Filling Out the Starting Rotation

The image to your right was the cover of Sports Illustrated in March 2011. Depicted were the Phillies’ four aces — Roy Halladay, Cliff LeeCole Hamels, Roy Oswalt — and Joe Blanton. It was a glorious time for the Phillies, still riding the rush of sell-out after sell-out and playoff appearance after playoff appearance. Going on two years later, a lot has changed. Once with quad aces, the Phillies now have just a pair of aces in Hamels and Lee. Halladay’s 2012 season was a disaster while Oswalt and Blanton are long gone. Meanwhile, Vance Worley suffered an elbow injury, Kyle Kendrick had immense success flirting with the league average, and Tyler Cloyd has struggled to keep his ERA under 5.00.

We assume Halladay and Worley will be ready to go by spring training, but there are no guarantees and the Phillies, more than almost anyone, know the value of having too much starting pitching as opposed to too little. Unfortunately, there won’t be many reasonable, cheap starters available in free agency after the top shelf (Zack GreinkeRyan DempsterEdwin JacksonKyle LohseShaun Marcum) is harvested, a shelf the Phillies likely won’t be standing on their tips of their toes to reach.

One name to consider is Scott Baker. The Twins have a $9.5 million option on his contract that will likely be declined. In the event Baker doesn’t take a more team-friendly contract with them, the Phillies could make a play for the 31-year-old on a cheap one- or two-year deal. Before succumbing to an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery on April 17, Baker arguably had his best two years in 2010-11, posting a 3.63 SIERA with a 3.93 ERA with a slightly above-average strikeout rate and a strikeout-to-walk ratio approaching four to one.

Carlos Villanueva is another name to keep an eye on, as the right-hander looked good after moving to the Toronto Blue Jays’ rotation at the end of June. From June 29 to August 30, the soon-to-be 29-year-old posted a 3.03 ERA with 65 strikeouts and 17 walks in 65 and one-third innings. His production declined precipitously in September, however, allowing 24 runs in 26 and two-thirds innings, thanks in large part to 10 home runs allowed. Villanueva earned less than $2.3 million in 2012 in his final year of arbitration, so he would come at a relatively cheap price if the Phillies were to pursue him.

No matter who they target, the Phillies should feel uneasy going into 2013 with a rotation that includes a 35-year-old Halladay coming off of the worst season of his career since becoming an every-fifth-day starter, Worley returning from elbow surgery, and one of Kendrick or Cloyd, both needing massive amounts of magic just to post a 4.00 ERA.

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34 comments

  1. BradInDC

    October 15, 2012 08:05 AM

    And no serious option on the farm, either. Paul made light of a comment by Brookover (maybe) the other day about May Martib Pettibone Morgan and Biddle being well regarded. I agree with him scoffing at that notion to an extent, and absolutely believe none of those guys will help the Phillies as a starter anytime in 2013. Pettibone needs an out pitch or he’d be closest. Now he’s results without reason sometimes, with several nice GB games last year, (I seem to recall something like 15 GB in one night). With an average FB, he’s more suited for MLB service than Cloyd, IMO. Martin kind of settled down after he came over from LA, but if he can’t maintain a reasonable walk rate, he’s probably headed for the bullpen eventually. Same story with May. Biddle and Morgan are the two guys profiling as starters now, and Morgan spent just half a year in AA in 2012, while Biddle will only get his first taste of AA in April. In all, I agree Bill, they ought to try to bring in someone not completely off the scrap heap and try to start 2013 with Kendrick competing for a rotation spot, at least.

  2. nik

    October 15, 2012 09:23 AM

    Anibal Sanchez is a major omission of the top-shelf talent. He would be awesome to get, but he’s going to demand a lot.

  3. AntsinIN

    October 15, 2012 10:44 AM

    I wonder what Dan Haren will want in free agency, or if he would be interested in signing a one-year, incentive-laden contract to rebuild his value after it cratered this season. He could be a good breakout possibility.

  4. mratfink

    October 15, 2012 10:47 AM

    @bradindc

    prospects don’t have to help in 2013 to be well regarded nor do they have to be future aces. quite a few guys regard Pettibone as a high probability back of the rotation starter (including Keith Law) and peg him as ready by mid-season or so. Morgan and Biddle are probably the best combination of upside and probability in the system for starting arms and a BA guy recently said both are in consideration for top 100 status (i forget who said this). but of course i agree that both are still at least 1.5 years away and more likely a full 2.

    May and Martin are both acknowledged by all professional scouts to have explosive stuff but crappy command. either of those guys would be ready if they solve their command problems (unlikely) but their arms are still highly regarded.

    i mean i guess we are agreeing a lot about these guys with the exception of Pettibone. I think Pettibone will see time in the rotation in 2013 (not a full season but probably 10 starts due to injury and the like)

  5. Phillie697

    October 15, 2012 11:11 AM

    Totally unrelated to the article and off-topic…

    I hate the Yankees and their shitty fans. You can’t score one lousy run, and you blame the ump. Stay classy.

    That is all.

  6. Eric Longenhagen

    October 15, 2012 11:26 AM

    I like the Haren idea. The Phillies always take a weird flier on a guy like that but they usually do it at the minor league level. Scott Elarton, Kris Benson, Gustavo Chacin, Rodrigo Lopez, Ryan Vogelsong, Matt Anderson…I’m leaving some guys out I think. Worth a look if the price is right.

  7. hk

    October 15, 2012 01:26 PM

    Brandon McCarthy is another intriguing SP who is a free agent and I would not mind seeing them take a shot on Francisco Liriano if the price is right.

  8. Phillie697

    October 15, 2012 01:40 PM

    I would sign Francisco Liriano ONLY if RAJ AND Charlie signs an enforceable pledge to use him as LOOGY if he doesn’t turn things around as a starter; his career 3.02 xFIP and 3.48 xFIP in 2012 suggests he can still be effective against left-handed batters. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will happen.

    I don’t think McCarthy is a good sign; his breakout year in 2011 was due to a MASSIVE reduction in his walk rate and somehow making himself into a decent GB pitcher, trends that promptly reversed themselves this year. I’m not banking on him reproducing 2011 in his age-30 season.

  9. Bill Baer

    October 15, 2012 02:30 PM

    @ Phillie697

    I don’t like referring to fans as a monolith. Most of the Yankees fans I’ve interacted with have been just as or more pleasant than fans of other teams. And I’m sure a large segment of Phillies fans would be complaining about the umpire if that had happened to them.

  10. Bxe1234

    October 15, 2012 02:50 PM

    @mratfink – yeah, I think we generally agree as well. I’m not totally down on Pettibone. He needs some more work but he’s not a junk baller or anything, so a little development of swing and miss and he could be something. I also agree with your statement that guys don’t have to be ready to be well or highly regarded. Wasn’t trying to say otherwise. I just said there was an extent to which I agree that the “five well regarded” guys comment was, in the context it was used, a bit over the top. Out of context, it’s fair to say those guys are well thought of as possibilities. I think the context made it seem like they were five mid-rotation starters-in-waiting, which is overblown given their individual weaknesses.

  11. GDF

    October 15, 2012 07:06 PM

    The starting rotation will be fine. I hope Halladay reads your “massive amounts of magic just to post a 4.00 ERA” comment. If possible, he will work even harder to prove you and anyone else who doubts his ability to bounce back. The Phillies should spend their money on a third baseman and 1-2 outfielders.

  12. LTG

    October 15, 2012 08:45 PM

    ” If possible, he will work even harder to prove you and anyone else who doubts his ability to bounce back.”

    Not even Hegel tried to deduce the contingent existence of individuals… (at least the sub-world-historical individuals)

  13. EricL

    October 16, 2012 01:36 AM

    Baker is a great option, although I wonder just how under-the-radar he really is.

    Thinking about it a little, I think my ideal off season would be a handful of reclamation projects.

    Madson, if possible on a cheap(ish) one year deal.

    Melky on a short term deal

    Baker on a short term deal

    and potentially Victorino if his value falls enough to the point where you can get him for, say, 3 years, $30-35 million or thereabouts.

  14. Phillie697

    October 16, 2012 09:06 AM

    @EricL,

    If Victorino gets a 3 yr/$35M contract, he should personally send his agent a gift basket. Several gift baskets. Or maybe a new car. I do not believe he’s going to get $35M, unless it’s from RAJ, who does love to overpay old OFs.

  15. Phillie697

    October 16, 2012 09:18 AM

    @BB,

    I take your comment to heart, and it wasn’t aimed at anyone in particular. But when you lie with dogs, you are going to get fleas. We Phillies fans have a reputation, and I don’t blame people when they call us out on it, and I particularly love it when WE as fellow fans call ourselves out on it. While I have many Yankees friends as well, and many of them not so obnoxious, I don’t have a single one who thinks that obnoxious behavior is out of line.

    It’s just the way it is. Truth is truth, and we should tell it like it is, no matter how unpleasant it seems. If the reasoned Yankees fans don’t like it, then speak out against their fellow fans, which you yourself have done in this space countless times. Maybe I could have been a little diplomatic in my comment, but this is still a sports blog right? We still egg on players and fans of other teams, right? Or did I sleep too long last night, woke up today and it’s 2053, when everything has to be PC?

  16. EricL

    October 16, 2012 09:41 AM

    Phillie, I think Shane will easily get 3-30, and perhaps a bit more. Take a peek at Fangraphs and tell me the last time Shane had a season in which he wasn’t worth $10 million dollars, according to their valuations.

    He’s coming off a bit of a down year, so that’ll suppress the number he signs for a little bit, but he’s been one of the best CF in baseball for years. Since 2008 he’s 3rd in fWAR, just a hair behind Matt Kemp and Josh Hamilton. If you limit it to just looking at the last 3 years, he’s fifth behind McCutchen, Hamilton, Bourn and Granderson.

    That’s the kind of company that will net you a decent sized payday. If Ruben can bring Shane back on a short-term deal at the low end of that range I think that’d be a very nice signing.

  17. Phillie697

    October 16, 2012 11:16 AM

    @EricL,

    WAR and actual market value are not the same. We might use WAR as stat heads to gauge whether a player has performed to the value of his contract, but the market isn’t static like that. Shane made $9.5M last year, you think there are any team that’s going to say, “hey Shane, come play for us for even more money than you made last year!!!” after the year he just had? I highly doubt it.

    I don’t disagree that Shane is good. I wouldn’t mind having him back. But he’s not going to get $35M out of anyone besides the Phillies, if we bring him back at all. He’s just not that “established star” that people will pay premium just for the name and reputation; teams think they can haggle him a little.

  18. Phillie697

    October 16, 2012 11:18 AM

    FYI, 3/$30M is a possibility (not a high chance IMO), but no way he get 3/$35M.

  19. hk

    October 16, 2012 11:32 AM

    EricL,

    The supply and demand of the situation leads to the question of who might give $30M+ / 3 to Shane. This is a bad year for him to be a free agent as most of the large budget teams (NYY, DET, BOS, LAA, LAD, STL) already have CF’s and there are other CF’s on the free agent market (Hamilton, Bourn, Upton, Pagan) and potentially on the trade market (Fowler?, Rasmus? Chris Young?).

    I hope that RAJ realizes that it is a very good year to be a large budget team with a need in CF.

  20. Phillie697

    October 16, 2012 12:05 PM

    If RAJ spends more than $10M a year for a CF, I might have to start a movement to occupy his house, his office, his car, his dry cleaner, etc. until the Phillies get rid of him.

  21. joecatz

    October 16, 2012 12:45 PM

    Don’t be surprised to see the Phillies trade for Wade Davis or James Shields.

    Shields has a 9mm option in 13, 12mm in 14. with 1.5 buyouts on each. Price is in line for at least 10-15mm in arbitration, and I find it hard to believe that tampa will spend 1/3 to 1/2 of their 2012 payroll on Shields and Price.

    Davis is trickier. just under 3mm this season, jumps to 4.8mm in 2014 and then a 7mm option in 15. Thats cheap for a starter, but way more than they want to spend on a reliever.

  22. Phillie697

    October 16, 2012 01:10 PM

    Trade for Wade Davis or James Shields with what, RAJ’s soul?

    That aside, why is everyone so down on Cloyd? Last time I checked, aren’t 8.18 K/9 and 1.91 BB/9 for a sparkling 4.19 K/BB ratio exactly what you want to see out of your rookie starter? The only thing that hasn’t come is his supposedly decent GB % in the minors, although the only indication of that that I am aware of are words of mouth from those supposedly in the know. He allowed a RIDICULOUS 8 HRs in just 33 innings; I certainly don’t expect that to be repeated next year. I certainly wouldn’t be too upset if we started the 2013 season with Worley and Cloyd as #4 and #5 starters.

  23. EricL

    October 16, 2012 01:41 PM

    Phillie697, Shane Victorino is an established star.

    Now, I agree that the seeming glut of CF options will depress his price somewhat, but I also think it’s a mistake to think that only large market teams can sign a CF to a 3/30 type deal. In today’s game, that’s a relatively modest contract. Further, there are a number of teams looking to fill a CF vacancy or improve on what’s already there: Atl, Was, Tex, SF, TB, Cin(?), Chi-AL (?), Bos(?), etc. Either way, I think if you had polled fans before this season and asked if they would have taken a Victorino extension that was 3-30, they would have been nearly universally thrilled with it. He had a down year, but I think that’s a VERY team-friendly deal for a guy of his calibre. Hell, look at what Corey Seidman was saying his value was just 6 months ago: philliesnation.com/archives/2012/03/phils-can-afford-victorino-and-hamels-but-not-a-3b/ [Cliffs: He comps Tori Hunter’s 5/$90 extension signed in 2008, and posits Vic is in the $15m/per range]

    As for why nobody has much hope for Cloyd, this is why: www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=9486 – he just doesn’t throw a baseball hard enough. His average fastball velocity was 87.2 mph. His K/BB rates are elevated because of the very small sample size we saw and it’s very, very likely that he won’t post anything like those numbers over any decent number of IP at the major league level. Over 150 innings he struck out like 5.9 batters per 9 in AAA this year (which is also a SSS, but probably close to what you’d expect from a guy with his stuff throwing to refined hitters).

  24. Phillie697

    October 16, 2012 01:56 PM

    @EricL,

    No one is asking Cloyd to be Roy Halladay. A 5.9 K/9 with a 1.91 BB/9 is still a decent 3.1 K/BB ratio. There are plenty of pitchers with FB in the high 80s that do decently well. Most of them are veterans who supposedly can rely on their experience and better control to spot pitches; I don’t know about you, but a 1.91 BB/9 sounds to me like he’s got plenty of control to spot pitches as he learn to pitch to MLB hitters.

    The ultimate point of statistical analysis of baseball is that all scouting report aside, at some point, a player’s talent, or lack thereof, will show up in his performance/stats; we can argue until we are blue in the face, but what happened on the field happened on the field. Unless you buy his ridiculous 17% HR/FB ratio as indicative of some flaw of his game and therefore will be repeated, there is no reason to believe Cloyd hasn’t done pretty darn well in his first shot at the majors.

    “I think if you had polled fans before this season and asked if they would have taken a Victorino extension that was 3-30, they would have been nearly universally thrilled with it.” Yeah okay… Except this season happened. We don’t all live in the past.

  25. hk

    October 16, 2012 02:13 PM

    “Further, there are a number of teams looking to fill a CF vacancy or improve on what’s already there: Atl, Was, Tex, SF, TB, Cin(?), Chi-AL (?), Bos(?), etc.”

    Let’s go through them:

    ATL – Yes, but they rarely target the big free agents. They seem more likely to fill CF by trading some organizational depth for a Dexter Fowler or Chris Young.

    WAS – They will probably sign one of the big 5 free agent CF’s.

    TEX – They might fill CF from within (some combination of Leonys Martin, David Murphy and Craig Gentry) and spend to fill another need.

    SF – Yes.

    TB – Will most likely move Jennings to CF and be out of the market for Hamilton, Bourn, Upton Pagan or Vic.

    CIN – Not unless they’re willing to significantly raise their payroll. They spent $88M this year and they already have $74M committed to 12 players and huge raises coming to Bailey, Latos and Leake.

    CHI (A) – I don’t know why they’d look to upgrade over De Aza.

    BOS – Only if they trade Ellsbury, which adds another CF to the supply of available ones.

    In summary, I still think the supply of available CF’s > the demand for them, in large part because Tampa will almost certainly replace Upton from within, Texas may replace Hamilton from within and Arizona wants to move Young so that Eaton can play CF.

  26. Phillie697

    October 16, 2012 02:44 PM

    To add to hk’s summary, I think Texas will also spend a big chunk of their available budget going after one of the marquee pitchers, which btw is what they SHOULD do; spending money on a big-time pitcher imo is a better use of their resources than finding another bat; this is a team that led all of baseball in offense but only 9th in runs allowed in their own league. Darvish is a neat little pitcher, but don’t tell me Rangers fans weren’t wishing that it was Zack Greinke they were trotting out there against Baltimore in the WC game instead of Darvish (not to suggest that Darvish was responsible for that loss).

    And please, Tampa is one of the most shrewd organizations in all of baseball; even their bat boys inherently know at birth that it’s easier to find good corner OFs than CFs. I’d bet my house Jennings start next season as their CF. Plus they got Ben Zobrist. Any team with Ben Zobrist has no absolute need to sign anybody at any position; if a position is too scarce, they plug Zobrist there and go after the easier and cheaper option elsewhere. I freaking love Ben Zobrist.

  27. EricL

    October 16, 2012 02:58 PM

    Phillie, do me a couple favors:

    First, stop acting like the 33 innings Cloyd pitched in the majors this year tells you anything. It doesn’t. Those numbers are irrelevant.

    Second, read the Baseball Prospectus article I linked. It explains to you why right handed pitchers who max out their fast ball at 87 miles per hour tend not exist at the major league level.

    The money quote: “Nearly 92 percent of all right-handers have at least average velocity [Cloyd does not – EL], 80 percent are above average, and well over half (55.7 percent) have true plus fastballs. If anything, it’s a cruel reminder that you can have as much pitchability or command as you want, but unless you are really unique, if not downright special, it’s just not going to matter unless you also throw one by a guy once in a while.”

    Can Cloyd pitch at the highest level? Sure, anyone can stand on a lump of dirt and throw baseballs toward home. Will he succeed? The odds are overwhelmingly against it. Kyle Kendrick is a MUCH better option for the 5th starter role – it’s not particularly close. And that’s coming from someone who generally hates Kyle Kendrick.

    As for Victorino, I’m not really disagreeing with you, hk. I agree that this will be a buyer’s market for CF. What I’m saying is that the buyers market will push Victorino down from the $15mm/per range to something like $10-11, at which point I think it becomes a good deal.

    Phillie, if you think one season of decreased performance is enough to invalidate the previous five seasons of very good to excellent performance, well, I’m not sure what to say. Yes, he had a bad season. He’s still one of the best all-around CF in the game, and if you can get him for Aubrey Huff or Michael Cuddyer type money ($2,ooo,ooo less than Aaron Rowand was paid this season, btw), then that’s a very good deal.

    Look at it this way: Curtis Granderson was worth 2.7 fWAR this season. He has an option for next season that will likely be picked up at $15,ooo,ooo, and everyone will be fine with that.

    Shane Victorino was worth 3.3 fWAR, and you’re saying $11,6oo,ooo is too much?

    Look at the list of comps I posted above. He’s in league with Bourn, Granderson, Kemp, Hamilton and McCutchen. If you think being in the same neighborhood as those guys means you’re not worth $12 million a year, I don’t think you’re being realistic. Yes, the market will depress these salaries this season, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to get a guy of Shane Victorino’s calibre for like 8 million per annum or some such nonsense.

  28. hk

    October 16, 2012 03:06 PM

    When RAJ gives 5 / $80M to Bourn, Shane for 3 / $30M or even 3 / $35M will look awfully good in comparison.

  29. Phillie697

    October 16, 2012 03:24 PM

    EricL,

    Again, we are talking about market value, not true value. I have no problems having Vic back, and if RAJ play his cards right, we can have him back paying him a lot less than his value on the field. That’s great. You take the analysis on how he won’t be getting paid as if I’m insulting his talent; I’m not. Are you Shane Victorino in disguise? Or maybe you’re his agent trying to pump up his value? If so, no offense to BB and his site which I love, but I think you might be better off pumping your client’s value elsewhere. This isn’t a discussion of how much he SHOULD get paid; this is a discussion about how much he actually WILL get paid.

    As for Cloyd, I’m of the opinion that unless you put a guy out there, you don’t know if you actually have something special. We know what we’ve got in Kyle Kendrick, i.e. not much better than replacement level, and at best league average; it’s not like KK hasn’t gotten his shot and then some. So far, for 33 innings, Cloyd has done alright. Let see if he can continue to be alright, otherwise, what was the point of bringing him up to the majors? What, did we not realize he threw 87 mph before? There is a word to describe those people who would give some guy a shot, but then continue to knock him even while he’s doing what you could reasonably have hoped he would do, but right now I can’t think of the word.

  30. Phillie697

    October 16, 2012 03:28 PM

    And btw, you might want to be consistent in your arguments. One point you claim Cloyd averaged 87.2 mph, then now you argue he “maxes out” at 87 mph. Which one is it?

  31. EricL

    October 16, 2012 05:19 PM

    I thought I was pretty clear, but I think you’re still not actually reading what I’m writing here.

    I said, explicitly, that I think Shane’s value is in the $15+ million range, and that due to the current market conditions he’ll likely get something like $10-11 million per.

    I also said, explicitly, that you have no idea what Cloyd is at the major league level because 33 innings is a useless sample size. The point of bringing him to the majors was to fill the hole in the rotation created by Worley’s season-ending elbow surgery. Worley should be completely healthy come spring training, and so Cloyd doesn’t have a position, other than perhaps mop-up long man duty.

    As for his velocity, According to Fangraphs Cloyd’s average FB velocity this season was 87.2 mph. According to BrooksBaseball his average velocity was 87.4. So, yes, my comment that he “maxes out” is incorrect, although in 3 of his 6 starts his max fastball didn’t touch 88 (9/3 [87.1 mph max], 9/13 [87.4 mph max], 9/20 [87.7 mph max])

    Regardless of whatever rhetorical nits you want to pick, the guy does not throw the ball hard enough to have success at the major league level. If you think he’s going to be one of the ~8% of all RHP who survive in the majors without an average fastball the onus is on you to explain why he’s going to succeed. The null hypothesis for soft-tossing righties is that they will fail at the major league level. Goldstein’s article shows that the people in the bottom tier typically have some sort of strange quality that allows them to survive without it (sidearm delivery or exceptional height and deceptiveness like Chris Young). There is no reason to think Cloyd has any special abilities that will allow him to perform where countless others have not.

  32. GB

    October 16, 2012 10:18 PM

    I would have to add to the 35 yr old Halladay, Kendrick and Cloyd that you also have 34 yr old Lee who, outside of some bad luck and poor run support, did show some signs of struggle this season too…Halladay is up next year so if he hits the wall you can get out quickly, but we have Lee signed for years to come and better hope he can pick it up

  33. Phillie697

    October 17, 2012 12:04 PM

    @EricL,

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree on Shane and let the market prove to us which one of us is right. I’m telling you right now he’s not getting 3/$35M.

    As for Cloyd… If you really think we brought him up just as an injury replacement for Worley, then you haven’t been paying attention. He was going to get a trial in Sept. regardless of Worley’s injury situations. And you’re right, if I accept your premise that only 8% of RH pitchers with Cloyd’s FB velocity will make it in the majors, then the onus is on me to show that he has a reasonable chance to perform well… Except that showing is already implicit, no? He HAS performed well despite your premise. Yes, his AAA numbers were a bit alarming, but he did post a ERA of 2.35, and in 2011, his numbers were sparkling in A and AA ball. It’s not like his FB velocity took a dive somewhere along the line, so your “premise” was in effect for that entire duration. You say that’ll change in the majors, but like I pointed out, in 33 innings (yes very SSS), there has been no signs of that. So I HAVE made some showings of how he might be able to perform well, which you have to this point not addressed at all except for keep mentioning the two tired points of 1) 33 innings don’t mean anything, and 2) his fastball is 87 mph. Basically all you have said is that you’re not convinced yet, which is fine, but if you’re going to dismiss someone else’s opinion and accuse him (namely me) of stating it as fact, then perhaps you ought to not do the same yourself.

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