The Phillies are hoping to strike gold, or at least silver, with reclamation projects Michael Young and Delmon Young.
They’re hoping Ben Revere’s 2012 wasn’t a mirage and that the 24-year-old can maintain a high enough batting average to make up for a lack of walks.
They’re hoping Domonic Brown, or perhaps Darin Ruf, can develop into a useful everyday major-leaguer.
Oh, and they’re hoping Chase Utley and Ryan Howard can stay healthy and be at least 75-80 percent of what they once were.
Offensively, there are a ton of questions. But Ruben Amaro has built this team on pitching in recent years. You’ve surely heard a lot this offseason that in order for the Phillies to improve upon last year’s third-place finish in the NL East, they’ll need Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay to pitch like three aces.
That’s not necessarily true. They don’t all need to have Cy Young-caliber seasons. They just need to perform up to their 2010-12 averages.
Halladay, for example, had a 2.40 ERA from 2010-11. In 2012 his ERA was 4.49, and that increased his three-year average to 2.91.
An ERA near 3.00 would be more than acceptable from the 35-year-old in his fourth season as a Phillie, and here’s why: Using the three-year averages from 2010-12, the Phillies still have the best rotation in the National League by a fairly significant margin.
To illustrate this point, we took the three-year averages of the five starters of the top eight rotations in the NL. Here are the results:
When you put together the three-year numbers for Hamels, Lee, Halladay, Kyle Kendrick (as a starter) and John Lannan, you get a 3.27 ERA. The Nationals’ group of Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Haren and Ross Detwiler is closest at 3.35, but that is about a 10-run difference. The sabermetric community views 10 runs as one win, which ostensibly means the Phillies’ rotation is a full win better than the Nats’.
Aside from the Giants, the other teams aren’t nearly as close. The Cardinals’ ERA is about as close to the Braves’ as it is to the Phillies’.
Phils pitchers also have by far the best WHIP and walk rate. The difference between 2.0 walks per nine and the Nationals’ 2.6 walks per nine is vast – it’s about 70 free passes across the rotation.
What’s most interesting is how much better the Phillies’ rotation looks than the Braves’. Atlanta’s current starters have struck out close to two fewer batters per game over the last three years, walked one more every two games and allowed close to 100 more baserunners per season.
Yes, the Upton brothers improve Atlanta’s lineup, but in addition to losing Chipper Jones, Michael Bourn and Martin Prado, the Braves also traded away Tommy Hanson, and won’t have Brandon Beachy until mid-season. Is Kris Medlen going to have a 1.57 ERA again?
A one-win advantage over the Nationals’ rotation probably won’t be enough for the Phillies to overtake last year’s division-winner, as the Nats have a more potent lineup. But with an improved Phillies bullpen and a sound edge over Atlanta’s rotation, the gap between the Phillies and Braves is smaller than the splashes of this offseason would have you believe.
Now Hamels, Lee and Halladay just need to make at least 32 starts and pitch 210 innings apiece.