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The Phillies are running away with the best record in baseball with a comfortable 8.5 game lead, and the lone reason for their success has been pitching. This certainly isn’t a surprising story for a team that offered four aces to open the season with Chase Utley on the disabled list.
However, things have not sailed as smoothly for the rotation as we originally expected. For starters, Roy Oswalt is enduring a tough season, recently spending nearly two months on the disabled list. His record stands at just 4-7 with a 3.84 ERA and horrendous 1.41 WHIP. The team has also had Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, and Jose Contreras spend time on the disabled list. To put that in perspective, those were the top three expected closers coming into the season.
Considering the Phillies lack of offense and injury issues, this is by no means the team’s full potential. The fact that they still have put together an 8.5 game lead in the division says that the post-season could be a walk in the park for the Phillies.
The 32-year-old veteran Jimmy Rollins is neither as good as he was in 2007, when he earned the MVP with a career-high 30 home runs, nor as bad as he was last season when he batted .243. Rollins is somewhere in between with a .266 average, 71 runs, 13 home runs, and 26 steals.
Rollins has managed to stay away from the injury-bug this season, and he is significantly better at reaching base with a .340 OBP. In the field, Rollins is making a case for the Gold Glove award with just five errors, resulting in a stellar .989 fielding percentage.
If the Phillies are able to win the World Series and Rollins performs at a high level, considering he will likely enter next season just 100 hits shy of 2000 hits for his career, the conversation can begin about whether the Phillies shortstop will one day find himself in the Hall of Fame.
Dominic Brown (replaced by Hunter Pence)
It was certainly a difficult season for Phillies top prospect Dominic Brown. First sidelined with a broken hand, Brown hit just .246 with five home runs and three steals before returning to the Minor Leagues after the Phillies acquired Hunter Pence.
The good news for Brown is that the franchise has by no means lost hope in the 23-year-old phenom. The Phillies went to great lengths to keep him on the roster after the trade deadline, likely passing on Carlos Beltran in order to do so.
Some good news with Brown’s statistics is that even though he is struggling when it comes to his batting average, he is not getting outmatched at the plate. This is suggested by his healthy ratio of 25 walks to 34 strikeouts, as well as his 16 extra base hits in 183 at bats. Brown will certainly return to the Phillies in September, and when he does he will likely steal at bats from John Mayberry and Ben Francisco.
Top 3 in the Rotation for Playoffs
The Phillies have a problem on their hands, but it isn’t a bad one. The playoffs are quickly approaching for the first place franchise and the big question is who will start in a seven game series.
The obvious answers are Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. The problem is that Cole Hamels is another fairly obvious starter. That means the veteran Roy Oswalt will have to pitch from the ‘pen, if at all. The same holds true for Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley, two of the more impressive young pitchers in the league this season.
The Phillies do also have the option of going four-deep in the rotation for the post-season, but my guess is that with the season on the line they will want Halladay and Lee with the ball in their hands as much as possible.
Again, this problem is far off and injuries can end up answering the question, but for now the Phillies have a delightful problem on their hands.
by Eno Sarris //
By all accounts, Roy Oswalt is dealing. He’s got an ERA under three, a good WHIP, and is pitching for a contender that should get him wins. If you drafted him to be your number two, you’re probably happy with his performance. Why should you consider selling high on the second-best Roy in Philadelphia?
In a word, swinging strikes. The average swinging strike rate across baseball is usually around 8.5% in any given year. Oswalt has been average or better in the statistic for eight of his last nine years, and that’s how he’s built a strikeout rate that’s usually average or better. This year, Oswalt has a 6.9% swinging strike rate, the lowest of his career, and far below average. That’s behind his 5.8 K/9, again the lowest of his career and far below the 7 K/9 that is average across baseball right now.
There are other facets to pitching well. Oswalt still has his patented control, as his two walks per nine inning show (3.25 BB/9 is average this year). That should continue, and it will help him keep his WHIP and ERA manageable even if he regresses. He just won’t have a ton of baserunners even if he isn’t racking up the strikeouts.
Oswalt also gets about half of his contact on the ground, which is ahead of the 44% league average. But that’s not an elite ground-ball rate, and it’s not enough for him to ‘deserve’ his current home run rate. He is giving up the fewest home runs of his career in Philadelphia (0.4 HR/9 this year, 0.76 HR/9 career). This is because only 4.5% of his fly balls are leaving the park. That number trends towards 10% yearly across baseball, and Oswalt himself has an 8.9% number in the category. More home runs are coming.
At 33 years old, there’s a little less gas in Oswalt’s tank. He’s lost a tick off his fastball (down to 91+ MPH from 92+ MPH) and he’s foresaken the slider so far this year. He’s using the slider 5% of the time after using it around 15% of the time the last three years. Sliders are known to cause stress on arms – but we haven’t heard from Oswalt that his arm is hurting. His back was the issue earlier in the year, but that’s just the sort of thing he’ll deal with as he gets older.
The point is, he doesn’t look like a true-talent mid-twos ERA guy at this point in his career. He’s not getting the swinging strikes, and some luck is covering up his lack of strikeouts. He’ll be good going forward – don’t sell him too low. But consider an ERA in the high threes much more likely from this point on. That means that if someone is willing to pay ace prices, you should listen.
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By Eno Sarris //
Biggest Surprise: Cole Hamels
We’ll term it a surprise – Cole Hamels did put up a 3.06 ERA a year after having a 4.32 number in that category last year. But if you follow secondary statistics, it was just another year for Hamels. Consider his FIPs (Fielding Independent Pitching, a stat that runs along the same scale as ERA, but strips out the park effects, defense and other factors beyond a pitcher’s control) since his rookie season: 3.83, 3.72, 3.72, and 3.67 last year. This year, he finally benefited from some good luck, standing 82.7% of the runners he put on base and thus netting his “surprise” year.
Biggest Bust: Joe Blanton
This was a good year for the deep Phillies staff, but Joe Blanton‘s ERA spiked to 4.85 from the 4.05 mark he put up in 2009. He also ate up the fewest innings since becoming a regular rotation member (175.2), fueling low totals in wins (nine) and strikeouts (136). He did have a 4.34 FIP this year, (4.21 career), so he’s basically somewhere between the 2009 and 2010 versions of himself, though neither is very helpful in fantasy baseball.
2011 Keeper Alert: Roy Halladay
Sure, the Doc is a little older these days (33), but he sure enjoyed the weaker league, as he had the best strikeout (7.86) and walk rates (1.08) he’d ever shown in a full season. The innings totals might be a little worrisome for other pitchers (more than 220 innings for five straight years), but not all innings are created equal. Halladay has averaged just 14 pitches per inning – almost two fewer than Blanton, for example – despite the solid strikeout totals. He’ll surely win some hardware and make a fine keeper this off-season.
2011 Regression Alert: Roy Oswalt
Roy Oswalt is also 33 and also put up his best strikeout rate (8.21) since he became a full-time starter. This, despite hovering under 7 K/9 for most of his recent career. Unlike Halladay, Oswalt hadn’t shown this kind of Cy Youngish performance in years. Asking for another ERA below 3.00 next season is probably asking too much.