Only the inevitable can stop the Phillies' pitchers now
November 29 2006
The Phillies' third big move of the off-season appears to have solidified their starting rotation for 2007. As has been pointed out time and again, regardless of the talk the Phillies aren't getting Aramis or Alfonso or any of their heavy-hitting free agent ilk. They have, however, addressed some of the areas where they were weakest last season, third base and starting pitching. For all the bluster and talk of trades that never were, this off-season the Phillies' haul to date is Wes Helms, Jamie Moyer and Adam Eaton.
Adam Eaton isn't the savior. He just turned 29 and his career-high in wins is 11. He's never thrown to an ERA under four despite spending most of his career in one of the best pitcher's parks in baseball with the Padres. He's not going to win 20 games or anything close. He doesn't need to. The Phillies don't need a savoir as their number five starter. They need someone who isn't awful. And Eaton is far better than not awful. Maybe he becomes an elite pitcher with the Phillies and maybe he doesn't. But if the Phillies can get through an entire season in which Adam Eaton is their worst starter they're going to win a lot of games.
And look how far they've come. Remember the guys in the rotation last year and how they fared?
Three of those guys didn't make it through the season. Lidle was traded and Floyd and Madson lost their jobs due to ineffectiveness. If you started one-fifth of your team's 162 games throughout a season you would get 32 starts. Nobody on the Phillies did. Brett Myers led the Phillies with 31 starts -- 31 NL pitchers started more games.
Of the two guys that didn't get traded or bombed, both missed starts. Myers missed time for his leave of absence and Lieber missed all of June with a groin problem.
Right now the Phillies rotation looks more than good enough. But they're probably not going to make it through 2007. The questions are who is going to go down, how soon will it happen, and what happens when it does? Here's a look at next year's rotation and the number of starts each of the pitchers has made over the past three years (Hamels' numbers include his minor league starts -- the others do not):
|Player||Age||GS 06||GS 05||GS 04||3-yr total|
The bad news is the guy who has been most durable over the past three years is 44-years-old.
Lieber missing a month last year can't make you feel real comfortable given his age and physique.
Eaton got just 13 starts last season and was having difficulties with his surgically repaired middle finger of his right (pitching) hand as late in the season as late August. Over his last five starts in September he threw to a 5.65 ERA and opponents hit .342 against him. According to an article you can read here, in April of last year the Ranger's team physician, Dr Keith Meister, said, "Adam has an extremely unique injury . . . It's an injury you see in rock climbers. No one has ever seen it in a pitcher." Nifty. Just what you're looking for. And not just unique, extremely unique. Are we sure $8 million a year is enough? I wonder if it had been uniquely unique Adam might have gotten his picture in the paper or something.
And then there's Cole Hamels. Hamels made 31 starts last year, 23 with the Phils and eight with three of the Phillies' minor league teams. Between '03 and '05 he made 28 combined. And that's his professional career. With the Phillies last season he threw over 100 pitchers in ten starts. In four starts he threw 114 or more. He was 22-years-old and that's just not good. As much as I wish it weren't true I think that any list of players at a high-risk of injury would have to have Hamels near the top.
One things for sure -- all five of those guys aren't getting 32 starts next year. And not a lot has changed since last year when the Phils put Floyd and Madson in the rotation. They have a few more options. Fabio Castro. Maybe Gio Gonzalez. But last year they didn't want to pitch Castro in relief in games that weren't close -- they're going to start him a year later? In addition to those guys there's some dark horse candidates but we're mostly back to the same old guys, Floyd, Madson and Brito.
With the Eaton signing it looks to me like Pat Gillick will have done a good job of fixing the most significant problem the Phillies had last season, the starting rotation. But the team is still organizationally weak at starting pitcher and the options when one of those guys goes down are still as limited as they were last year. And yes, every team would like to be stronger at sixth and seventh starter -- but not every team went into last season with two guys that were completely unproven as starters and proved to be a disaster.
The Phils aren't done making moves. I still think Victorino and Conine in right isn't enough and they'll add someone who can play there. And someone who can catch. And a couple of arms in the pen. The question in my mind is if they can bring in another guy who can start when the rotation takes a hit -- I think they need someone.
The hunt for Mike Piazza may be down to the Phillies and the A's. I would be really surprised if the Phillies signed Mike Piazza and Carlos Ruiz got more at-bats than Piazza did.
Soriano got his full no-trade clause the Phillies never would have given him. That contract might turn out to be a problem a long time before 2014.
David Weathers may be deciding from a group of teams that includes the Phillies, Giants and Reds.
Aaron Rowand may be a fan of professional wrestling. Shocker.