Starting Rotation Keys Phils’ Late Surge

On Monday, I looked at the starting rotation’s volatility compared to last year, concluding that overall, the rotation had declined in general and provided fewer elite outings. There is no question that the 2012 iteration has fallen short of expectations, due in large part to age and injury concerns. Since returning from the All-Star break, though, the rotation has surprisingly been a big asset as the team has gone 35-21 in the meantime.

Four of the seven players who have started games for the Phillies since July 13, the first day play resumed after the All-Star Game, have posted an ERA under 3.00: Cliff Lee, 2.66; Kyle Kendrick, 2.72; and Joe Blanton and Cole Hamels, 2.74. Roy Halladay and Tyler Cloyd haven’t been dreadful, with a 4.04 and 4.24 ERA, respectively. Only the now-sidelined Vance Worley had been awful at 5.33. Among all NL starters who have faced at least 100 batters since the break, Lee, Kendrick, and Hamels rank eighth, ninth, and tenth, respectively and are only three of 16 pitchers to have a sub-3.00 ERA in that span of time.

The three starters, despite having nearly-identical ERA’s, have gotten to that point in three separate ways. Hamels’ story is the least-interesting because he has been this good all year long and should garner some top-10 Cy Young votes after the season. He hasn’t been as good as he was last year as he has walked more batters, induced significantly fewer ground balls, and over-performed his xFIP by about 0.30. A 3.31 xFIP, though, still puts him in the top-5 in the National League behind Stephen Strasburg, Cliff Lee, Adam Wainwright, and Clayton Kershaw.

Lee, as predicted, regressed back to his mean after a very unlucky first half that had the entire city of Philadelphia writing him off and nearly running him out of town at the trade deadline. He didn’t get his first win until July 4, the first start after his ERA crossed the 4.00 threshold. Lee, however, had a .330 BABIP going into the All-Star break. Since then, his BABIP is .293 and he has improved his K-BB numbers from 98-20 in 97.1 first-half innings to 76-7 in 84.2 second-half innings. If the Phillies do end up winning the second Wild Card and call on Hamels in the one-game playoff as many expect, Lee would likely pitch Game One of the NLDS if the Phillies were to win.

Kendrick, on the other hand, has benefited from a combination of luck and skill. There is no question the 2012 version of Kendrick is the best to date. His second-half 18 percent strikeout rate easily surpasses his 12 percent career average and he has been very stingy with the walks as well (five percent). He is getting ground balls at a 50 percent clip since returning from the All-Star break, a rate that would be his highest in any full season at the Major League level. Kendrick does have a .234 BABIP in his last eight starts, though, indicating that some of his recent success has been a fluke, especially compared to his career .285 BABIP, which is still 15 points under the National League average.

Only the Braves are close to the Phillies when it comes to second-half starting rotation success. Here are the top-three starters since the break for the Phillies’ Wild Card foes:

If the Phillies are to complete the comeback, they will need the starting rotation to light the way. The pitching staff as a whole has held the opposition to two runs or fewer in eight of the last 11 games, so it should come as no surprise that the Phillies are 9-2 in that span of time. But in the remaining 19 games, Hamels needs to continue being Hamels, Lee needs to continue his progression, Kendrick needs to avoid regression, some sunnier days for Halladay would be nice, and maybe a Dick Ruthven-esque contribution from Cloyd, too. Needing 15 wins in 19 games to reach 87 wins, the Phillies don’t have room for mistakes anymore.

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  1. Ken Bland

    September 13, 2012 03:29 PM


    I hope you meant a Bob Walkian contribution for Cloyd, as opposed to Ruthvenesque. But if you meant Marty Bystrom, that’d be okay, too.

    If you did mean Ruthven, the similarity doesn’t stand out as obvious. Lengthy pretty successful MLB career, as opposed to Walk and Bystrom, the latter of whom especially walked on water in 1980.

  2. Frank Reynolds

    September 13, 2012 05:21 PM

    Good read.

  3. LTG

    September 13, 2012 07:40 PM

    Wouldn’t the excitement and possible agony of this run be more fun with a game thread?

  4. pedro3131

    September 13, 2012 10:14 PM

    A decent read, but I would argue that the bullpen and it’s recent success. If you look at the deviation between the mean (I’m just eyeballing the baseball reference GS/GR splits) the bullpen number the past 2 months is much more significant then the starters. That isn’t to say your analysis of the starting rotation is inaccurate, just a real testament to how bad our bullpen was early in the year, and how well it is pitching now.

    Also a side note, Billingsley is on the 60-day DL, and though your data points are “best since the break” it might be more useful to sort that to see rotations as they stand heading into the final weeks

  5. hk

    September 15, 2012 06:13 AM

    I never realized how little “stuff” Ruthven had until I looked up his career stats. In 1980, he threw 223 1/3 innings with 86 K’s and 74 BB’s, yet (amazingly) he had an ERA of only 3.55 and went 17-10.

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