The scene of our 5-act tragedy now shifts to the mound; specifically, the Phillies' starting pitching and the most likely seasonal fill-in suspects. In this act of my preseason homage to Debbie Downer, our hero Roy goes to a dance and spies the beautiful Maria across the gym floor, only to find out she has a brother from a rival gang.
Roy Halladay - Asteroid. Dread disease. Getting hurt at the plate, on the bases, or just a freak injury playing catch with his kid. But really, aside from health (he ranks 4th on BP's Pitcher Abuse Points ranking, but in a second tier well below Justin Verlander), there's really nothing that would have me worry about a groundball-throwing control specialist at the top of his game, who now gets to see a couple of pitchers every game at the plate. Moving on.
Cole Hamels - One way or the other, Hamels' 2010 will either bolster the cause of sabremetric analysis or be a Joe Morgan Jeans (TM) salesman's dream (one who manages the high-margin Mental Makeup (TM) counter at the registers, perhaps). The Hamels performance conundrum of Aught-Nine may go down in analysis circles as one of the better hot stove debates, kicked off by none other than TGPer-gone-Hollywood-BP Matt Swartz here (subscription req'd). He's still 26, has had an injury history, though not recently. So after last year we've all been wondering exactly what we have in this guy: the next Steve Carlton? Or Kevin Millwood? Our ST reports have him experimenting with new pitches, given his struggles with his curveball, and also note that he came to Florida in better shape. It's worth mulling here what another enigmatic season would do to the guy, to say nothing of the team. The panic button will be pressed deeply at, say, 1-4 with a 5+ ERA, in a way that would feel different even if lightning somehow struck and Halladay got off to that kind of start. But ask yourself: Between the two of them, which guy are you confident will be better able to turn it around? Be honest.
I'd also be remiss not to point out that stuff like this has happened before to Hamels, albeit as a minor leaguer. There is something about his nasal voice and introspection that drives knuckle-dragging WIP acolytes and their ilk wild, so in the wrong place with the wrong drunk, a potential catastrophe awaits. Now that he's a family guy, I'd consider this scenario remote, but it is an added pressure point on a guy I assume to be fairly conscious of his image.
Joe Blanton - The man's job is to eat innings, so I ask: What happens if he can't? By which I mean not that he would be overwhelmed instead with a desire to eat cupcakes, or cookies, or krimpets, or what have you, though you can worry about that if you'd like. No, no. I mean to worry about cascading effects where a period of Blanton's ineffectiveness, or long-term injury, or both for that matter, means that his dependable 5-7 innings every time out aren't there. And it's reasonable to expect that the bullpen won't do him as many favors this year as last year.
With Blanton out of the rotation, not only are the bottom three of the Phillies' order now Happ, Moyer, Kendrick? Contreras? Carpenter? - perhaps we shine the Pedro Lamp into the night sky again? - no matter - what the Phillies really stand to lose here is more substantial than first meets the eye. And no, I am not making fat jokes here. My own experience as a manager has taught me that it's the second-tier players who are dependable but don't get the great reviews - these are precisely the ones you never get around to making a succession plan for. And oh, how you wanted to. That one time. Before, you know. Dang.
J.A. Happ - Happ had a great 2009, but the sophomore slump wouldn't have a name unless it was founded on some sort of reality. Still, there's very little not to like about his 2009, and I'm finding it a bit difficult to go very negative on the guy, other than the typical stuff - he's young, blah blah blah - but past the injury zone at 27 - so when all is said and done I just get a vibe that this guy could be serviceable for a good long time, and the Phillies might have been wise to keep him around last summer.
Before we get to starter number 5, one last point about Pitcher Abuse Points. The Phillies' top four starters are in the top 26 in baseball (Halladay 4th, Happ 19th, Hamels 21st, and Blanton 26th), and those stats are regular-season calculations. So there was some extra playoff wear-and-tear, although there was plenty of rest between games.
Jamie Moyer - In some respects, it's too easy to write about what might go wrong with Moyer. He's 47, coming off injury and surgeries with complications, and despite some lackluster overall stats (and even the nature of lackluster is somewhat debatable), he never was built to set the pitching world on fire. So I'll tip my cap to my associate taco pal and join him merely in being contrarian. Even if this is his last season, not much could really go wrong, as at this point the Phils look like they have candidates to take his spot. He's a fifth starter, so as RememberthePhitans posted recently, pick your poison, and let's see how he shakes out. We all seem agreed that his big contract was a mistake, so instead of worrying about his performance, I'll leave you to worry instead about a scenario where he wins 16-20 games and says he wants to pitch for the Phillies until he's 50. Given his contract history, in that scenario Moyer will clear $100 million in his entire career.
And, briefly, in the wings, as a whole lot of these guys could spell disaster-a-rama:
Kyle Kendrick - You have to love his imprinting exercises on Halladay, and give him credit for it. I mean - what if it were you in that situation? I'd be game for any training regimen out there. You gotta root for the guy. Then he gets the roster spot, then the starting position, and all of a sudden we're looking at 25 more starts with this guy. Is Burgess Meredith still alive to help him work out?
Antonio Bastardo - The greatest potential Phillies jersey-tee aside, so far he just seems incapable of stringing together some good results, no matter where the Phillies try to put him. It's early yet, but 2010 might not be the year.
Drew Carpenter - As Spring Training wears on, Carpenter may be the guy to grab the Designated Rookie pitcher roster spot. If you're reduced to rooting for Carpenter, as much as he loves his mom and all, something desperately wrong has happened.
Pedro Martinez - The man's still out there. Standing on top of his building in the Dominican Republic, cape flapping ever so gently in the Caribbean breeze. Wistfully staring at the night sky. Waiting.