Looking back to last week’s post about the areas where the Phillies improved their pitching last season compared to 2007, one of the areas of improvement is what they did as a group before the All-Star break.

This does not come at as a big shock considering that, in 2007, the Phillies were simply miserable before the All-Star break. It left huge room for improvement and the Phillies improved hugely. In ’07, the Phils had the worst pitching in the National League in the first half the of the year. They went into the break with a 4.91 ERA (16th in the NL), having allowed 463 runs (16th) and 432 earned runs (16th). Their ratio as a team was 1.46, which was second-worst in the league behind the Fish.

Adam Eaton and Freddy Garcia were the biggest culprits in the miserable first half for the Phils in ’07. Eaton made 18 starts in which he threw to a 5.69 ERA with a 1.50 ratio. Garcia tossed to a 5.90 ERA in 11 starts with a 1.60 ratio. That duo can’t take all the blame, though, as the pen was bounced around pretty hard in the first half of ’07 as well.

Here’s what Phillies’ starters and relievers have done before and after the All-Star break in the last two years:

Before All-Star break

After All-Star break
  ERA Ratio ERA Ratio
2007 Starters 4.99 1.40 4.80 1.45
2007 Pen 4.85 1.57 4.15 1.42
2008 Starters 4.48 1.38 3.84 1.31
2008 Pen 2.71 1.31 3.94 1.48

In 2008, the Phils put up a fourth-best 3.90 ERA in the NL before the All-Star break, allowing 403 runs, which was also the fourth-best. The starters were better, but not by as much as you might think. Hamels and Moyer both had nice first halves, Hamels made 20 starts and threw to a 3.15 ERA and Moyer made 19 and threw to a 3.95 ERA. But Kendrick was off from his ’07 pace, putting up a 4.47 ERA in his 19 starts before the All-Star game. And despite all the room for improvement that Garcia and Eaton had left from the year before, the Phillies starters didn’t exactly capitalize. Myers struggled terribly in his return to the rotation, making 17 starts with a 5.84 ERA and a 1.56 ratio. Eaton was awful again: 19 first half starts, a 5.71 ERA and a 1.61 ratio.

So while a miserable first half from the Phillies starters opened the door for improvement before the break in 2008, it was largely an outstanding performance by the bullpen in the first half of last season that was responsible for the difference between what the staff did in the two seasons.

Finally, I think it’s also interesting to note the significant drop off of the bullpen performance in the second half of the season in 2008. As a group they pitched about as well as they did in the second half of 2007 (but we much better in 2008 in the playoffs than they had been the second half of the year). As I mentioned in last week’s post, Phillies’ pitching overall allowed runs at about the same rate in the second half as they did in the first half in ’08, but that was in large part because the starting pitchers performed so much better after the break than they had before it. By ERA, the Cubs had the best starting pitching in the NL in 2008. Chicago starters threw to a 3.75 ERA, making them the only team whose starters for the year threw to a lower ERA than the Phillies’ starters pitched to in the second half of 2008.

Carlos Ruiz won’t play in the World Baseball Classic.

This suggests Adam Eaton is not in the mix to win the fifth starter’s job and that the battle will be between Kendrick, Happ, Park and Carlos Carrasco. I would be surprised if Carrasco started the year in the rotation.

Bill Conlin writes about the Phillies battle for fifth starter, giving Park the best chance to win the job, followed by Happ, Carrasco, Kendrick and then Eaton. As long as there’s one lefty in the pen I see Kendrick and Park as the front runners ahead of Happ, with Carrasco as a long shot and Eaton as a really, really long shot.

Utley says his rehab is on schedule and hopes he will be ready for opening day.

This from the middle of last week projects the Phillies’ payroll for ’09.

There’s a new Phillies blog at www.truephan.blogspot.com