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February 2 2007

All over the baseball world people are trying to figure out who has the best starting rotation heading into 2007.  Whispers abound about how good the Phillies rotation can be.  The best in the league?  "Best" is a hard one that means different things to different people, but if it has anything to do with how many runs starting pitchers allow, the Phillies aren't going to be the best and probably won't be very close.

More interesting to me is the suggestion that they might be the best in their division.

Here's a look back at where the pitching numbers wound up last season in the NL East:

 

      Starters Relievers
Team RA Rank NL-East IP ERA Rank NL-East IP ERA Rank NL-East
ATL 805 3 929.0 4.71 3 512.1 4.39 3
                 
NYM 731 1 918.2 4.67 2 542.2 3.25 1
                 
PHI 812 4 921.1 5.08 4 539.0 3.79 2
                 
FLA 772 2 947.1 4.22 1 486.0 4.67 5
                 
WAS 872 5 879.1 5.37 5 557.0 4.49 4


One thing's for sure -- if the Phillies are going to have the best starters in the division they've got a lot of work to do.  Marlins' starters led the NL East with a 4.22 ERA last season, the third-best ERA for starting pitchers in the National League.  Phillies' starters allowed 520 earned runs in their 921 1/3 innings.  To have posted an ERA better than the Marlins' 4.22 they would have had to allow 431 earned runs in 921 1/3 innings, 89 fewer.

Among the players that got ten or more starts for the Philles, only two, Myers and Hamels, pitched to a better ERA for the season than the Marlins did as a team.  Of the three new additions, Garcia, Moyer and Eaton, all three pitched in the American League, but none of the trio posted an overall ERA for the season as good as the team ERA for the Marlins.

Even if you take the six starting pitchers the Phillies have now, as a group they threw to a worse ERA than the Marlins did as a team in '06:

 

Player IP ER ERA
Lieber 168 92 4.93
Myers 198 86 3.91
Garcia 216.1 109 4.53
Hamels 132.1 60 4.08
Eaton 65 37 5.12
Moyer 211.1 101 4.30
       
TOTAL 991 485 4.40


Yes, Garcia, Moyer and Eaton all pitched in the American League.  Yes, Lieber was awful.  Take out Lieber's numbers, though, and the remaining five starters still allowed 393 earned runs in 823 innings or a 4.30 ERA.  If you want to take out Eaton's numbers as well, Garcia, Moyer, Hamels and Myers still allowed 356 earned runs in 758 innings or a 4.23 ERA -- higher than what the Marlins threw to overall.

If you don't like the AL/NL thing, well, there's a lot of different opinions on what you need to do if you want to compare an NL ERA to an AL ERA.  The three NL-only pitchers, Lieber, Hamels and Myers, allowed 238 earned runs in 498.1 innings for a 4.30 ERA.  The three pitchers who pitched in the AL (Moyer pitched in both leagues, getting eight starts with the Phils) allowed 247 earned runs in 492.2 innings, or a 4.51 ERA.  For the six players combined to have thrown to the same 4.22 ERA as the Fish starters, the AL pitchers would have had to have allowed 227 earned runs in their 492.2 innings or thrown to a combined 4.15 ERA rather than a 4.51 ERA.

It's certainly not unreasonable to say that Eaton, Moyer and Garcia could have combined to throw to a 4.15 ERA or better last season had they pitched all season in the NL.  I don't think you can say it's a sure thing either, however.  If the Marlins starters pitch as well as they did last season, even if everyone stays healthy for the Phillies, somebody is going to have to pitch better than they did in '06 for the Phillies to pull ahead.  If Eaton, for example, throws three times as many innings as he did in '06 and posts a similar ERA it's going to be difficult for the rotation to overcome.

The point is not that the Phillies rotation is bad.  Just the opposite is true.  It's that the Marlins rotation is really good.  Or at least it was last season.

And yes, the Phillies got some awful production from some of their starters.  Madson and Floyd and Mathieson really struggled.  But all of the other teams in the division had pitchers that got lit up too.

Brian Moehler's 21 starts didn't help the overall numbers for the Marlins much -- he threw to a 6.57 ERA for the year.  Jason Vargas posted a 7.33 ERA for the year, he made five starts for the Fish.  Sergio Mitre made seven starts.  He ended the year with a 5.71 ERA.

The Braves gave 36 starts to Kyle Davies, Lance Cormier and Jorge Sosa.  Davies threw to an 8.38 ERA in his 14 starts, Sosa got 13 starts and threw to a 5.46 ERA for the year.  Cormier made nine starts and ended the season with a 4.89 ERA.

Including the 30 starts that Steve Trachsel made in which he threw to a 4.97 ERA, the Mets had 66 starts that went to a pitcher whose ERA with the team was 4.97 or higher.  Trachsel was joined by Alay Soler (8 starts, 6.00 ERA for the season), Oliver Perez (7, 6.38), Dave Williams (5, 5.59), Mike Pelfrey (4, 5.48), Victor Zambrano (5, 6.75), Jose Lima (4, 9.87) and Geremi Gonzalez (3, 7.71). 

By comparison, the Phillies give just 51 starts to pitchers who ended the season with an ERA of 4.97 or higher (although if you move the completely arbitrary 4.97 to 4.93 you have to add Lieber's 27 starts and the number jumps to 78 for the Phils).  The point is simply that even the teams in the NL East who had better numbers from their starters last year also had a lot of guys getting battered.

There is no case to be made for the Nationals.  They get John Patterson back, but that's not enough and if they have anything but the worst rotation in the division there are going to be a lot of surprised people out there.

The bottom line for me is that despite all of the improvement, I'm not ready to write the Phillies in as the best rotation in the division.  I'm certainly rooting for it, but it's not hard for me to imagine them being outpitched by the Marlins.  I don't see it as a sure thing they're going to jump over the Mets and the Braves.

The good news, of course, is that the Phillies don't need the best starting pitching in the league or the division to be successful.  Their offense should still be able to carry them, and their starting pitching will no doubt be much improved.  What's a little scary is that the Phils, Mets and Braves are all good offensive teams that finished 1-2-3 in the NL in runs scored last season.  The Phillies offense is going to be down in '06.  They're going to need to make up for it with their pitching and their pen is a mess, so I'm sure hoping that all the people out there who think they have the best starting pitching in the division are right.

The Phillies have avoided arbitration with Brett Myers by signing him to a three-year extension under which Myers will paid $25.7 million.  This is a tremendous move for the Phillies that locks up one of baseball's exciting young starting pitchers.  Myers got so much attention for what he did off the field last season that it overshadowed what he did on it -- he was arguably the second-best pitcher in the NL East behind John Smoltz.

The Phillies suddenly have a lot of players making a lot of money, although Myers only jumps from $3.3 million in '06 to $5 million in '07.  You have to wonder how much of a chance they have to go into the season with Jon Lieber, due to make $7.5 million, still on the team.  I'm guessing it's close to zero.

Geoff Geary is now the only Phillies player left eligible for arbitration.  His hearing date is set for February 19 if no deal is reached.

Adam Eaton finds the silver lining with his finger injury in this article.

Seattle's GM Bill Bavasi says he was shocked by the Eaton contract in this article.

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