I have a spoiler alert for you – the Philadelphia Phillies will not be a good team in 2015. They’ll likely finish last in the National League East. However, if the team is going to move up to fourth, or maybe even third, in the division, it’ll because of their starting rotation.
Last year, the Phillies rotation was a mess. Despite throwing 1,013 1/3 innings, the third-highest total in baseball, Phillies starters were valued at just 7.6 fWAR. The only team worse was the Pittsburgh Pirates at 7.4 fWAR. The nine starters rolled out over the course of the season by the Phillies also pitched to a 3.88 ERA, 4.02 FIP, and 3.91 xFIP, good for the 20th, 22nd, and 21st best marks in the league. Those aren’t numbers to inspire confidence, but fear not, Phillies fans – the club’s rotation has been overhauled this winter.
Cole Hamels, subject of a nonstop barrage of trade rumors this winter, will remain at the top of the team’s rotation. 2014 was yet another fine year for Hamels, as he pitched to a career-best 2.46 ERA in 204 2/3 innings. He is Philly’s rock, and one of the few sources of stability left within the organization.
Cliff Lee is expected to follow Hamels in the rotation, assuming he’s healthy. Lee’s year ended after just 13 starts because of a strained left elbow, but all indications are that he’ll be OK to start the 2015 season in the rotation. Despite an out of character 3.65 ERA, Lee struck out 72 and walked just 12 over 81 1/3 innings and 13 starts.
Next up, a new addition: former Brave Aaron Harang, who had a resurgent 2014 in Atlanta. Over 204 1/3 innings, Harang posted a 3.57 ERA, struck out 161, and never had the meltdown that many expected. He’s replacing another veteran in A.J. Burnett, who was doomed by a sinking strikeout rate and rising walk rate in 2014.
There are several options for the final two spots in Philly’s rotation, which were manned by some combo of Kyle Kendrick, Roberto Hernandez, David Buchanan, and Jerome Williams. The latter two will return as options in 2015, and they’ll be joined by 2014 first round pick Aaron Nola and injured long-time Dodger Chad Billingsley. Billingsley has thrown just 19 innings across all levels since the end of August 2012 because of a pair of elbow surgeries, but is still just 30 and was a consistent arm for the Dodgers before he got hurt. Jonathan Pettibone, who had shoulder surgery last June, is another rotation option, but his health is still a question mark.
Yes, there are injury and performance questions about the Phillies rotation next season. But in 2014, Lee was their second-best starter, and he made just 13 starts. This year, the Phillies won’t be dealing with Burnett, Hernandez, and Kendrick, like they did last year for 86 starts. Even if Lee’s elbow isn’t right, the Phillies have better depth in their rotation this year with Harang, Nola, and the injury-plagued Billingsley on the scene, along with the returning Buchanan, Miguel Gonzalez, Pettibone, and Williams.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not comparing Philly’s rotation to Washington’s, or hell, even Miami’s. But if everything breaks right for the Phillies’ starting five in 2015, they could be pretty damn good.