While in seasons past the Phillies' success could be attributed primarily to an offense so prolific it could win in spite of mediocre starting pitching, this season's injuries and offensive struggles have forced a significant modification of this winning formula. Beginning last season with the acquisition of ace Cliff Lee--who was, in turn, flipped by Ruben Amaro in the off season for ace-of-aces Roy Halladay--and continuing this season with Cole Hamels' "return to form" (read: regression) as well as Amaro's deadline deal to bring Astros ace Roy Oswalt to Philadelphia, the Phillies had arrived at perhaps the best starting rotation in baseball. No longer is the team reliant on the offense to bludgeon opponents into submission. Instead, they have been able to weather offensive inconsistency by preventing opposing teams from scoring with stellar starting pitching.
I thought it would be fun to celebrate the 2010 Phillies' spectacular starting pitching by taking a look back at some of the best performances of the season. With both the division and best record locked up and the aces on tight pitch counts, it seems unlikely that there will be any late additions to this list. I should note that although I do use game score and win probability added to provide some statistical basis for ranking the best starts of the season, this is by no means an objective list and I welcome disagreements and peoples' own rankings in the comments. I don't, however, anticipate any disagreement with my choice for best performance of the season.
While much has been made of Cole Hamels' "bounce back" this season, the fact of the matter is that his "struggles" in 2009 can be attributed to cold, hard bad luck. With respect to the things under his control, Cole pitched no worse in 2009 than he did in 2008. Thus, much of his success this season has simply been the result of his luck stats falling back into line with his career norms. It is also true, though, that Cole has improved as a pitcher, adding several mph to his fastball and introducing a fourth pitch to his repertoire (the cutter). This improvement has been reflected by the bump in his K-rate this season. In this particular start against the Marlins, Cole was at his strike-outie best. Not even among Cole's five best all-around starts this season by game score because a high pitch count forced him to depart with two outs in the 7th, his stuff was nevertheless utterly dominant, as evidenced by the season-high (for any Phillie) 22 swinging strikes and 13 of 20 outs recorded via the K. Marlins hitters simply could not touch his fastball or changeup this night as the Phillies held on to win 2-1 in a crucial late-season game.
Much more after the jump...
It might be lost in all of the "Big Three" talk, but before going down with an elbow injury in July, the ageless wonder turned in some really nice starts. This start against the Indians, his two-hit shutout of the Braves, and his victory over the Yankees stand out in particular. This start, very much an encore of his May two-hitter against the Braves, was vintage Moyer. Using his trademarked mixture of off-speed and offer-speed junk, Moyer worked the corners and kept the Cleveland lineup guessing all night. Indeed, the Indians could barely muster solid contact as Moyer induced 15 ground balls, only six flyballs, and no line drives. Six out of the eight innings Moyer pitched were of the 1-2-3 variety, and his only mistake came on a 2nd inning Russell Branyon homer. Staked to 2 runs after the 1st inning, Moyer held the Indians down to give the Phillies a 2-1 victory.
This was recent enough that no one should have forgotten about it yet. In the final game of this crucial series and with a chance to bury the Braves in a six-game hole in the division, Oswalt traded zeroes with Tommy Hanson and two Braves relievers for seven innings before the Phillies scored the winning run in the bottom of the eighth. Oswalt pounded the zone all night (99 pitches, 69 strikes) allowing eight ground balls, six flyballs and only one hit--a two out Martin Prado double in the fourth.
Roy Halladay's first of four complete game shutouts this season came in his first start against the Atlanta Braves. Roy was typically excellent in this one with a 15:9 GB:FB ratio. The only real trouble came in the bottom of the seventh inning when the Braves loaded the bases with one out on two singles and a walk before Halladay was able to induce a double play ball to end the inning. Moreover, Roy's .626 WPA in this game was his fourth highest of the season due to the fact that the offense only gave him two runs to work with. Many might also have forgotten that this outing halted an early season three game losing streak for the Phils. Stopper.
In his best start as a Phillie to date, Oswalt needed just two hours and fifteen minutes to complete the four-hit shutout of the Mets and give the Phillies a 3-0 win. He was able to battle through a somewhat shaky start to cruise through the middle and late innings, facing only 30 batters total. The Mets hitters could hardly get anything off the ground as the ridiculous 17:6 GB:FB illustrates.
It's hard to believe that on a night Roy threw nine innings of five-hit shutout ball he was actually outpitched by the opposing starter. Indeed, Reds rookie Travis Wood, in just his third career start, flirted with a perfect game for 8 innings before surrendering a leadoff double to Carlos Ruiz in the bottom of the 9th. Wood's final line of 9 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K was good for a game score of 93. Roy, for his part, was dominant, posting a 15:6 GB:FB, recording 13 swinging strikes, and inducing two double plays. Both starters departed after 9 with the game scoreless. The Phillies finally broke through in the bottom of the 11th on a Jimmy Rollins walk-off single.
Cole Hamels pitches eight innings of one-hit ball, faces one batter over the minimum, and ends up with a no-decision. This was essentially the story of Cole Hamels' season and a case-in-point for why the "pitcher wins" stat should be abolished. Cole struck out the first five Cardinals he faced, recorded his final two outs via the K, and was perfect through four innings. Somewhat remarkably, between the second and eighth innings, Cole didn't record a single strikeout (he still managed an impressive 16 swinging strikes though). Instead, he used pinpoint command of his fastball and a fantastic changeup to prevent the Cardinals lineup from making solid contact. It almost seemed as if after the second inning, Cole made a conscious decision to pound the strikezone and pitch to contact in order to preserve his pitch count and work deeper into the game--he needed only 97 pitches (68 of them strikes) to complete eight innings of work. The Phils finally plated two in the top of the 11th and Lidge worked a scoreless ninth to preserve the victory.
With this two-hit shutout, Jamie Moyer became the oldest pitcher in major league history to throw a complete game shutout. The Braves never really had a chance against the old man in this one. Moyer faced one batter over the minimum and allowed only two singles through the infield (both to Troy Glaus). Between Glaus' singles, Moyer retired 17 Braves in a row. When they weren't grounding out weakly, the Braves hitters were popping balls up in the infield--I can recall only a handful of the 13 flyballs Moyer allowed in this one even reaching the deeper part of the outfield. Moyer needed only 105 pitches (71 strikes) to complete the shutout, and the Phillies cruised to an easy 7-0 victory.
I struggled over whether to put this start at two or three. Aside from one measly strikeout, this line is identical to the one from Moyer's two-hitter. Roy, like Jamie, faced just 28 batters thanks to a double play that erased a third inning single. Roy, moreover, was able to finish off the Nationals with a ridiculously efficient 97 pitches and at one point he retired 14 straight. On the other hand, Roy did allow a handful of line drives that happened to be caught by fielders. Given the implications, though (it was the clincher), I'm inclined to give the edge to Halladay. Also, although the Phillies went on to beat the Nationals 8-0, for the first five innings it wasn't nearly as clear cut as Roy only had a 1-0 lead to work with. Meanwhile, Moyer had a seven run lead by the sixth inning.
There's not much more that can be said about this one. Staked to the slimmest of leads, Halladay needed to be perfect, and he was. It was the 20th perfect game in history.
Honorable Mention (in no particular order):
May 1 vs. Mets: 86 GSc, .237 WPA, 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K, W
August 14 @ Mets: 81 GSc, .383 WPA, 8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K, W
July 23 vs. Rockies: 80 GSc, .332 WPA, 8 IP, 5 H (all singles), 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K, W
July 5 vs. Braves: 79 GSc, .493 WPA, 9 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 R, 1 BB, 7 K, 93 PT, 68 strikes, W
April 11 @ Astros: 79 GSc, .680 WPA, 9 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 K, W (In this matchup of Halladay and future Phillie Roy Oswalt, Halladay managed to escape a bases-loaded, no-out jam allowing only one unearned run and complete the 2-1 victory for his third-highest WPA of the season.)
August 29 @ Padres: 80 GSc, .434 WPA, 8 IP, 4 H (all singles), 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K, W
September 3 vs. Brewers: 75 GSc, .465 WPA, 7 IP, 3 H (all singles), 0 R, 3 BB, 7 K, 10:5 GB:FB, W
May 21 vs. Red Sox: 74 GSc, .239 WPA, 7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 HR, 1 BB, 8 K, W (Outstanding start against an excellent lineup)
August 7 vs. Mets: 72 GSc, .220 WPA, 7 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 R, 0 BB, 11 K, L (Phillies lost 1-0, again)
September 20 vs. Braves: 71 GSc, .384 WPA, 8 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 R, 1 BB, 6 K, 3 GDP, W
August 27 @ Padres: 74 GSc, .412 WPA, 8 IP, 5 H (4 singles, 1 HR), 1 ER, 1 R, 0 BB, 6 K, ND (Phillies won 3-2 in 12 innings)
August 22 vs. Nationals: 74 GSc, .370 WPA, 7 IP, 5 H (all singles), 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K, 106 PT, 75 strikes (18 swinging), 1 LD (Oswalt had a bunch of games like this, but he was particularly dominant in this one)
June 16 @ Yankees: 72 GSc, .187 WPA, 8 IP, 3 H (2 HR), 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 8 GB, 13 FB, 1 LD, W (Against a strong Yankees lineup, Moyer induced weak contact throughout the game)
April 20 @ Braves: 74 GSc, .458 WPA, 8 IP, 4 H (3 singles), 0 R, 2 BB (1 IBB), 2 K, 16 GB, 8 FB, 2 GDP, ND (The epitome of "good Kyle." He kept the ball on the ground and limited his free passes. The Phillies ended up losing, however, thanks to a Ryan Madson blown save.)
August 23 vs. Astros: 70 GSc, .350 WPA, 7 IP, 6 H (5 singles), 1 ER, 1 R, 0 BB, 9 K, ND (The Phillies ended up losing, 3-2, but Blanton was strong. He had a number of solid starts this season, but very few really outstanding ones.)