Sunday, September 21, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Happ/Martinez/Moyer through the prism of October

I mentioned this in my game story, and thought I'd start by elaborating. It is an interesting time to evaluate this Phillies team. It seems like regardless of how bad they play -- and in losing five of the last six, they are playing poorly right now -- the rest of the division seems content to let them run away with the title. Granted, it is early. And five games up with 58 to play is by no means a lock. But considering the teams chasing them, and their failure over the last three seasons to take advantage of the their mis-steps, it still feels comfortable.

Happ/Martinez/Moyer through the prism of October

Who will be the odd man out in the starting rotation?    (Inquirer file photos)
Who will be the odd man out in the starting rotation? (Inquirer file photos)

I mentioned this in my game story, and thought I'd start by elaborating. It is an interesting time to evaluate this Phillies team. It seems like regardless of how bad they play -- and in losing five of the last six, they are playing poorly right now -- the rest of the division seems content to let them run away with the title. Granted, it is early. And five games up with 58 to play is by no means a lock. But considering the teams chasing them, and their failure over the last three seasons to take advantage of the their mis-steps, it still feels comfortable. 

The Phillies have played 104 games this season. They have been in first place for 70 of them. From April 28 through May 7 they lost three of six games, yet GAINED a game in the standings, going from a half game down to a half game up. From June 5 through 13, they lost five of eight, yet lost just one game in the standings. From June 16 through June 26, they lost nine of 10, yet lost just 3.5 games in the standings. And they enter tonight have lost five out of six, yet have lost just two games in the standings in doing so.

I say all this to provide some sort of context to the daily beat coverage you read on this blog and in the pages of our fine newspaper. The reason I focused more on Jamie Moyer's struggles last night and less on the offense's struggles is that, for better or worse, the Phillies offense is what it is. And now that Jimmy Rollins is hitting -- in a dramatic turn of events, he has gone from one of the few players not hitting to one of the few players who is hitting -- there aren't many big-picture concerns that one can derive from a six-game slice of the present. Simply put, the Phillies have had a maddeningly inconsistent offense for the last year-and-a-half, but there isn't much they can do except ride out the downturns and wait for the next wave, which is where we now sit.

With all that said, here is the breakdown for this afternoon:

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1) I made this remark to somebody in the press box last night, and I'll make it here: I find it hard to believe that any other first-place team carries with it the level of intrigue that the Phillies currently have. Look at all the things that still need to get sorted out: What will happen with Pedro Martinez? How will his arrival affect the rest of the rotation? When will the three relievers on the disabled list return? Will Brett Myers be able to help the Phillies this season? If he is, what will his role be? Will Brad Lidge have different results in the final two months of the season? It really is a fascinating time to be covering the team.

2) Martinez makes a rehab start tonight in Reading. The Phillies have not said that this is is final rehab start. But the way Martinez has talked publicly, he expects this to be his final start, and might be a tad displeased if it is not. After pitching tonight, he would be on pace to make a start on Tuesday in Chicago against the Cubs. That would also be J.A. Happ's day to start.

3) So all signs indicate that the easiest move for the Phillies to make is to send Happ back to the bullpen, where he was 2-0 with a 2.49 ERA in 12 appearances before joining the rotation. After all, Martinez is pitching on Happ's day and Happ seems better suited for a bullpen role than Jamie Moyer. The thinking amongst my fellow beat scribes is that this move is destined to happen. I'm not so sure. . .

4A) We go back to the first point I made in this post: Right now, every decision should be made with an eye on the postseason. Sure, the Phillies are taking it one day at a time and yadda, yadda, yadda. But the fact of the matter is that, when you are defending World Champions, simply making the playoffs is not enough to satisfy the populous. So while the players are right to keep their sights short, those in charge must include October in every one of their moves. Of course, that is my point of view, but this is my blog, so I get to have one. To me, a decision like the one that confronts the Phillies needs to be made by working backwards:

4B) Moving Happ to the bullpen and keeping Moyer and Martinez in the rotation might make them a stronger team in the short-term. Happ, the thinking goes, pitched well in the role early in the year and has a young, fresh arm, so while the rotation might lose some strength by sticking with Moyer or Martinez, it would be off-set by the gain in strength in the bullpen. I don't necessarily agree with that line of thought -- after all, Happ was essentially a long man during his time as a reliever -- but let's say it is true. Chad Durbin and J.C. Romero are on pace to be back with the team within the next couple of weeks. While Clay Condrey remains far away from a return, you would think that he would be back at some point after the rosters expand in September. And the Phillies are optimistic that Brett Myers will be able to contribute in some fashion out of the bullpen. So while the team might benefit from Happ's arm in the bullpen now, what happens if all four of those players return? Two of them are capable of pitching multiple innings, like Happ; one of them is a lefty, like Happ. And one of them is a former closer with back-of-the-bullpen stuff. So if you move Happ to the bullpen, you are looking at a scenario in which the following could enter the final week of the season as relievers: Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Scott Eyre, Chan Ho Park, J.C. Romero, Brett Myers, Chad Durbin, Clay Condrey, J.A. Happ. Maybe Happ is one of the seven best relievers in that bunch. But is he markedly better than any one of them to warrant the drop-off you might suffer by taking him out of the rotation? Maybe he is. Maybe he's not. Fortunately, it isn't my decision.

4C) So we've covered the bullpen angle of the Martinez connundrum. Now let's look at the rotation. Again, we'll work backwards. If the playoffs started today, who would the Phillies want in their four-man rotation? Cliff Lee, Joe Blanton and Cole Hamels all are locks. Maybe Manuel, Amaro and Co. really would pick Jamie Moyer, deciding that his playoff experience and 10 wins outweigh his 5.55 ERA and inconsistency. If that is the case, then we've just wasted our breath dissecting this situation. Because if they view Moyer as a better starting option than Happ, then there is no reason why they shouldn't make Happ the odd man out. But let's say that, like you and I, the Phillies have watched Happ pitch into the sixth inning in all 13 of his starts, and post a team-leading 3.09 ERA, and pitch quality starts in seven of his last eight outings. And let's say that they decide that, on paper, their best playoff rotation at this point in time includes Lee, Blanton, Hamels and Happ. If that is what they project as their October rotation, does it make sense to switch it up now in August? It would stand to reason that moving Happ to the bullpen would risk tinkering with whatever magic he has been able to capture thus far as a starter. To me, the worst-case scenario is this: Move Happ to the bullpen, watch Moyer and Martinez both struggle as starters for the next month, then move Happ back to the rotation, at which point he struggles, and the Phillies are left to wonder whether Happ would have struggled regardless of a move to the bullpen, or if the yo-yoing had something to do with it. And when you have one eye on October, the No. 1 goal would seem to be avoiding worst-case scenarios.

4D) In essence, here is what I spent the last 500 words saying. The Phillies must consider Happ's worth as a starter both now and in October, divide it with his worth as a reliever both now and in October, and then compare it to Moyer's worth as a starter now and in October/His worth as a reliever now and in October and to Martinez's worth as a starter now and in October/His worth as a reliever now and in October.

5) I just realized that this blog post is already way too long, so I'll save the rest of the run down for later this afternoon.

David Murphy Daily News Staff Writer
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