Friday, December 5, 2014

Grading the 2014 Phillies: Stay or Go? Part I: Pitchers

Here it is: the “Stay or Go?” entry. I’m taking a long time with this, so I’ve decided to post it in two parts: Pitchers and then Players. Sorry for the delay & split, but I’m not solely a Phillies enthusiast. In this two-part mini-series, I talk about the entire 2014 Phillies roster and what the front office should do with these players if they want to contend, which may not happen until 2016 or 2017, according to Phillies' interim president Pat Gillick. Today, it’ll be the pitchers and I begin with the rotation:

Despite starting the year on the DL, Cole Hamels made 30 starts & threw 203 innings. His last 23 starts were impressive, all of them quality starts. In that span, he amassed a 1.91 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, but only eight (8) wins in that span. This further proves that it’s the Phillies offense that needs the most work and the win statistic is not cool. While Hamels will certainly garner trade attention this off-season, it is in the Phils’ best interest to wait for the right deal (three of the top five prospects) and not feel the need to have to trade him. His grade: A-.

Well, Cliff Lee was pitching so well in the first trimester outside opening day (2.29 ERA) before being injured, but we know that injuries are part of the game. Yes, he should have made four rehab starts, but there was no way to predict he’d go down again. Because of his injury, I cannot grade him and he is no longer a trade candidate (he’d be a half-season rental in July). He is progressing (will throw in a couple of weeks) and should be healthy and fairly productive in 2015, which (in a rebuilding year) I’ll take.

I liked the signing of A.J. Burnett. I thought he’d net us three wins, but he ultimately did not. After his first ten starts, it looked like he’d produce for us, especially considering he was powering thru a hernia. But he had no control afterward as his 4.59 overall ERA and MLB-leading 96 free passes prove. I give him a “F+/D” for 2014 and am glad he is choosing not to return.

Kyle Kendrick has proven a durable innings-eater but is inconsistent. On average, his 5.1 IP/ start and 3.30 ERA are great for a back-end starter, but there are long stretches in which he has a 4.5-or-higher ERA. And this year, the first inning gave him trouble (near-10.00-ERA). He’s relatively inexpensive (<$10MM AAV), but there are more consistent, potentially cheaper, options on the Free Agent market than K.K. Thank you for your contributions to the five-in-a-row era, K.K., but it’s time for you to go. Grade: F+/D (Tenure: C-/C)

Jerome Williams came to the Phillies off of waivers shortly after sending Hernandez (he got a “C-“ from me) to the Dodgers. He impressed right out of the gate, going undefeated in his first five starts, ended up 4-2 w/ a 2.83 ERA with the Phillies. His 2014 was not bright (the Phils were his 3rd or 4th team of the year) but he found a niche. I can only give him a pass and say that I approve of the 1-YR, $2.5MM deal he signed circa 10/20.

David Buchannan, a Georgia native, impressed the Phillies & fans during his 2014 rookie campaign. Again, lack of run support hurt (six wins), but his line (outside his 6/3 start vs. the Nats) is very impressive: in 19 starts, he amassed a 6-7 record, 111.2 IP, 3.40 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 5.26 K/9, 2.17 K:BB, 0.81 HR/ 9 – again this doesn’t lude 6/3 vs. the Nats. He is a sure-lock to make the 2015 rotation, especially now that Burnett isn’t returning.

Given the rotation is in a bit of flux, 2015 will be the year the Phillies rebuild their rotation, especially with Jon Pettibone, Miguel Gonzalez, Ethan Martin, Aaron Nola, Jesse Biddle, Sean O’Sullivan, and possibly Adam Morgan expected to see time with the Phils next year. I cannot grade any of them, but they provided us with innings when needed (for those who reached the majors), and some have potential to impress. Furthermore, Nola & Biddle are future aces despite Biddle’s recent struggles. If I had to give a theme for 2014, it was the rebuilding of the bullpen, which is next to be evaluated.

Looking at all the usual stats (appearances, ERA, save percentage), Jon Papelbon certainly did his part to secure wins despite a slower fastball and subsequent decreased K:BB & K/9 rates. He learned to pitch and not to throw, mentoring the young arms along the way. His season, even his tenure, will not be known by his on-field successes, but for his controversial comments, clubhouse trouble, and suspension-inducing crotch grab. After reflection, despite me believing his explanation of an ill-timed adjustment, that was the final straw: I do not want him a Phillie any longer so he can pass Jose Mesa for No. 1 on the Phillies all-time saves list. He won’t be there long (Giles), but I don’t want him there for one second! Pap was well on his way to an A-, but his post-game antics drop him to a “B+” and a “yes please” to a trade, which will be tough but do-able.

I have a lot of respect for Mike Adams after saying he felt bad/ sorry for stealing money for not playing (forgive any misquoting). Yes, you cannot help injuries and a contract is a contract, but for him to say that shows he truly cares and would be willing to forfeit that money in some way. This was one of the few signings within the past several years I liked: shows Amaro knew the ‘pen was a problem. The intent was great, but it didn’t work out, which happens. I cannot grade Adams’ season or tenure, but I will say that he’s not coming back (he’s helping evaluate talent in the Rangers’ system - no offense, Mike. Thanks for trying!

If there’s one word to describe Antonio Bastardo, “enigma” would be that word. Three quarters of the time, he is “Lights Out” on the mound. The other 25% of the time has Phils fans saying, “He’s absolutely horrible… no control, please don’t let him finish the inning.” The good news: he is a good pitcher most of the time and is now a relatively cheap veteran entering his last year of arbitration. I would like to see him packaged in a trade (he and Byrd to the Reds came up in July). As for his grade, “C-” sounds about right, maybe a hair too generous.

We now look at the rookies, beginning with Justin De Fratus. He is certainly is coming along. Except for a terrible April and July, he had a 0.79 ERA. Despite those two months, he had a 2.39 ERA overall in 54 appearances & 52 2/3 innings. He struck out 49 - almost one per inning. I think he may actually be fully developed (three years in the majors now), but the jury (I) still needs to deliberate. I am sure about this: he needs to stay on the Active Roster year-round. Grade: "B+/A-".

Our youngest lefty who only recently discovered his fastball touches 100 mph is next for review. Jake Diekman did very well this year, going 5-5 with a 3.8 ERA & 1.4 WHIP in 71 innings of work. Yes, he was put out there a bit too much. In 73 appearances, he struck out 100 batters - awesome! He has been up-and-down a lot more than De Fratus and the latter had similar struggles last year, so Diekman's still developing. He's coming along nicely, though, so I give him a "B" and a "yes" to staying with the Phillies for the long-run. Ryne, do be careful how much you use him.

And now, our most prized reliever of 2014 made probably the biggest jump to the majors I've seen: from high-A in the span of eight months (Fall/ Winter leagues, camp, AA for a month, and then AAA for a few weeks). Ken Giles found a niche here with his slider - 60% of his Ks were on that pitch. It wasn’t perfect in the minors, but it somehow “just clicked when [he] got up here." The stats are incredible... the Arizona native won the battle between hitter and pitcher almost every time out: 3-1 record in 44 games (46 IP) helped along by a 1.18 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, and a staggering 12.75 K/9! Despite being called up late in the season (that was fine) & not put out there fast enough (not cool, Ryne), he was one of four rookies to receive votes for the NL R.O.Y. title - impressive for a non-closer. No doubt he will be our set-up man in 2015 and first-choice as closer when the role opens. Grade: "A".

We end the relief core with the cups of coffee. We begin with C. Jimenez and L. Garcia. Both had success in the minors (Garcia was the Owens award winner) but could not carry it over to the majors… the so-called “Quadruple-A players.” Hector Neris had a nice debut, recording his first career win & strikeout in his first appearance. I hope to see him more often. Finally, Phillipe Aumont is still proving that the Cliff-Lee-to-Seattle trade was terrible whether with or without the benefit of hindsight. The front office continues to gibe him chances to find his niche and he has failed each time, which paved the way for Ken Giles. Ruben, please release Aumont!

I’m hopeful that Jimenez, Garcia, and Neris will find their niche in 2015. I hope that occurs because we need a few more relievers, even if we’re not contenders. It is always possible at least one of our young relievers will be injured and we may see our veterans go in a trade. For the long term, at least, our bullpen is set with the core of Giles, Diekman, & De Fratus. The rotation, as I said earlier, is redeveloping in 2015 and may continue into 2016. The hitters won't be in flux until late next year, which is one of the reasons I agree with Pat Gillick's prediction of 2017 for contending. For further details on that, look for the hitters entry in the coming weeks. First, I have to discuss a few news items that came up in the past two months, especially past few weeks (Tomas, 40-Man, Offseason Plan, etc.).

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