In Part 2 of Part III of my baseball predictions pieces, I'm going to check out that famed Phillies pitching staff and see what the Four Aces, combined with a depleted lineup, can do in the 2011 regular season.
To start, I'll look at the 2010 seasons for each of the five starters in the Phillies' rotation, and see in which direction they're trending and where I think they'll end up after 2011 is out. After that, I'll assess the effect on the bullpen, and how all of that impacts the total amount of runs allowed (and wins accumulated) for this team.
A note on the stats I'll be looking at:
I'm using the Left-on-base percentage (LOB%), the percentage of runners that a pitcher strands on base, as another metric for a player's likely trend for next year. The league average is around 72%, with higher numbers representing a particularly effective year and lower numbers representing a particularly ineffective year. Pitchers who have big deviations either way tend to move back towards the middle the next year.
I'll also be using the xFIP stat, which is similar to the Fielding-Independent-Pitching that I used in my pitching preview post a couple weeks ago, except that it is slightly adjusted to be more predictive of future success. An xFIP that is significantly lower than a pitcher's ERA indicates that he pitched better than ERA would indicate, and the reverse indicates that he was not so good.
My expected Run Support per 9 Innings (RS/9) is based on the 4.4 runs per game that I expect the Phils to put up, and is slightly adjusted based on the fact that I would expect Joe Blanton to get better run support facing fifth starters than Roy Halladay facing aces.
And now, on to the horses...
The 2010 NL Cy Young winner, Halladay was an instant stud at the top of this rotation, throwing 250 regular season innings and winning 21 games, posting an ERA under 2.50. The high innings count worries me for a guy in his mid-thirties, as well as the fact that his ERA was about 30 points lower in 2010 than what he had put up in recent years. In terms of run support, he received almost 5 runs of support per 9 innings, which seems a little high considering he should be facing the other team's ace more often than not.
2010: 250.2 IP, 21-10, 2.44 ERA, 2.92 xFIP, 82.7 LOB%, .290 BABIP, 4.95 RS/9
2011: 230 IP, 19-10, 2.75 ERA, 3.00 xFIP, 79 LOB%, .295 BABIP, 4.20 RS/9
A member of the Mariners and Rangers last year, Lee started on the disabled list and proceeded to pitch very well for the Mariners despite receiving little run support. When he got traded to the Rangers, he struggled a little bit and this inflated his ERA slightly. His abnormally low LOB% and high home-run rate, as well as a move to the weaker National League, should boost his numbers, but I'm hesitant to expect a huge change thanks to a small ERA - xFIP difference, an unusually low xFIP last year, and particularly low walk-rate and high strikeout-rate in 2010.
2010: 212.1 IP, 12-9, 3.18 ERA, 3.23 xFIP, 67.9 LOB%, .287 BABIP, 4.45 RS/9
2011: 220 IP, 16-10, 3.20 ERA, 3.29 xFIP, 70 LOB%, .295 BABIP, 4.30 RS/9
Oswalt's record with the Astros before he came to Philadelphia was 6-12 despite an ERA in the 3's, and he ended the season with an ERA in the 2's and a 13-13 record. That speaks for itself. Another aging guy, I can't see him repeating his .253 BABIP or his low 2010 ERA relative to his xFIP, but facing weaker opposing pitchers should help his win total.
2010: 211.2 IP, 13-13, 2.76 ERA, 3.45 xFIP, 77.8 LOB%, .253 BABIP, 3.15 RS/9
2011: 200 IP, 15-11, 3.25 ERA, 3.55 xFIP, 75 LOB%, .271 BABIP, 4.40 RS/9
After a tumultuous 2009 campaign that followed a great 2008, Hamels had a very nice year in 2010, seemingly dispelling the psychological demons that had plagued him in the past. Hamels did so without showing a drop in opponents' BABIP, although his LOB% was pretty high. I wonder if the whole "Four Aces" thing will impact his psychological state, or if the fact that he will likely be the fourth starter will take some pressure off him as Halladay and Oswalt did last year. Certainly, I expect his run support to be much better this year, giving him a more respectable win-loss record.
2010: 208.2 IP, 12-11, 3.06 ERA, 3.43 xFIP, 82.7 LOB%, .289 BABIP, 3.49 RS/9
2011: 200 IP, 15-9, 3.29 ERA, 3.51 xFIP, 79 LOB%, .291 BABIP, 4.50 RS/9
Big Joe was the opening-day starter for the A's in 2008 and is now the fifth starter for the 2011 Phillies, without really showing any difference in his ability. I think he's being vastly underrated this year, especially since (as I wrote in my pitching article) he experienced a lower xFIP than ERA, low LOB%, and high opponents' BABIP last year. I expect his run support to be worse than last year given the team's decreased output, but his numbers should look pretty good for a 5 starter.
2010: 175.2 IP, 9-6, 4.82 ERA, 4.06 xFIP, 69.1 LOB%, .321 BABIP, 5.94 RS/9
2011: 190 IP, 13-8, 4.40 ERA, 4.20 xFIP, 72 LOB%, .305 BABIP, 4.60 RS/9
As for the bullpen, I figure that the loss of Chad Durbin as a reliable long reliever should be offset by the addition of Cliff Lee, thus reducing the need for middle relief. I don't see much of a reason to think that the Phils' bullpen will perform about as well as it did last year (a perfectly average 4.02 ERA), so I'm basically going to ignore it and assume constancy from last year.
Based on the ERA and innings-pitched expectations that I have for the starters, I expect about 390 runs allowed by the starters in about 1040 innings. The remaining 400 innings should go to the bullpen, and assuming a 4.10 ERA (a slight increase from last year, just to be conservative), that's a total of 570 runs allowed, a 24-run reduction from last season. With a net change of about -40 runs when you take into account runs scored and allowed, that should equate to about 4 lost wins.
My record predictions indicate that the starters will go 78-48 this year, while the Phils' starters went 70-48 last year. The remaining decisions that went to the bullpen last year (27-17) should be quite similar this year, which would seem to indicate around a 22-14 bullpen record this year. That means we would be looking at a 100-62 season for the Fightin' Phils, which is a three-game improvement from 2010.
Taking the middle road of my two approaches, it really seems like the Phillies will do pretty much exactly the same record-wise as last year. Since 97-65 was good enough to net the best record in the majors last year, I figure that's not too shabby. Let's just hope that the addition of Cliff Lee is what will get them over the top once the playoffs come around.