The 3rd place Phils (66-77) who are coming off a surprising three game sweep of the division leading Atlanta Braves play host to the San Diego Padres (65-77) the next three nights. The Padres will begin a 10-game road swing that takes them to Philadelphia, Atlanta and Pittsburgh. The Phils enjoyed dominating performances by Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels this weekend and even got a solid effort from Kyle Kendrick in the middle game of the series. The bats did just enough to earn the Phils three 1-run victories over the Braves young, but formidable pitching.
The Padres are coming off a six-game home stand in which they went 5-1. After going 42-54 in the first half of the season the Padres have played a respectable 23-23 in the second half. They have however struggled mightily on the road, going 24-44, the second worst road record in the NL.
Tonight the Phils send Tyler Cloyd 2-3, 3.57 ERA up against 6′ 6″ right-hander Andrew Cashner 8-8, 3.45 ERA. Cashner had five appearances as a middle reliever before joining the Padres rotation this season on April 20th against the Giants. Cashner has 8 WG’s (winnable games, 7+ IP, 2 ER or less) to his credit this year, including four in the month of August. His last three starts have all been WG’s as Cashner has gone 21 innings while allowing just two ER for an ERA of 0.86. Cashner doesn’t have overpowering stuff and seems to have lost a few mph on his out pitch, the slider. Last year, pitching mostly out of the bullpen Cashner averaged 10.1 SO’s/9. This year that number is down to 6.4 SO’s/9. Along with his SO’s being down his BB’s/9, HR’s/9 and WHIP are also lower this season. Cashner looks to have a bright future as he turns 27 tomorrow.
On the mound for the Phils will be 7th starter Tyler Cloyd, who’s taking Ethan Martin’s spot in the rotation while the Phils see what Martin can do pitching out of the bullpen. I call Cloyd a 7th starter because he’s an organizational pitcher the Phils keep around in the event two of their starting pitchers go on the DL – and that’s exactly how he broke into the rotation this year. First to go down was Jon Lannan, who went on the DL in April. He was replaced by rookie call-up Jonathan Pettibone. When Halladay got shut down after his 7th start the Phils brought up Cloyd.
Cloyd’s mid-high 80’s fastball with no strong secondary pitches will most likely relegate him to this role or possibly that of a long man out of the pen most of his career. His WHIP of 1.500 coupled with his low 1.33 SO/BB ratio won’t earn him a starting spot as far as we can see. The last time Cloyd pitched for the Phils was as a reliever. He entered a wild but entertaining 18-inning game against the D-backs on 8/24 in the 12th inning. Cloyd pitched 5 scoreless innings, keeping the Phils in the game they eventually lost in the 18th when they ran out of pitchers and had to use Casper Wells and John McDonald to pitch the final inning. He was originally scheduled to start the next day, but manager Ryne Sandberg was running out of options and a call was placed to Reading where GM Ruben Amaro Jr. was to watch a Halladay rehab start the next day for the Reading Phightin Phils. Amaro Ok’d pitching Cloyd and called Doc to let him know he’d be heading south to start for the Phillies the next day. Doc was elated to get back to pitching major league baseball.
On Wednesday night the Phils will watch Roy Halladay 3-4, 7.19 ERA make his 4th start since returning from shoulder surgery in May. He’ll be opposed by 33-year old lefty Eric Stults 8-13, 4.07 ERA. Stults is a journeyman pitcher who began his career as a Dodger and is now on his 3rd team in four years and 4th team overall. Stults is winless since July 14th, having started nine games and going 0-6 with three ND’s since his return to the rotation. His last three starts have all been losses as he’s posted a 7.26 ERA in 16.1 innings of work. Stults is another soft throwing lefty that generally give the Phillies fits, but after sweeping the Braves, who started each game with a lefty on the mound, perhaps the Phils are getting that monkey off their backs.
All eyes will be on Roy Halladay as he takes the mound Wednesday night. Doc probably has four remaining starts this year to show himself, the Phillies and other prospective employers how sound his shoulder is and how far he’s come back from what is typically season ending surgery. With the Phils apparently having three starting pitchers (Hamels. Lee & Gonzalez) penciled in for 2014 they have a couple months to decide if they want Halladay back in their rotation next season. All kinds of numbers and contracts have been kicked around by the Philly press, but no one knows for sure what Halladay will command in his first time on the free agent market. Many of those discussions in South Philly and elsewhere will surely hinge on how Halladay performs this month.
Since returning on 8/25 Halladay is 1-0 with two ND’s. He’s pitched 17 innings total, 6 innings twice and 5 innings once while posting a 4.23 ERA. Doc says he feels good, but his velocity is down – which was expected. What should be expected of Halladay at this stage in his comeback is a good question, and one that has no apparent answer. Along with his fastball sitting in the high 80’s since returning Doc has yet to regain his one-time incredible accuracy, walking five and plunking two batters in his last start against the Nationals. In 65 starts in 2010 & 2011 Doc held the opposition to two walks or less 61 times. On three occasions he allowed three BB’s and one time he allowed four BB’s <gasp>. In fact you have to go back to August 29th, 2007 to find the last start in which Doc issued 5 BB’s. Doc had an amazing run of 170 straight starts of not allowing 5 free passes in a game.
His accuracy is further defined by 4 straight seasons (2008-11, two with the Blue Jays and two with the Phils) of leading the league in SO/BB ratio. Doc was at his very best in 2010, his first year with the Phillies. Aside from unanimously winning the Cy Young Award that season, Doc placed 6th in MVP voting and had the highest WAR of any position player or pitcher in the NL (courtesy of baseball-reference.com). He also lead the league in wins (21), Win-Loss % (.660%) Complete Games (9), Shutouts (4), IP (250.7), Batters Faced (993), Adjusted ERA (163), BB/9 (1.077) and SO/BB (7.30). That year Doc also finished 2nd in WHIP (1.041) and SO’s (219) while finishing 3rd in ERA (2.44).
It was a career year by the best starting pitcher of his era and is unlikely to be replicated by himself or anyone else in the foreseeable future. Not even the great Clayton Kershaw, who Doc passed the mantle to as the best starting pitcher in the game, the pitcher who defeated Halladay for the 2011 Cy Young Award (Doc finished 2nd) has had a season where he statistically dominated across the board in so many categories as Doc did in 2010. The icing on the cake that year was throwing the 2nd no-hitter in baseball playoff history – the first time he took the mound in a playoff game. He faced 28 batters, allowing just one 5th inning walk to Jay Bruce in an otherwise perfect game. That day Doc threw 104 pitches, 79 for strikes (75.96%). Now that’s pinpoint accuracy.
The late, hard break on Halladay’s pitches has yet to be seen and he’s only had 17 swinging strikes in 270 pitches since his return. Opposing hitters are averaging one swinging strike per 15.88 pitches, or more loosely put, one swinging strike per inning pitched. For a frame of reference in 2011 Doc averaged one swinging strike per 8.98 pitches and 1.65 swinging strikes per inning pitched. Overall Doc has averaged 59.26 % strikes in the three games since his return to the rotation. In 2011 his strike percentage was 68.7 %. We can see Doc is far from what he used to be, but again, where should he be at this stage in his recovery? More importantly, where will he be next year?
In the season finale Thursday night the Phils will have surging ace Cliff Lee 12-6, 3.01 ERA square off against Tyson Ross 3-7, 2.79 ERA. Ross is a big right-hander who pitched his first three games as a starter this season and was then sent to the bullpen until July 23rd when he pitched his way back into the rotation. Since starting again Ross is 3-3 with three ND’s and a 2.16 ERA. In his last 3 starts Ross is 0-1 with a 2.50 ERA. Ross has a big arm and throws his fastball in the mid-high 90’s. He also sports a power slider and cutter that are effective, but a changeup that is still a work in progress. For the season Ross has a 1.161 WHIP and averages 8.4 SO’s/9. Like many pitchers this year Ross has pitched better than his record, again evidenced by a lower than league average ERA and WHIP.
Lee, along with Hamels forms one of the best one-two starting punches in all of baseball. In games played through Sunday, August 8th, Lee’s 14 WG’s in 27 starts is tied for third place behind only Clayton Kershaw (19 WG’s in 30 starts) and Adam Wainwright (15 WG’s in 30 starts). The other pitchers with 14 WG’s are as follows, with their number of starts in parentheses next to their names. These high profile pitchers are Matt Harvey (26), Jordan Zimmerman (28), Madison Bumgarner (29) and Cole Hamels (30). Lee missed a couple starts in July due to a stiff neck making his 14 WG’s in 27 starts the 3rd best in the NL at 51.8%. Only Kershaw (63.3%) and Harvey (53.8%) have a higher percentage of WG’s when they take the hill for their respective clubs. Wainwright’s 15 WG’s have come in 30 starts for a 50% WG percentage.
The Winnable Game is a stat created here at Philly Sports Rant, which we feel is by far superior to Quality Starts in measuring the effectiveness of a starting pitcher’s performance. In a Quality Start a pitcher only has to go 6 innings while allowing 3 ER or less. At the bottom of our metric, the WG, the pitcher would possess an ERA of 2.57, which are games a team should win when that’s how it’s starting pitcher performs. We can’t say that about a pitcher at the bottom of the Quality Start metric because that pitcher would have an ERA of 4.50. When a team needs a minimum of five runs to win a game I’d hardly call that a quality outing by the starting pitcher. That team must still get 3 scoreless innings from it’s bullpen to keep the number of runs necessary to win at 5. That’s no easy task to be sure.
When a team’s starting pitcher goes out and throws a Winnable Game two very important issues come into play. First, his team now only needs two scoreless innings from the bullpen to win with just 3 runs. The second issue is this; most teams spend big money on a closer and set up man. If the starting pitcher goes out and throws a WG you only need those two highly paid teammates to do their job to go home with a win. In this day of the specialty pitcher, when a starter only goes 6 innings, a manager will now call on a much lower paid 7th inning reliever to get through a scoreless inning to get to his top two bullpen pieces – and of course they may not even come into play if you need a minimum of 5 runs to win the game. If a team doesn’t have a lead late in a game it’s unlikely the manager will use his set up man and closer to complete a game in which they’re behind. These two key reasons are why the Winnable Game is a far superior stat in measuring a starting pitcher’s performance on a given night.
Getting back to Lee, he has 2 WG’s in his last 3 starts. He has a 2-0 record with one ND. In the 21 innings pitched in his last three outings Lee has allowed only 16 hits, 4 walks and one HR while striking out 21. His ERA over the last 3 games is 1.71 and he’s faced no more than 28 batters in any of the last 3 starts. Lee’s efficiency in these games has been excellent as exhibited by his 67.8% strike ratio. Sixty-one of the 82 batters (74.39%) Lee’s faced have struck out, been induced to hit ground balls or have popped up to the infield. That’s a formula for success, especially in Citizens Bank Park where balls hit in the air have a tendency to carry out of the small ballpark for home runs. Lee’s not allowing many players that opportunity. After a tough July where Lee allowed 8 HR’s in 19.1 IP, he’s only allowed 3 HR’s in his last 47 IP. When Lee is on there’s still few better in the game.
Somehow Ryne Sandberg has taken the rag tag remnants of what the 2013 Phillies were supposed to be and has them working hard and playing winning baseball (13-10 in Ryno’s games as manager). I look at some of the lineups he puts together before the game and wonder how he expects to win with waiver wire pickups, career backups, minor leaguers and one of, if not baseball’s worst bullpen. Most nights the starting eight looks to have between four and five 2014 starting Phillies in it.
Sandberg seems to have rejuvenated Jake Diekman and has him pitching with confidence in the 8th inning. In 9 appearances before Sunday’s game he was getting shut down performances from Jonathan Papelbon too. In his times taking the ball Paps hadn’t allowed a BB or ER under Sandberg’s stewardship. Even Saturday when Paps did blow a 5-3 lead allowing the Braves to tie the game in the top of the 9th, Freddy Galvis picked him up with with a walk-off bang in the bottom of the 9th. Sandberg is a winner…now he’s getting his players to play winning baseball for him.