2005 Season in Review: Pitching

[editor's note, by dajafi] Over the next few days, The Good Phight will be publishing our comprehensive 2005 season review. Today's installment covers the Phils' pitching performance this season; defense, hitting and an organizational assessment follow. We put together this feature at the encouragement of our SBN sister site Beyond the Boxscore, which continues to offer full coverage and analysis of player movement all winter long.

2005 Phillies Pitching NL Ranks (out of 16)

ERA:
Home: 4.48 (13th)
Road: 3.93 (2nd)
Overall: 4.21 (10th)

OPS vs.:
Home: .773 (10th)
Road: .716 (2nd)
Overall: .746 (10th)

The Philadelphia Phillies' pitching staff in 2005 was a confusing mix, with each individual starter alternating stretches of brilliance with significant slumps that made us long for the days of Chad Ogea (okay, not quite).

Three Phillies starters pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title: Jon Lieber, Brett Myers, and Cory Lidle.

Jon Lieber - Age 34 - RHP
2005 Stats: 17-13, 4.20 ERA, 218 1/3 IP, 149 Ks

When Omar Minaya of the Mets went coconuts and signed Kris Benson last offseason, he officially set the market for second-tier starters at 3 years, $7-8 million a season, and that's precisely what the Phillies gave Jon Lieber.  His 3 year, $21 million deal was a pendant of the team's faith that his encouraging second half of 2004 for the New York Yankees was what any team could expect from Lieber over the next few years, and that he'd only get stronger the further he got from his 2002 ligament replacement surgery.

A control artist, Jon Lieber posted an outstanding BB/9 rate of 0.9 in 2004 (18 walks in 176 2/3 innings).  Hardly overpowering, Lieber does not strike out many batters and gives up his share of home runs, traits he can justify because he walks so few hitters. During May and June, though, his usual command deserted him:

4/02/2005 - 4/26/2005:
0.6 BB/9, 2.73 ERA

5/02/2005 - 6/30/2005:
2.7 BB/9, 6.15 ERA

7/01/2005 - 10/02/2005:
1.3 BB/9, 3.32 ERA

Lieber's walk total in 2005 more than doubled his total from the previous season (18 to 41) in just about 42 more innings pitched.  During the months when he was doing a superb job of helping other teams win, many speculated that Lieber was nursing an injury, dropping his elbow, changing his arm slot, and reducing his effectiveness.  This didn't seem to be a concern late in the season, however, when he was the Phillies' most effective starter (posting a 2.06 ERA in September and October, keeping his walk rate at a manageable 1.7 per 9 IP, and only giving up three home runs in seven starts).  

Lieber's propensity for giving up home runs dropped precipitously in the second half: in April, May, and June, he served up a total of 22 homers in 17 starts; from July on, 11 homers in 18 starts.  And just 17 of his 33 home runs were served up at Citizens Bank Park.

Brett Myers - Age 25 - RHP
13-8, 3.72 ERA, 215 1/3 IP, 208 Ks

Just when the shrieking hordes of Negadelphia gave up on Brett Myers - yes, a 24 year old with a 14 win season under his belt is surely doomed to a career of mediocrity - the young righthander's numbers suddenly started catching up to his natural ability.  The promise that led to the club making him their first round pick in 1999 is now tangible big league pitching ability and the Phillies will be the grateful beneficiaries.

Myers' season was far from perfect.  He was ineffective in stretches and suffered numerous bouts of wildness.  He gave up a bunch of taters and then bitched about the ballpark.  But his numbers overall were very strong, particularly in the first two months of the season.  He struck out almost one hitter per inning and stayed healthy all year.  Much of Myers' success has been credited to the development of a nasty cut fastball, which he uses to complement a four-seamer and a devastating 12-to-6 power curveball.  Myers doesn't really overpower hitters (his fastball tops out around 94 mph, but tends to hover around 92), thriving on movement and pitch placement.  If he has three pitches working, he can be one of the best in the league.

Concerns include overwork and conditioning (either that's a really baggy uniform, or Brett's been hitting the éclairs more than the elliptical trainer), but a 25 year old with Brett's stuff, peripherals, and history has an extremely bright future.

Cory Lidle - Age 33 - RHP
13-11, 4.53 ERA, 184 2/3 IP, 121 Ks

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the early part of the season was the pitching of Lidle, a soft-tossing right-hander who eats innings the way a yellow Labrador eats table scraps.  Lidle approached career highs in innings pitched and strikeouts, and while the latter is textbook damning with faint praise, Lidle was one of the team's most reliable pitchers in the early and latter parts of the season.  Like most of the staff, Lidle was dreadful in June and July, just as the offense and the bullpen put the team in place to make a run at the postseason.  His groundball tendencies served him well in Citizens Bank Park, where he gave up relatively few home runs and did not seem fazed by the park's bandboxiness.

Lidle will be entering the second year of a two year deal in 2006.  Another year like 2005 will drive up his market value, at which point he will be a bad investment.  Another pitcher like Cory Lidle would be good to have to cheaply round out a rotation - decent control, grounders, durability - but to re-sign Cory Lidle himself at his age would be rather foolish.

The Rest...

For various reasons, the following pitchers only spent a portion of the season in the starting rotation.

Randy Wolf - Age 29 - LHP
6-4, 4.39 ERA, 80 IP, 61 Ks

After the season-ending injuries endured by Jim Thome, nothing at first glance seemed to take the wind out of the Phillies' playoff chances like Randy Wolf's ligament replacement surgery.  In the previous three seasons, Wolf established himself as one of the best left-handed starters in the National League, posting very good strikeout numbers with good control.  The lefthander's fastball touches 90 mph on a good day and he throws a big slow sweeping curve topped in absurdity only by Barry Zito's.

Wolf has become a lightning rod for the Pitcher Abuse contingents in the statistical analysis community; much of this has to do with his July 23rd, 2003, shutout of the Chicago Cubs in which he was allowed to throw 136 pitches.  His numbers declined rapidly after this (4.85 ERA from that game until he had the surgery), and he battled nagging injuries all through 2004 and early 2005 until he was shut down in June.  

The recovery timeframe for Tommy John surgery has gotten shorter and shorter but is still pegged at the very least around one calendar year.  Best case scenario, the Phillies can expect Wolf to return to the team after the All-Star Break in 2006.  More likely, they can anticipate a few starts in September, likely of diminished quality.  Wolf will be entering the last year of a multi-year contract and will be on the books in 2006 for $9 million, which stings really badly for a guy who probably will not be a decent big league pitcher again until 2007, and quite possibly for another team.

Vicente Padilla - Age 28 - RHP
9-12, 4.71 ERA, 147 IP, 103 Ks

If this weren't the first year for this publication, we could likely cut-and-paste previous years' entries on Padilla, change a few numbers and dates, and pass it off as an original review from the current season.

At any given time in 2005, Padilla was: 1. Hurt; 2. Brilliant; 3. Terrible; 4. All three at the same time.  The consensus on Padilla's abilities seems to be that his stuff is electric and if harnessed properly, he could be one of the best in the game.  Because he hasn't become an elite starter, many like to attribute his failure to reach this level to character flaws, which is precisely what has happened with Padilla.  The Nicaragua native has acquired a reputation for being stubborn and uncommunicative, though his poor command of English renders him a blank slate upon which writers and journalists can create any damn personality caricature they wish.  

Perhaps the more sophisticated angle to take in assessing Padilla is that the scouts might have been wrong: that a healthy Padilla can be a capable and occasionally brilliant middle of the rotation pitcher, and that, assessed in a vacuum and away from the expectations foisted upon him, he's a nice pitcher to have.

Regardless, Padilla was the team's best pitcher in July and August, when most of the rest of the rotation was down the metaphorical shore for summer break.  His early season was immeasurably awful, however, rendering his full season stats misleadingly middle-of-the-road.

But he's someone else's problem now, traded to Texas in December 2005 for a piece of crap reliever with a 5.00+ career ERA.  

Robinson Tejeda - Age 23 - RHP
4-3, 3.57 ERA, 85 2/3 IP, 72 Ks

If the 2005 Phillies were the space shuttle, then Tejeda was the Inanimate Carbon Rod that saved their paint.  Anonymous.  Bland.  Modest perceived value.  Yet he wound up being precisely what the team needed.

Tejeda was placed in the rotation after Wolf was disabled and proceeded to run off a string of exceptional starts, but a closer look at the peripherals reveals a strong possibility of big trouble. His initial recipe for success consisted of giving up very few base hits, walking a ton, and striking out a respectable but not overwhelming number of batters.  

Very, very few pitchers can turn this combination of attributes into a long, successful career, so the pitcher and the Phillies must hope that Tejeda's lower walk rate from August onward--3.5 per nine innings, compared to 6.4 before then--indicates that he found a way to control his wildness. Even so, Tejeda's future might be in the bullpen.

Gavin Floyd - Age 22 - RHP
1-2, 10.04 ERA, 26 IP, 17 Ks

Floyd's 2005 was a huge Lost Weekend both in Philadelphia and at the AAA level.  In Scranton, his ERA was above 5.00; in Philly, 10.00+.  His strikeout numbers were never great in the minors, and were worse this year.  Floyd, a first-round selection in the 2001 draft, is a front-runner for a rotation spot in Philly in 2006.  Please, Gavin, remember the lessons of 2005.  There were lessons, right?

Eude Brito - Age 27 - LHP
1-2, 3.68 ERA, 22 IP, 15 Ks

Eude, thanks for that September 12th game versus Atlanta. (Six innings, three hits, no runs and seven strikeouts in a crucial game against division-leading Atlanta, with a
biting slider that would have made Steve Carlton proud.) That was huge.  Your name almost sounds like "burrito" and that sounds good.

At his age and without a dazzling minor-league track record, Brito is probably bullpen fodder; a smart team would make usage of a young cheap left-handed arm rather than paying a free agent to come in and provide the same service.

The Bullpen

Billy Wagner - Age 34 - LHP
4-3, 38 saves, 1.51 ERA, 77 2/3 IP, 87 Ks

The rigid patterns of modern baseball bullpen usage extracts significantly decreased performance from its players .  The 1970s saw the rise and dominance of the Bullpen Ace, who was brought in to pitch multiple innings in high-leverage situations - see Goose Gossage.  However, by the early 1990s and the era of Dennis Eckersley, the arbitrary, stupid qualifications for earning a "Save" dictated when a team's best reliever was used.  Pitchers wanted more Saves because the stat offered some measure, however flawed, of their contributions, thus boosting their earning power.  Managers liked to defer decision-making responsibility to the role structure in the bullpen, and questioning this received wisdom became anathema, even if that wisdom is actually not very wise.

Wagner was, again, exceptional, and unlike in 2004, he was healthy.  It seemed, however, that he rarely touched 100 mph this season, which was a common occurrence in 2004 and literally created standing ovations at CBP.  He's offset the loss of velocity somewhat by fine-tuning a nickel slider that he throws low and in to right-handers.  Wagner's K/9 rate has declined slightly each season since 2001;  coupled with his loss of velocity, this is a concern for a 34 year old closer whose bread-and-butter is his unhittably fast, very straight fastball.  Oh, and he has significant, recent history of injury.  Wagner only blew three saves all season - the third, most memorably, resulting in the most painful Phillies loss in nearly 12 years.  (See the postscript.)

A free agent this winter, Wagner signed an absurd four year deal with the division rival Mets.  Wagner will still likely be very good in 2006, but the Mets took a big leap of faith that Wagner would be worth +/- 10% of the team's payroll for approximately 90 innings of work in the first year or two of the deal, coupled with a high injury or serious decline risk for the years beyond.

Ryan Madson - Age 25 - RHP
6-5, 4.14 ERA, 87 IP, 79 Ks
Ryan Madson was a starting pitcher all throughout the minors but filled a crucial spot in the Phillies' bullpen in 2004 and did so amazingly well.  To his (and possibly the club's) detriment, this performance went a long way to calcifying his relief pitcher status.

Madson's out-pitch is his changeup, which he sets up with a good fastball.  He pitched in very good luck in 2004, which seemingly forecast at least a slight decline in 2005.  And... he declined in 2005.  As noted earlier, Madson seemed worn out late in the season and was mostly ineffective from mid-August onward.  He occupied the 7th inning slot, whether he was pitching well or not.  

The new front office has hinted at placing Madson in the rotation.  Possibly because of his pitch repertoire, and possibly because of the prejudice toward tall change-up artists being starters, many see Madson in the rotation in 2006.  He has a good chance of succeeding, provided the usage pattern change that he endured when moving from AAA to the majors has not caused undue stress on his arm.

Rheal Cormier - Age 37 - LHP
4-2, 5.89 ERA, 47 1/3 IP, 34 Ks
In 2003, Rheal Cormier turned in one of the great seasons by a relief pitcher in the last decade, all the more remarkable because Cormier was never really very good before.  Despite his unprecedented effectiveness and the struggles of Jose Mesa at the back of the bullpen, Cormier rarely saw work in crucial "closer" situations.  Again, the evolution of big league bullpen usage has led to monstrous inefficiencies and stupidities that lead to failure.

Adding insult to injury, the Phillies decided to reward Cormier's never-to-be-duplicated greatness of 2003 and his subsequent respectability in 2004, with a two year extension before the 2005 season.  And, surprising nobody, Cormier was terrible in 2005.

Wasting money on average to below average veteran middle relievers was de rigueur for the Ed Wade administration.  Cormier, Mesa, Wendell, Cook, Jones... Wade coughed up tons of money and talent to acquire expensive, fungible arms.  This delighted other GMs and agents, if few actual fans.

Cormier will be back in 2006, unless Pat Gillick recognizes the concept of a sunk cost and cuts Cormier loose before he again plays the iceberg to the Phillies' tugboat/Titanic.  The only consolation is that he can scarcely be worse than he was in 2005.

Aaron Fultz - Age 32 - LHP
4-0, 2.24 ERA, 72 1/3 IP, 54 Ks

Rheal Cormier 2003 = Aaron Fultz 2005.

Fultz has been a decent bullpen arm in the past but in 2005 he was outstanding.  Despite this (déjà vu!), he did not get Cormier's high leverage innings until very late in the season.

The Phillies may well have caught lightning in a bottle with Fultz in 2005, but they squandered it.  Maybe they were trying not to "expose" Fultz too much and let other teams figure him out.  But by underusing him they failed to exploit his effectiveness and, whoops, it may be gone!   Fultz was the third luckiest pitcher on balls in play in baseball in 2005, and just like Madson from 2004 to 2005, the Phils can expect a serious decrease in performance for Fultz in 2006.

Geoff Geary - Age 29 - RHP
2-1, 3.72 ERA, 58 IP, 42 Ks

Geary must have had one of those "There but for the grace of God goes my career" moments in the middle of 2005, because from July onward he actually did a pretty nice job out of the bullpen.  Even though he does not strike a lot of hitters out, he keeps the ball in the park (5 home runs in 58 IP... admittedly a fairly small sample size, but still).  He seems to have been pretty lucky with giving up few hits, so it's probably not wise to count on a repeat performance.

Ugueth Urbina - Age 31 - RHP
4-3, 4.13 ERA, 52 1/3 IP, 66 Ks

In an attempt to light a fire under the team, the Phillies acquired Urbina in a trade with Detroit in exchange for Placido Polanco.  Urbina at his best is a cut above the rest of the league, and at times in Philadelphia he was his usual dominant self.  However, for all the times he slashed his way through the 8th innings as a set-up guy, he coughed up key home runs.

Okay, we'll stop it now.  We've heard that jokes about attempted murder are in poor taste, unless it's in The Venezuelan Aristocrats or something.

Moving on, Urbina's jaw-dropping 11.4 K/9 rate is somewhat offset by his 4.3 BB/9 rate, as well as the fact that he gave up 8 home runs in 52 1/3 innings... that's around 30 home runs in 200 innings, which is downright Lieberesque.  Urbina went through stretches of total dominance, interspersed with complete turkeys (such as his June 9th Phillies debut: 1/3 of an inning, 4 earned runs, and a home run).  This is not an uncommon pattern; in fact, it's how most relief pitchers' lines look.

He'll probably be overpriced due to closer pedigree, which is yet another reason for the Phils to let him go--although the Venezuelan authorities might make the whole discussion moot (see the above mentioned attempted-yay urder-may discussion).

The Rest

Tim Worrell melted down like a Russian nuke plant before our very eyes, made all the more infuriating by the fact that Charlie Manuel let him sabotage some key early games because, consarnit, he's the 8th inning set-up guy!  Left the team for unknown "personal reasons" for most of May and all of June, he returned to the club only slightly more effective and was swapped for Arizona's Matt Kata in late July, leading many great thinkers to wonder if a less consequential trade had ever occurred in the history of professional sport.

DumpsterTMAquilino Lopez.  In 12 2/3 IP, the righty sported a 2.13 ERA and struck out 14 batters.  Small Sample Size, yes, but we think the guy is worth a look as a cheap, solid bullpen arm in 2006.

Terry Adams.  13 1/3 IP, 19 ER, 3 homers, 10 walks.  Terry, our freelance fortune teller sees a used car dealership in your immediate future (the Pittsburgh bullpen notwithstanding).

Another waiver wire acquisition, Pedro Liriano only saw brief time in 2005 as a mop-up guy in April and September, and he truly stunk.  His numbers at Scranton didn't really impress much either (3.90 ERA, 48 walks in 99 1/3 innings).  Released by the Phillies in December.

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