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May 22 2007

New year, same problem for the Phillies.  They still can't stop people from scoring.  And while it may seem that only the details have changed, this year the Phillies seem to be playing a risky new game with Cole Hamels and Brett Myers as they try to get into the mix at the top of the NL East.

Last season the Phils allowed 812 runs, tying them for fourth-worst in the NL.  So far the '07 campaign has encountered a similar problem.  In their first 44 games they have allowed 212 runs, which is the fifth-most in the NL.

Despite the similar results, most would guess the Phils had done it a bit differently this year than last.  Last year the pen was solid and the rotation miserable, especially early in the year.  Everyone knows about the struggles in the Phillies pen this season, but the starting pitching hasn't exactly been lighting it up in '07 either.

In 2006, Phillies' starting pitchers ended the year having thrown to a 5.08 ERA, which was 14th-best in the NL.  In the first 44 games of 2007 they've thrown to a 12th-best 4.55 ERA.  Better.  Not good. 

As you may have guessed, the Phillies starting pitchers are going deeper into games this season, even with Freddy Garcia's aversion to the sixth-inning.  Phils' starters have gone 271 innings in their 41 starts, or about 6.16 innings per start.  In 2006 they went 921 1/3 innings in the 162 games, or about 5.69 innings per start.  Only two NL teams have had their starters go deeper into games in 2007 -- the Giants' starters have thrown 281 innings in their first 44 starts, about 6.39 innings per start.  The Cubs 261 2/3 innings in their first 42 starts, about 6.23 innings per start.  One of the things that the Phillies have in common with the Giants and Cubs is that none of the three teams is over .500.

The 2007 Phillies are 15th in the league in innings pitched by relief pitchers.  And with good reason.  If you've been watching the games you don't need to the numbers to tell you that Fabio Castro hasn't really been getting it done, but the Phils' relievers have thrown to 4.57 ERA, which is the second-worst in the NL.

In 2006, Manuel used his bullpen a lot.  Phils' relievers threw 539 innings, which was the fourth-most in the league, about 3.33 innings per game.  In 2007, Manuel's pen has thrown 122 innings in 44 games, about 2.77 per game.

All those innings not being thrown by the guys in the pen are a problem.  And the three guys I would be most worried about are Cole Hamels, Brett Myers and, to a lesser degree, Adam Eaton.

After 44 games and scheduled to start tonight, 23-year-old Cole Hamels has thrown 62 2/3 innings in his nine starts.  He's on pace to throw about 230 2/3 innings.  In his nine starts he's thrown 973 pitches, which is 12th-most in the NL.  He's averaging about 108 pitches per game after throwing 2,178 pitches in his 23 starts last season, about 94.7 per game.  If Cole Hamels throws anywhere near 230 2/3 innings this season I will be absolutely flummoxed.  Even if he does avoid injury and throws something near that I think it's still bad news for the Phils' future.

Adam Eaton is the next guy in the rotation I would be worried about.  Although he'll turn 30 in November and the stakes aren't nearly as high, remember that Eaton threw just 65 innings last season.  In his 13 starts he threw 1,128 pitches, about 86.8 per start.  In 2007 he's thrown 914 in his nine outings, about 101.6 per start. 

I don't know what's going to happen with Brett Myers.  I do know that he has pitched five times in the last seven games, including three days in a row.  That's just not going to work.  Even if he doesn't get hurt it's hard to imagine him being anywhere near this effective at the end of the season.

Last year the Phillies faltered at the end of the season, and a primary cause was a bullpen that was simply overworked, particularly the small core of pitchers that Manuel was willing to use in relief.  This year they certainly haven't overworked the pen other than Myers and maybe Geary.  But so far they are running a high-stakes gamble with Myers and Hamels, two of the biggest chips they have.

If last year's weak starting pitching was a problem, the Phillies somehow managed to get away with it early to a degree with the help of a strong bullpen.  While awful performances by Madson and Floyd were clearly a big part of the issue, the Phillies managed to go 10-5 in their first 15 starts.  After 44 games a year ago, the Phils were 23-21.  This year they're 22-22.  Here's a look at their record in each year through 44 games based on the pitcher that started the game:

 

2007

Player GS W-L
Myers 3 0-3
Hamels 9 6-3
Eaton 9 5-4
Moyer 9 6-3
Segovia 1 0-1
Garcia 7 3-4
Lieber 6 2-4
     
Total 44 22-22
     

2006

Player GS W-L
Lieber 9 3-6
Myers 9 5-4
Lidle 9 4-5
Floyd 9 5-4
Madson 6 5-1
Hamels 2 1-1
     
Total 44 23-21

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