Matt has already started looking at AL playoff rotations. Since the NL demands equal treatment, we’ll also look at the rotations for those six teams. The only sensible starting point is the team that has already clinched. As with Matt’s, we’ll go with each pitcher’s basic season numbers, plus the park- and defense-neutralized ERA (nERA) from the CHONE August projections and the FIP derived from that.
1) Roy Halladay CHONE: nERA 3.15, FIP 2.84
2010: 6.5 WAR, 3.07 FIP, 2.95 xFIP, 3.44 tERA, 2.53 ERA
Halladay has done exactly what everyone expected following his move to the National League. His ERA, 2.53, is his lowest since 2005, which is in some part due to his high strand rate, 82.5 percent. On one hand, that could change in the playoffs when he’s facing the better lineups in the league. On the other hand, the Phillies could face the Giants in the first round.
Even still, there’s little reason to doubt Halladay. He’ll be pitching more innings than in years past, but that doesn’t seem like much of a concern. The way Halladay has thrown the ball in the past five years it looks like he could keep going forever.
2) Cole Hamels CHONE: nERA 3.88, FIP 3.66
2010: 3.9 WAR, 3.09 FIP, 3.44 xFIP, 3.74 tERA, 3.70 ERA
In 2010, Hamels has established himself as a model DIPS pitcher. For the past three seasons now he has sported nearly identical FIP numbers while seeing fluctuating ERAs. Last year was a down year, a 4.32 ERA, but this year he’s back to the 3.09 mark he had in 2008. Chances are Charlie Manuel will name him the Game 2 starter, if for no reason other than his handedness. But that doesn’t take away from Hamels’ excellent season.
Like Halladay, Hamels has a higher strand rate than normal. That’s about the only bad thing about him. His groundball rate is higher than ever and he’s striking out a batter more per inning than he did in 2008 and 09. While the Phillies had questions about Hamels heading into the 2009 playoffs, there are none this year. It’s like 2008 all over again, only this time the Phils have a pitcher even better to take the ball in Game 1.
3) Roy Oswalt CHONE: nERA 3.86, FIP 3.58
2010: 4.7 WAR, 3.29 FIP, 3.44 xFIP, 3.42 tERA, 2.80 ERA
While the CHONE formula projects Oswalt to perform a bit worse than he has, it’s tough to watch his starts and come to a similar conclusion. Even with his rough first start for the Phillies, he has a 1.76 ERA and 3.07 FIP with his new, contending team. Even though he’s 32 he’s proven that he’s durable. He’s also worked through a long playoff run, pitching almost 270 innings in 2005.
In 2009, the Phillies acquired Cliff Lee at the trade deadline, and he led them through the regular season, into the playoffs, and eventually to the World Series. In 2010, Roy Oswalt doesn’t have to do that. Just as the Phillies have 2008 all over again with Hamels, they have 2009 all over again with Oswalt replacing Lee. Only, again, they have the best pitcher in the league taking the ball in Game 1, and another top of the rotation starter in Game 2.
4) Joe Blanton CHONE nERA 4.52, 4.26 FIP
2010: 1.9 WAR, 4.34 FIP, 4.04 xFIP, 4.58 tERA 4.94 ERA
As long as the Phillies hang onto the NL’s best record, they won’t even need Joe Blanton in the first round. They can simply skip him over and start Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt on normal rest in all five games. He only becomes a factor in the ALCS and World Series, and even then it’s just one game. Even then it’s not all downside. His 4.94 ERA might look ugly, but as you can see nearly every component ERA rates him a bit better. This doesn’t make him a good pitcher; it simply means that having him start once a series shouldn’t kill the team. There’s a chance, too, that Blanton makes zero postseason starts.
Update: On the advice of commenter NEPP I checked the splits, and Blanton has seemingly gotten better every month this season. His overall numbers are certainly hurt by his first two months, which came after he missed April with an injury. He has also struck out 30 in 29 innings this month, which boggles the mind. I’d still advocate a three-man rotation, but with the way Blanton has been pitching and with the decisions Manuel made last year I’m fairly certain he’ll stick with having his guys on normal rest.
The only question mark facing the Phillies rotation is of whether they’ll take the 2009 Yankees’ route and use only three starters. As David Murphy explained last week, Oswalt, Hamels, and Halladay can start 17 of 19 postseason games. But perhaps Charlie Manuel learned last year that going all-in is the right tactic.
Because the only off-days in the LCS occur between Games 2 and 3, and Games 5 and 6, the Phillies would have to throw each of their starters on short rest in order to avoid Blanton. That changes the situation somewhat; the Yankees were able to get through the 2009 playoffs with three pitchers largely because they got an extra day off in the LCS and had to throw only CC Sabathia on short rest in that round. But unless the Phillies find themselves up 3-0 heading into Game 4, it sounds like a good move for Manuel to go with Halladay.
It’s tough to pick against the Phillies in the NL as it is right now. Imagine if they throw out the inferior fourth starter and just go with their top three throughout the playoffs. They already have three of the top five or six playoff starters. If they throw only those three I don’t see how any other team stacks up.
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