The World Series Rotation

Todd Zolecki of MLB.com posted a couple days ago that the Phillies hadn’t set their rotation aside from Cliff Lee in Game One, mostly because they still don’t know who they will be opposing in the World Series. That, of course, has led to speculation and debate, so I’d like to weigh in on it, with the assumption that the Yankees win the ALCS over the Angels. It’s a safe assumption according to the post-season odds on Baseball Prospectus, which gives the Yankees an 89% chance to win the ALCS.

There are several questions to answer:

  • Should the Phillies use a three- or four-man rotation?
  • Does J.A. Happ fit into the rotation?
  • Which starters should pitch in New York?

Games 1 and 2 will be played in New York, as will Games 6 and 7 if necessary. Games 3, 4, and 5 will be played in Philadelphia. This is important to denote because Yankee Stadium is much more conducive to fly ball hitters than Citizens Bank Park. According to ESPN’s park factors, Yankee Stadium ranked first (1.261) while CBP ranked 16th (1.005) in allowing home runs.

As a result, it would behoove the Phillies to keep the fly ball-prone starters away from Yankee Stadium, especially the right-handers. Looking at the breakdown on HitTracker, left-handed hitters have a much easier time than do their right-handed counterparts. So no right-handed starters in New York for the Phillies, and keep the fly ball-prone guys away, too.

The Phillies starters’ fly ball rates:

  • Pedro Martinez: 43.9%
  • J.A. Happ: 42.9%
  • Joe Blanton: 39.3%
  • Cole Hamels: 38.7%
  • Cliff Lee: 38.1%

As it so happens, Lee in Game One and Hamels in Game Two appears to be the most likely scenario, which is the most beneficial to the Phillies.

Happ is a candidate to start, though not a very likely one as he provides more value in the bullpen since Scott Eyre is the only other reliable left-hander. Unfortunately, Happ has had a rough go of it in the post-season, allowing 11 base runners (six hits, five walks) and three earned runs in three and two-thirds innings against the Rockies and Dodgers. Based on these two facts, Happ should stay in the bullpen.

Now let’s take a look at how the Yankees have fared against each pitcher:

  • Cliff Lee: 224 PA, .820 OPS, HR per 28 PA, 14% K, 8% BB
  • Cole Hamels: 66 PA, .833 OPS,  HR per 22 PA, 17% K, 5% BB
  • Pedro Martinez: 386 PA, .661 OPS, HR per 39 PA, 28% K, 9% BB
  • Joe Blanton: 126 PA, .838 OPS, HR per 16 PA, 10% K, 6% BB

Most of Martinez’s history against the Yankees came from his prime years with the Boston Red Sox when he had a 95 MPH fastball, so his stats above should be taken with a grain of salt — he will not replicate a 28% strikeout rate.

The Yankees have hit Blanton well, smacking home runs at a frequent rate and striking out infrequently. Most of Blanton’s rates above are worse than his career averages: HR per 40 PA, 15% K, 7% BB. As a result, I would utilize a three-man rotation (Lee, Hamels, Martinez) and move Blanton to the bullpen.

The added benefit of using a three-man rotation is that it allows Charlie Manuel an extra spot for another bench player, like John Mayberry, while still keeping room for the versatility that Miguel Cairo and Eric Bruntlett provide. Antonio Bastardo would be left off the World Series roster, Blanton would go to the ‘pen, and Mayberry would be added to the roster.

Finally, a three-man rotation would mean that the Phillies could use Cliff Lee three times in the World Series if it got to a Game 7. The only hiccup in my plan comes in a perhaps unnecessary Game 6 in New York that Pedro Martinez would be in line to start. If Happ hadn’t been used much to that point, he could take Pedro’s place.

In summary, this is how it would look:

  • Oct 28 @ NYY: Cliff Lee
  • Oct 29 @ NYY: Cole Hamels
  • Oct 31 @ PHI: Pedro Martinez
  • Nov 1 @ PHI: Cliff Lee
  • Nov 2 @ PHI: Cole Hamels
  • Nov 4 @ NYY: Pedro Martinez or J.A. Happ
  • Nov 5 @ NYY: Cliff Lee

Changes to the roster:

  • Added: John Mayberry
  • Dropped: Antonio Bastardo
  • Moved to bullpen: Joe Blanton

Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on what the Phillies should do with their World Series starting rotation.