Monday, December 29, 2014

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: Rotation/Bullpen

Make sure to buy the paper Wednesday. Check that. Make sure to buy the paper every day, but buy three copies on Wednesday: One to read, one to keep for posterity, and one to give to a friend who looks like he might need a little baseball knowledge dropped on them.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: Rotation/Bullpen

Giving up Cliff Lee and trading for Roy Halladay were two big offseason moves made by the Phillies. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)
Giving up Cliff Lee and trading for Roy Halladay were two big offseason moves made by the Phillies. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)

Make sure to buy the paper Wednesday. Check that. Make sure to buy the paper every day, but buy three copies on Wednesday: One to read, one to keep for posterity, and one to give to a friend who looks like he might need a little baseball knowledge dropped on them.

That's right -- the annual Daily News Spring Training Preview is coming out Wednesday. The theme of my main piece is change, and right now I am trying to decide what song lyric to work in. Feel free to give some suggestions, but here are three I'm considering:

"They'll all look at me and say/Hey look at him! I'll never live that way/But that's OK/They're just afraid to change."

--Change by Blind Melon

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"Time may change me/But I can't trace time."

--Changes by David Bowie

"You gotta operate the easy way/I made a G Today/But you made it in a sleazy way"

--Changes by Tupac

I'm leaning toward Blind Melon -- One, because I don't want to get a bunch of emails from people who swear I misprinted David Bowie's lyrics. Two, because I don't think the Tupac lyrics are very relevant. Three, because I like the song.

Anyway, in the spirit of 21st-century information-distribution, I figured I'd give you guys a peek at some of what I'll be writing about well before you actually have to pay for it.

I'm going to take the 25-man roster on the day the Phillies clinched the NL East last season, and stack it up against the 25-man roster we're projecting will start the month of May (to account for injuries). That way, we can evaluate the changes the Phillies have made, man-for man.

I'll hit the rotation and bullpen today, and the line-up, bench and field tomorrow.

I. Rotation

Roy Halladay for Cliff Lee at No. 1 starter

Up is up, and the Phillies are obviously up here. Lee was spectacular when he first arrived from Cleveland and was dominant in the postseason, but he allowed at least five runs in four of his last seven starts of the regular season. Halladay has a longer track record of consistency, has not walked more than 1.9 batters per nine innings in any of the last four seasons, and posted a better ERA in a tougher division last season. It might not be a huge upgrade, but it is an upgrade.

VERDICT: UP, marginally

Jamie Moyer or Kyle Kendrick for Pedro Martinez at No. 5 starter

Although Kendrick pitched well at Triple-A and in a short stint in the majors, it is still unknown whether he has developed his change-up and slider enough to be effective as a regular starter. Moyer, meanwhile, is coming off both a disappointing season and a hellish offseason in which he underwent two surgeries and was hospitalized twice for complications. Martinez struggled in the World Series, but stabilized the fifth spot in the rotation after his midseason signing.

VERDICT: DOWN, until we know more

Cole Hamels for Cole Hamels at No. 2

I haven't talked to Hamels at all this season, but if I were him, I'd be pretty tired of hearing how bad I was last season. Consider: In his last 29 starts -- after an ugly seven-run outing against the Rockies in which his fastball was in the mid-80's, another against the Padres, and an injury-shortened performance against the Brewers -- Hamels posted a 3.94 ERA, allowed 0.95 home runs per nine innings, and struck out 7.84 batters per nine. Certainly not the Hamels we saw in 2008, but not nearly the basketcase teetering on the brink of collapse that some have portrayed.

Hamels struggled mightily in the playoffs, particularly against left-handed hitters, and there has been plenty of speculation about the importance of him developing a cutter this spring. I'm sure Hamels will experiment with a cutter, but his curveball is not a bad pitch -- he just seemed like he didn't have a ton of confidence in it last season. When Hamels' fastball is crisp and his change-up is acting the way he wants, his curveball is effective enough. I really think the inconsistency he showed last year was more a result of feeling less-than-100 percent physically after a grueling 2008, and what you saw in the postseason was a giant snowball that had accumulated girth and speed throughout the season.

VERDICT: HUNG JURY


II. Bullpen

Jose Contreras for Chan Ho Park at right-handed/multiple inning/7th-8th inning reliever.

Contreras is very much a wild card, but so was Park two years ago when the Dodgers converted him from a starter to a reliever. The big righty pitched well for the Rockies down the stretch in a relief role, and he'll provide some depth in the rotation. Still, Park was outstanding last season, and on paper this switch is a drop-off.

VERDICT: DOWN

Danys Baez for Chad Durbin at right-handed/multiple innings/7th-8th inning reliever.

Durbin is back, but his role will likely change now that Contreras and Baez are in the fold. Baez has closing experience, and he put up solid numbers last year for the Orioles in his first season back from elbow surgery. His fastball averaged 93.3 MPH last season, according to FanGraphs.com, about three miles faster than Durbin's. He also pitched well in a set-up role late in the season, and posted an excellent groundball rate.

The addition of Baez and Contreras gives the Phillies more right-handed, late-game options than they had last season, which could help keep Madson and Lidge fresh while allowing Durbin to occupy more of the role he did in 2008, when J.C. Romero provided and a healthy and effective option late in games.

VERDICT: UP

Chad Durbin for Clay Condrey at right-handed/multiple innings reliever

Condrey had a solid season last year, but was hampered by injuries late in the year and was ultimately non-tendered.
Durbin, a former starter, has been more effective in clean inning and multiple inning situations where he can afford to put men on base and work out of his own trouble.

Consider: In 18 relief appearances that lasted more than three outs last season, Durbin allowed just nine runs in 36.1 innings (1.98 ERA), allowing 1.14 walks and hits per inning.

VERDICT: UP

Antonio Bastardo for Scott Eyre at left-handed reliever

Eyre was a true lefty specialist and thrived in that role for much of the last year and a half. But with his retirement, the Phillies don't have a player to fill that role. Bastardo is the likeliest choice, although he relies heavily on his fastball, while Eyre's slider was a deadly weapon against left-handed hitters. Bastardo has plenty of upside, but he is still very much unproven.

VERDICT: DOWN

Kyle Kendrick/Jamie Moyer/Sergio Escalona for Jamie Moyer at Wild Card

Moyer performed well in long relief after losing his spot in the rotation, but his appearances were very much like starts. That said, Moyer has more major league relief experience than either Kendrick or Escalona.

VERDICT: EVEN

J.C. Romero for Brett Myers at injured reliever

A healthy return by Romero would provide a tremendous boost to the bullpen. But he is in danger of missing up to a month, and perhaps more, depending on how his surgically-repaired elbow responds in spring training.

VERDICT: HUNG JURY.

David Murphy Daily News Staff Writer
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