Formidable Opponent: The #5 Spot

Jamie Moyer, 47, is recovering from three off-season surgeries on three torn groin muscles, the meniscus in his right knee, and pooled blood in his abdomen. His 2009 was forgettable as he finished with a 4.94 ERA and was removed from the starting rotation in favor of Pedro Martinez. As a mop-up reliever, Moyer was successful with a 1.93 ERA and a 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That compares favorably to his 5.34 ERA and 2:1 K:BB as a starter.

Kyle Kendrick, nearly half Moyer’s age at 25, spent most of his time in AAA Lehigh Valley last year. He rebounded from a rough 2008 season in which he started 30 games and posted an ERA of 5.49. With Lehigh Valley, Kendrick posted a 3.34 ERA in 24 starts. He had made four sporadic appearances with the Major League club between June and August, but earned a larger role in the bullpen when he was called up prior to his September 13 appearance against the New York Mets. In 21 innings, including two spot starts, Kendrick earned a clean 3.00 ERA and became a key contributor in an otherwise blase Phillies bullpen.

Both pitchers have bolted out to good starts in spring training. In five innings — all against the New York Yankees — Kendrick has allowed a meager two hits. He has yet to walk a batter and has struck out two. Moyer has only started in B-games thus far, but tossed three scoreless innings and allowed just one hit against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Who should win the #5 spot? It’s a debate that can only be settled with an adversary who matches my wit and intelligence: myself! In a complete rip-off of the Formidable Opponent segment from The Colbert Report, I will debate myself about the #5 battle.

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Jamie Moyer should win the spot. He’s 47 and has ton of baseball experience under his belt. Kyle Kendrick has only started one game in the playoffs while Moyer has started in eight.

Experience doesn’t always equate with skill. While the projections don’t peg either as being particularly good, CHONE favors Kendrick’s ERA over Moyers, 4.88 to 5.13. Ditto PECOTA, 4.93 to 5.68. Looking back to last year, SIERA also favored Kendrick in his limited time to Moyer, 4.28 to 4.74.

Well, the Phillies are paying $6.5 million to Moyer this season while Kendrick will make about $500,000 and is under team control for at least three more years. They’re not going to pay Moyer that much to pitch out of the mop-up role in the bullpen when Kendrick can simply be sent down to Lehigh.

Ruben Amaro has shown he won’t assign jobs based on salary. Last year, the team paid Adam Eaton and Geoff Jenkins a combined $15,583,333 to not play baseball in Philadelphia. This year, they’re paying Jenkins $1.25 million and Eaton $500,000 to stay out.

What about when the Phillies promised Chan Ho Park he would start when they signed him last year? He was awful as a starter, his ERA was 7.29 before going to the bullpen.

Exactly — Park was ineffective so he moved to the bullpen. Even if the Phillies award him the #5 spot out of spring training, Moyer won’t have much room for error with Kendrick breathing down his neck. Moyer winning the job out of spring training doesn’t mean much; it especially doesn’t mean that the Phillies will refuse to remove him from that role if he falters.

Both Ruben Amaro and Rich Dubee have said that Moyer is the favorite to win the #5 spot out of spring training.

There are likely a couple components to that: 1) they are throwing the old man a bone as he was miffed about his demotion last year; they don’t want Moyer to sulk in spring training, and 2) they don’t want to demotivate either player; in this case, Kendrick would have a goal to strive for, and Moyer won’t feel like he’s at the end of the line.

Even if that’s true, isn’t it better for the Phillies to simply give the spot to Moyer and let Kendrick get another year of seasoning in the Minors? As you mentioned, he’s only 25 and he doesn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of opposing batters. Working on adding new pitches — he’s been Roy Halladay’s shadow during spring training, working on a cutter — would be best for him in the long run, especially since he hasn’t even hit arbitration yet.

Does Kendrick really fit in with the team’s long-term plans? A pitcher who averages under four strikeouts per nine innings isn’t exactly the type of pitcher you pencil in the rotation three years from now. I think the Phillies and Kendrick both benefit if he wins the #5 spot, or at least if he eats up the lion’s share of starts out of that spot in the rotation. He can build up his trade value to other teams, something which Moyer cannot do with his age, recent ineffectiveness, and injury concerns. If J.C. Romero isn’t able to be relied upon in the bullpen, the team could use Kendrick to acquire a LOOGY at the trading deadline. Only Antonio Bastardo, of the Phillies’ in-house LOOGY candidates, showed a significant platoon split with a 4.02 FIP vs. right-handers and a 2.24 FIP vs. left-handers over his Minor League career.

If you trade Kendrick this July, presumably after a good first-half of the season, then you’re just putting Moyer back in that spot anyway but with fewer reliable fall-back options. You’re not going to insert Jose Contreras in the rotation unless he’s been bombing as a reliever, and then after him you have Ryan Vogelsong who hasn’t thrown a pitch in the Majors since 2006.

Kendrick doesn’t have to be traded. If he’s pitching well — let’s say a 4.50 ERA — then you can just keep him there for the duration of the season. Since he’s a free agent after the season anyway, the Phillies could pay the remainder of Jamie Moyer’s salary and ship him to another team in exchange for a LOOGY or a C-grade prospect. I would imagine, however, that the market is much drier for Moyer, which is why I suggested trading Kendrick if he pitches well.

I don’t like the idea of giving up on Kendrick, even though I don’t think he should win the #5 spot over Moyer. Moyer’s story, actually, is a good reminder of why shouldn’t just give up on young pitchers. Moyer had two good seasons out of nine before being sent to Seattle in 1996. With his nine full seasons in Seattle, he finished with a sub-4.00 ERA six times. The Cubs, Rangers, Cardinals, Orioles, and Red Sox all had Moyer at some point and tossed him aside. You know that Kendrick is making a concerted effort to improve, so is it that crazy to think he can’t improve on his sub-4 K/9 rate? The Phillies don’t necessarily need him now but they may next year or two years from now.

But will the Minors do Kendrick any good? He has over 300 innings of experience in the Majors with a track record of success despite his 4.66 career ERA. Will going back to AAA, where he threw 143 innings last year, do him any good? He can learn while simultaneously pitching out of the back of the Phillies rotation. He won’t be chastised for poor performances unless he puts up Adam Eaton-esque numbers. I think the Phillies are in a similar situation with Kendrick as the Eagles are in with Kevin Kolb. If you see him contributing to the team in the future, then you need to use him now and let him take his lumps. If not, then Kendrick/Kolb are owed the chance to start elsewhere.

. . .

The arguments in summation:

  • Moyer should win because it allows Kendrick more time to develop his secondary pitches, gives the Phillies more depth, and justifies the $6.5 million they will be paying him this year.
  • Kendrick should win because he is the better pitcher by all of the advanced metrics, the Phillies can build up his trade value and acquire another player who can contribute elsewhere, and Moyer is simply unreliable due to his age, recent ineffectiveness, and injury concerns.

Which argument makes the most sense to you? Speak out in the comments below.