Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Moyer's the Fifth Starter

Barring a trade or injury, Jamie Moyer is going to be the Philadelphia Phillies' fifth starter on the opening day roster.

The "competition" this spring for the fifth spot has been between Kyle Kendrick and Moyer. The common wisdom and explicitly expressed view of Rich Dubee, who has some say in the matter as the pitching coach, is that to win the job, Kendrick has to significantly outperform Moyer.

A tie goes to Moyer in this race. And in fact, even a loss by less than 10 yards in a 40-yard dash goes to Moyer.


Well, consider the options. Let's say you put Kendrick in the rotation. What do you do with Moyer?

Send him to the bullpen.

OK, but do you really want to do that? In the bullpen, Moyer becomes the 12th guy who gets an occasional spot start. You're not able to use him as a situational lefty because of how long he needs to warm up and the fact that he won't be able to pitch on consecutive days, and at his age, you have to wonder how much durability he'd have on a reliever's uncertain schedule.

Much to his credit, Moyer never suggested that his injury in September and the subsequent surgeries and complications were due to the shift to the bullpen; but every fan wondered. And certainly the Phillies have to wonder how long Moyer would hold up in the irregular role.

Note also that I have not mentioned at all the question of whether you really want to pay $8 million to your 12th man in the 'pen. I take Ruben Amaro, Jr. at his word when he says that money will not enter into the decision. But to put it in perspective, the Phillies weren't even willing to re-sign Clay Condrey as their 12th guy when his price tag went above $250K.

Now consider Kendrick in the 'pen. Though neither man has extensive bullpen experience, you have to think that the young Kendrick is much more suited to the role. And as a classic sinkerballer, Kendrick would seem to be a good fit as the guy you bring in to get the doubleplay grounder to short when you're in a jam.

In addition, the move on Opening Day doesn't determine your roster in September. Assume Moyer stinks up the joint in April and May (which I don't expect to happen), then there's still time to move Kendrick into the rotation.

Finally, there's David Herndon. Herndon is the Rule 5 draft pick from the Angels who has been stellar out of the bullpen this spring. Because he's a Rule 5 pick, Herndon must either remain on the 25-man roster or be offered back to the Angels, who would probably take him because of his stellar spring with the Phillies.

Herndon appears to be a solid pick to start the season in the 'pen because of the injuries to JC Romero and Brad Lidge.

Assume he does well in the first few weeks, and the Phillies want to hang on to him when Lidge and Romero come back. They could always send Kendrick (who still has minor league options remaining) to Triple A to create a spot for Herndon in the majors while they figure out whom they want to keep. They couldn't do that with Moyer.

And you really don't want to give Kendrick the number five spot, only to option him to Triple A a few weeks later so you can hold on to Herndon (in the hopes that he pans out) and then move a 47-year old Moyer from the 'pen into the rotation.

That's just bizarre.

No, it's much cleaner to keep Moyer in the rotation, send Kendrick to the 'pen, get a few appearances from Herndon in the regular season, figure out whether he's a keeper, and then make your decisions about the long-term, which might necessitate sending Kendrick to Triple A for a while as things sort themselves out.

I started all of this by saying, "Barring a trade..." and that's a crucial caveat. Moyer is a very attractive pitcher for lots of big league clubs where he'd be slotted into the number 5 (or even 4) slot into the rotation in the blink of an eye. And several relievers, including the newly emergent Herndon, might be moved as clubs realize that they're bullpen isn't as deep as it seemed in December.

So, there's a ton of action still possible, but barring a trade or injury, Jamie Moyer will be the Phillies fifth starter on opening day.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Other Guy

There's little suspense in Phillies' camp this spring.

Who's going to be the number five starter?

Who's will get the last spot in the bullpen? This is quite possibly tied to the first question.

And will the players recovering from injury (especially Brad Lidge and JC Romero) be ready for Opening Day?

That doesn't mean there's little news coming from Clearwater.

Indeed, there's a steady stream of news as Cole Hamels attempts to come back from a mediocre 2009, Placido Polanco settles in at third base, and Doc Halladay gives fans and coaches a view of their ace for the next four years.

One guy crucial to the team's success hasn't been making headlines: JA Happ.

After beginning last season in the bullpen, Happ replaced Chan Ho Park in the rotation and proceeded to have an extremely impressive season, noticed by others with a second place finish in Rookie of the Year balloting.

But sophomore seasons are tough, especially on starters.

You need look no further than Kyle Kendrick, or even Hamels to see that hitters learn a pitcher's tendencies, and the results can be brutal. Many a rookie sensation has punched a ticket back to the farm in their second go at the show.

So, though Happ's spot in the rotation on Opening Day is assured barring a complete meltdown this spring, his continued presence in the number four slot in the rotation is far from certain.

Opening Day rotations rarely hold up unaltered through to September or October. Just consider that 2009's starting five were Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, Joe Blanton, Hamels, and Park versus the September five of Cliff Lee, Hamels, Blanton, Pedro Martinez, and Happ.

But having a solid starting rotation sets up the rest of the team. Solid starters who eat innings keep the bullpen rested, which makes them more effective. It also enables Charlie Manuel to rest his starting eight more frequently because he has confidence that the team doesn't need to score 10 runs every night to win a game.

Happ did everything right in 2009. After a very brief period of being upset about losing out on the starting spot, he accepted his position in the 'pen, performed admirably, and re-adjusted to the rotation when the need arose.

Never was he seen as getting too excited by success or too upset by setbacks (excepting the natural disappointment of losing out to Park for the rotation).

He exuded quiet confidence, and I hope to see an extremely successful follow-up to 2009.

But history indicates that's not likely. So if Kendrick is not able to displace Moyer from the number five spot, there's a very good chance that he'll have another shot midseason.

After that, it gets interesting. Following Kendrick, the next most likely starter would be an aging Jose Contreras, who will almost certainly start the season in the bullpen and be expected to contribute a spot start here and there regardless.

Beyond that, you start looking at Antonio Bastardo, who has a good chance at being the second lefty out of the bullpen, assuming Romero is the first; and then?

I guess Scott Mathieson is a distant possibility, but having moved so many players the past two seasons, there's no obvious backfill.

Independent of Happ and Kendrick's performance, we're likely to rely on several other pitchers for at least 5 starts this season, perhaps more since one of our projected starters is a 47 year-old coming off an injury-plagued and rather ineffective season.

So, though the suspense might be missing, there's still plenty to learn this spring; and we'll need to keep an eye out for all of the other guys toeing the rubber as we're likely to see some of them at the Bank one sunny day this summer.