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June 26 2007

A new phase of the Phillies' season is about to begin in which the Phils do what they can to piece together a rotation after losing both Freddy Garcia and Jon Lieber in less than a month.  It's going to be an uphill battle for the Phils, who already have had to dip deep into their weak minor league system to find Kyle Kendrick, who has been better than expected in his first two starts filling in for Garcia.

In the months ahead we may look back and think about what the Phillies could have done if it just hadn't been for the injuries.  If we do, we should remember that the Phillies' pitching was absolutely terrible before Garcia or Lieber went down.

If neither Garcia or Lieber throws another pitch this year, Garcia will end the year 1-5 with a 5.90 ERA and Lieber 3-6 with a 4.73 ERA.  In 23 starts they combined to go 4-9 with a 5.12 ERA and a 1.50 ratio.

Last season the Phillies traded Bobby Abreu.  They used some of the money they saved to rebuild their miserable starting rotation that plagued them early in 2006.  It was a good idea and hasn't worked so far because the pitchers they brought in haven't been effective.  If the Phils calculated that their offense could handle trading away Abreu, they were certainly right.   They led the NL in runs scored in '06 and are leading it again this season.  But the rebuilding of the rotation was a failure before Lieber and Garcia were hurt -- by the time they went down they had already helped to pitch the Phillies to where they are today:  one of the worst pitching staffs in the NL.

The Phillies have been awful at preventing runs this season, and a lot of it has been the fault of the bullpen.  Not all of it, though.  Through 75 games, Phillies starting pitchers have thrown to a 4.87 ERA, which is 14th-best among the 16 NL teams.  Only the starting pitchers for the Nats and Cards have thrown to a higher ERA. 

The big off-season additions to the rotation, Garcia and Eaton, have made 26 starts in which they've combined to throw to a 5.74 ERA with a 1.55 ratio.  They never did figure out how to trade Lieber and the one thing that's for sure is that now they can't.

And barring a major injury to a hitter, for the Phils it's still all about pitching.

As a team this season, the Phils have made 40 quality starts in 75 games.  About 53.3% of their starts have been quality starts and the Phillies have gone 29-11 in the games where they got a quality start from their pitcher.  That's a .725 winning percentage -- if the Phillies got a quality start every game for 162 games and continued to win the games in which they got a quality start at the rate they have so far this season they would go 117-45.  At 39-36 on the season, it also means that the Phillies have gone 10-25 in the 35 games they did not get a quality start.  That's a .286 winning percentage or a 46-116 record over 162 games.

In 2006, the Phillies made 74 quality starts in 162 games.  About 45.7% of their starts were quality starts and they went 53-21 in the games where they got a quality start for a .716 winning percentage (116-46).  In the 88 games where they did not get a quality start, the Phils went 32-56 (.364, 59-103).

Interestingly, the Phils played to a much better winning percentage in their non-quality starts in 2006 than they did in 2007.  This may be a coincidence or it may not.  If it's not, it may reflect the fact that the '07 bullpen is worse than the '06 bullpen and that the '07 hitters, while still very good, are not quite as good as the '06 hitters.

It sure seems like the Phillies win a lot of their games when they get a quality start.  But we can't know for sure if they win a higher percentage of their games in which they get a quality start than other teams without knowing the winning percentage for other teams in games where they get a quality start.  I would be very surprised if it was not true that teams that score more runs have a higher winning percentage in their games where they get a quality start and surprised if it were not true that the better the offense the higher the winning percentage in quality starts.  But I don't know.

This article from 2002 looked at quality starts, how often the team that got the quality start won and how often the pitcher that made the quality start was credited with a win in games between 1978 and 2000.  Fascinating article, but don't read it without remembering that eras change while the definition of a quality start doesn't.

The Phillies, however, in the near future they are going to continue to score a lot of runs.  How many games they win is going to depend on how well their pitchers pitch.

Lieber and Garcia simply weren't exceptional at preventing runs.  They didn't pitch well with the Phillies this season, Garcia in particular.  In their 23 starts they combined to make seven more quality starts than Kyle Kendrick has in his two:


Player GS QS QS % Tm W-L in GS
Hamels 16 10 63 11-5
Eaton 15 7 47 8-7
Moyer 15 11 73 10-5
Lieber 12 5 42 3-9
Garcia 11 4 36 5-6
Myers 3 1 33 0-3
Kendrick 2 2 100 2-0
Segovia 1 0 0 0-1

The Phillies lost both of the games that Lieber appeared in as a relief pitcher as well, so on the season the team is 8-17 in games where Lieber or Garcia pitched. 

The bad news, of course, is that the Phillies have been trying to win all season long and presumably have been doing it with what they thought were the players that gave them the best chance to do so -- just because Garcia and Lieber weren't particularly effective doesn't mean that the guys behind them are going to be.  Overall, however, the production that Lieber and Garcia gave the Phillies this season doesn't seem like it is impossible to replace.

JD Durbin, a 25-year-old righty, will be called up from Triple-A to start the afternoon game of the Phillies day-night double-header with the Mets.  Cole Hamels will pitch the night game and it is still unclear who will pitch against the Mets on Saturday.  The Phillies claimed Durbin in April when the Red Sox designated him for assignment.  Durbin made ten starts at Triple-A Ottawa, going 2-5 with a 4.55 ERA.  In 59 1/3 innings he allowed 67 hits, including nine home runs, and 21 walks.  He struck out 44.  Durbin is third in innings pitched for the Lynx but leads the team in home runs allowed.  He was taken by the Twins in the second round of the 2000 draft and has appeared in five games in the major league level, allowing 13 earned runs in eight innings (14.63 ERA).  The Phillies will presumably play the Cincinnati series with eight relievers, one of which seems likely to be sent down when Durbin is activated.  Can't imagine it would be Alfonseca, Mesa, Geary or Madson, which leaves Hernandez, Sanches, Condrey and Zagurski.  Zagurski or Hernandez would be my guess -- Zagurski has been particularly ineffective of late but his demotion would leave the team without a lefty in the pen.

Kyle Kendrick (1-0, 4.50) faces righty wunderkind Homer Bailey (2-0, 4.00) tonight in Philadelphia as the Phils play the first of three against the Reds.  Kendrick has kept the Phillies in both games he has pitched, twice allowing three runs over six innings.  One of his strengths in the minor leagues this season was preventing the home run and his ability to do that tonight will be tested.  The Reds lead the National League in home runs and have hit 24 more than the Phillies on the year.  Kendrick's ratio in his two starts is an impressive 1.17, he's allowed just 11 hits and three walks in 12 innings in his two starts.  Homer Bailey was the seventh pick in the 2004 draft and turned 21 in May.  He's made three starts this season, all of which have come against American League teams.  The first and the last were good as he combined to allow three runs in 12 innings and his last time out, a week ago against the A's in Oakland, he allowed just a run on two hits over seven innings.  In the middle start he was hit hard by the Angels, allowing five runs in six innings.  After allowing just three home runs in 58 1/3 innings in the minor leagues this season, he has yet to allow one in 18 innings since his callup.  He has walked 11 in his first 18 innings, righties are hitting .182 against him and lefties .256. 

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