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.

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14 comments

  1. Matt

    October 25, 2009 11:49 AM

    The biggest problem with the three man rotation that everyone is ignoring, is that it requires both pedro and cole to pitch on three days rest. So while Lee may be able to pitch on short rest, i have zero faith in cole or pedros ability to pitch on three days rest.

  2. Corinne

    October 25, 2009 12:08 PM

    I think dropping Bastardo for a position player and leaving 10 pitchers on the roster could be suicide. Matt points out that a three man rotation asks them all to pitch on three days rest which is simply something Pedro cannot do. The Phillies will use 4 starters if the series goes the distance and, as a result, will require at least 11, if not 12, arms on the roster.

    I realize this a statistical analysis, but Cole’s mental state going into Yankee Stadium terrifies me. I see his first start being in Game 3 at CBP, even if that leaves the uncertainty of Pedro at Yankee Stadium.

  3. Aaron H

    October 25, 2009 12:52 PM

    I’m also concerned about Hamels pitching at Yankee stadium, not so much for his mental state, but more about his high HR/flyball rate he’s been putting up this year (about twice as high as his career numbers). It’s probably just a fluke season, but even so, he’s been giving up a lot of HR balls this year, which would be a big problem going into Yankee stadium.
    Plus, I’ve really liked Pedro’s big-game mentality this year. Putting him in Yankee stadium would be an awesome curtain call for him in the playoffs, and I think he would pitch at his best.

  4. Bill Baer

    October 25, 2009 01:29 PM

    Matt, I could be missing something, but looking at Cole’s game logs on Baseball Reference, he has never pitched on short rest, so we really don’t know how pitching on short rest will affect him.

    As for Pedro, if Manuel doesn’t decide to use Happ — and I don’t think he will — then there shouldn’t be much to worry about with Pedro. He hasn’t been used that much this year, so it’s not like he’s running on fumes. Looking at his velocity, he didn’t wear down at the end of the season, and he looked sharp, of course, in his start against the Dodgers.

    Corinne, I don’t know how we can say either way that Pedro definitely can or can’t pitch on short rest. In Yankee Stadium, I would prefer to go with Happ anyway, but if Manuel decided to go with Pedro in Game 6, I wouldn’t complain.

    Would you feel more comfortable with Joe Blanton, who the Yankees have battered, or a lightly-used Pedro on short rest?

    Aaron, here are Hamels’ HR/FB rates:

    - 2006: 12.5%
    - 2007: 12.8%
    - 2008: 11.2%
    - 2009: 10.7%
    - Avg: 11.7%

    Yeah, I would say 2009 was pretty flukish for Hamels. Matt Swartz had a great article detailing why at Baseball Prospectus:

    Taken all together, Hamels simply is the same pitcher he was last year. He throws the same pitches at the same speeds, and induces the same amount of contact and same magnitude of contact. He throws as many balls and as many strikes. He is neither the type of pitcher who will consistently put up ERAs as low as 3.09 or as high as 4.32; his skill level is more likely around 3.65.

  5. Corinne

    October 25, 2009 02:15 PM

    Bill, here’s the thing, Pedro has never started on 3 days rest in his Hall of Fame career. The man’s 38th birthday is today and he has only pitched 14 innings in the last month and a half. So, yes, that confidently leads me to the conclusion that Pedro will not make a full start on 3 days rest this postseason. Could I be wrong? absolutely, but I really don’t think I am.

    Here’s my WS rotation:

    Game 1 Lee
    Game 2 Pedro
    Game 3 Hamels
    Game 4 Lee
    Game 5 Happ
    Game 6 Hamels (Pedro if he dominates Game 2)
    Game 7 Lee

  6. eh

    October 25, 2009 11:31 PM

    Considering what happened to zito, it’s not surprising to see this happen to hamels. when you dont have a swing and miss fastball, and essentially only have one other pitch, the foul balls, and hits simply add up, and innings go down. he better work on his curve, or get a slider.

  7. Ed

    October 26, 2009 06:46 AM

    The reason you won’t find any stats about Hamels pitching on three days rest is because he flat our refuses to do so. According to him, he knows his body and he knows he can’t do it. I am a huge Phillies fan, but not much of a Hamels fan. He seems to be more concerned with him than with the overall big picture. Hopefully he can prove me wrong and come back on short rest, and not just that but be successful. But so far he has been unwilling to do it, which is just a shame. Cole also has to realize, he will only have to go on short rest once at the most and then that’s it.

    As mentioned before Pedro has never pitched on 3 days rest but I bet he would if he was asked to do so. And I bet he could be successful. Don’t forget, until he signed with the Phillies he had a few months off so his arm does not have the wear and tear that someone would have if they had pitched all season and now have to go on short rest.

    Should be interesting to see how Charlie manages his rotation. I wish we had more guys like Lee who will pitch whenever you ask him to.

  8. Brian J

    October 26, 2009 07:36 AM

    I’d be more shocked seeing Cole Hamels pitching on short rest than I would by Tim McCarver making it nine innings without saying something stupid. (The over/under on him butchering Carlos Ruiz’s name is about 30… he’s sure to call him Roo-is!)

  9. Dan

    October 26, 2009 08:08 AM

    I doubt that pitching the Phils on a 3 man rotation will help their chances. Their only shot at this is to beat the hell out of the Yankees pitching with their walks and power. If Hamels, Pedro, and Blanton can keep about a 4.0 ERA in this series, and Lee can give us 2 quality starts, we win.

  10. havaiwill

    October 26, 2009 08:11 AM

    I also am a big Phillie Phan, but not of Hamels (nor Manuel for that matter). I’m also unimpressed by your using fly ball rates – based over a career? That’s as silly as “Mr. Manuel” yanking Martinez in game two of NLCS when he was tossing a nearly perfect game, based solely on Martinez revealed later was a pre-canned, pre-game, entirely arbitrary “pitch-count.” Ah, but CM later said he thought “Martinez was done.” Recent performance clearly indicates Martinez has been as “hot” as Hamels “cold.” Ah, but statisticians can dredge up #’s from years gone by and muddy the obvious.

  11. Steve

    October 26, 2009 08:15 AM

    Game 1: Cliff
    Game 2: Cole
    Game 3: Pedro
    Game 4: Cliff
    Game 5: Big Joe Blanton
    Game 6: Cole
    Game 7: Cliff

    I agree that Cole can’t go on short rest (no prior history). In order for him to go twice this series, he will have to start game 2.

    If Cole throws up a clunker in game 2, then Pedro or Happ could go in game 7 (I don’t really trust Pedro on short rest, he looks like he is laboring every outing as it is).

    Ideally, I think leaving Happ in the bullpen is the best bet for the phils. I also think they should add Myers if he can help like Chan Ho did in the NLCS.

    Ben Francisco will start in left and RAULLLL will be DH? Ideas?

  12. Vote4Pedro

    October 26, 2009 11:32 AM

    Just throwing this out there,…as I am trying to figure out the best rotation myself.

    Game 1 goes to Lee (check)
    Game 2? How about we throw Pedro in Yankee Stadium. He is hated there and he does well in that type of situation. I think he could throw a gem there.
    If he loses, we come home to Hamels in Game 3 and then possibly Blanton or back to Lee.
    As much as I was against the acquisition of Pedro when it was first announced, he has done VERY well. He’s a gamer.
    Bring it on jankees!

  13. Dan

    October 26, 2009 12:35 PM

    This is my first time reading here, but Bill, you have got to be joking yourself if you think Charlie will throw Cole on short rest for the first time in his career. Cole is a creature of habit. There’s just absolutely no way.

  14. Bill Baer

    October 26, 2009 01:24 PM

    Havaiwill, the fly ball rates were based on the 2009 season.

    Dan, I don’t think Cole has any leverage this time. He had leverage last year because he had a great regular season and post-season, but when you have an average 2009 and awful NLDS/NLCS as Hamels has this year, you lose your leverage at the bargaining table.

    What’s he going to say to Charlie to convince him that he shouldn’t take the ball on short rest? Especially when Cliff Lee will happily take it.

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