to be all about timing the selection of Cliff Lee in your fantasy draft. But on talent alone, he’s the type of starting pitcher that everyone is clamoring to have at the front of their rotation. He could yield a major payoff if you reach a bit early, if you’re willing to take that risk.
Harang has historically pitched better in the NL over his career, but will he repeat his performance from a year ago? Since last year was the first time he’s pitched over 200 innings since 2007, when he was 29 years old, I wouldn’t think that he will repeat that performance…but you never know. He is a solid pitcher to have at the back of your rotation, if you’re in a pretty deep league, or have around for depth in some smaller leagues.
Buchanan is a guy that I would only draft in really large leagues, but I would keep him on your watch list and target him in free agency once the season starts. Likewise with Slowey and Williams, they may be sharing time with each other in the rotation. If one clearly beats the other out, I’d add him to my watch list as well. You can never have enough pitchers on your fantasy team watch list.
All in all, the Philadelphia Phillies 2015 starting rotation shows a mixed bag for fantasy owners. A no-doubt proven arm in Hamels. A no-doubt talent, but injury risk, in Lee. Solid talents, but age and injury risks in Harang and Billingsley. And then a slew of question marks with guys like Buchanan, Williams, and Slowey.