In today's paper, Sam Donnellon outlined the argument for Vance Worley as the Phillies' No. 4 starter in the postseason. There is a lot of logic in there, and if the emails I receive are any indication, a lot of fans agree with Sam's thinking.
But as long as Roy Oswalt is healthy and pitching the way he has since coming off the disabled list, the Phillies will almost certainly start Oswalt and send Worley to the bullpen. And that's the smart play.
That's no offense to either Sam or Vance. Worley has been a revelation this season, while Oswalt has looked much more mortal than the pitcher who dominated down the stretch last season.
But to look at this rationally, you need to set aside the expectations for both players and look only at reality. And the reality is that there really isn't a situation where putting an effective and healthy Oswalt in the bullpen is a better option than putting a healthy and effective Worley there.
1) The Numbers
Let's look at both pitchers' last seven starts, since that is how many starts Oswalt has made since returning from the disabled list. We'll disclude Worley's rain-shortened three-inning outing against the Diamondbacks and instead go back to his start against the Pirates in July. Oswalt has logged more innings (47 to 42 2/3), allowed the same number of runs (22) and one fewer earned run (21 to 22), allowed fewer home runs (3 to 5) and fewer extra base hits (18 to 22).
The important part here is the innings. The biggest potential weakness that has developed on the Phillies' roster is the bullpen in front of Ryan Madson and Antonio Bastardo, and that is assuming Bastardo shakes off his recent sluggishness and gets back to the dominance he has displayed for the vast majority of the season.
For this team to have its greatest chance at success, it needs seven innings out of its starting pitchers. It needs to go Starter-Bastardo-Madson-Game Over. It is a bit of wishful thinking to expect that to happen in every postseason game, which is why rookie righthander Mike Stutes should face some big situations. He is more than capable. But Madson and righthander Brad Lidge are really the only proven veteran relievers in the Phillies' bullpen. Bastardo, Stutes, David Herndon, Kyle Kendrick, Michael Schwimer -- none of them have much in the way of experience in the bullpen, let alone playoff experience in the bullpen.
Granted, Worley hasn't exactly been a liability. He has averaged six innings a start over the last seven times through the rotation. And Oswalt has days where he looks like the Oswalt of old and days where he looks like the Oswalt who gutted out innings in the weeks before he went on the disabled list.
But that brings us to point No. 2. . .
2) Track record
As good as Worley has been this season, the fact is that Oswalt has a far greater track record. Just last season he was dominating the Giants for eight innings in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. In fact, in two starts in the NLCS, he allowed just two earned runs with 14 strikeouts and three walks in 14 innings. Of his 10 career postseason starts, eight have lasted at least six innings, and four have lasted at least seven.
In the postseason, Charlie Manuel has a far shorter leash on pitchers than he does in the regular season. He pulled Joe Blanton with two out in the fourth inning in Game 4 of last year's NLCS. He pulled him after five innings in Game 4 of the 2009 NLCS. In that year's division series, he yanked J.A. Happ after early trouble.
This year, the Phillies do not have the depth in the front of their bullpen that they did in the previous three years. There is no Chad Durbin or Chan Ho Park, both veterans who were capable of pitching multiple innings while also striking out batters. Stutes has that type of ability and stuff. But again, he has never pitched this deep into a big league season before. Brad Lidge can pitch a sixth or seventh inning, but that's a role he has not performed often in his career. Beyond those pitchers, the Phillies have a bunch of pitch-to-contact guys who are early in their careers as relievers - Kendrick, Herndon, Schwimer, etc.
As good as Worley has been with runners on base this season, who is Manuel going to trust more with a 3-1 lead and the bases loaded in the fifth inning of a playoff game?
3) Oswalt's back
Sure, Oswalt has made a few spot relief appearances in his career. The last one did not end well. It seems more than a little improbable that Oswalt, who has a set between-starts routine to maintain his balky back, would be able to slide seamlessly into a role that asks him to be ready to pitch each day that he comes to the ballpark.
Evaluating pitching is not as simple as looking at ERA and innings, particularly when it comes to the postseason, when the offenses are better and the strike zones are often smaller. Over the last eight starts, 24 percent of Worley's strikes have been looking. You saw in Milwaukee what can happen when an umpire's definition of the strike zone differs from the one Worley has received from other umpires. He missed on a couple of close pitches to Ryan Braun, who ended up hitting a go-ahead single.
This isn't a knock on Worley. But umpires are human beings. And a lot of Worley's strikes have come on the corners of the plate, when an umpire judges that the action on his sinker allowed the pitch to catch the plate. Who is more likely to get borderline calls from an umpire: a rookie like Worley, or a veteran like Oswalt? Who knows how to work umpires better: a rookie like Worley, or a veteran like Oswalt? And if an umpire is not calling that outside or inside strike, who has better control of his secondary stuff: Oswalt or Worley?
Another point: Game 4 is almost certain to occur on the road. Worley's ERA is 1.79 higher on the road (3.86) than it is at home (2.07) this season. Oswalt's splits: 3.83 ERA at home, 3.92 on the road.
5) In conclusion
Keep in mind that a Game 4 starter in the NLCS or World Series will be available to pitch on three days rest in an all-hands-on-deck Game 7. And if the NLDS goes to 5 games and the NLCS goes to 7, the Fourth Starter would be the only pitcher available to start Game 2 of the World Series on normal rest.
Assuming both Worley and Oswalt continue pitching as they have, it just makes more sense to start the playoffs with Oswalt as the No. 4 starter. Worley can then back him up in Game 4 and spend the first three games as another arm in the bullpen should Lee or Halladay or Hamels end up with a rough start.
Oswalt has better upside than Worley does as a starter. Worley likely is more adaptable to change then Oswalt.
Worley still has some time to further his argument against such a situation. For now, though, it is the logical one.
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