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A Hello to Arms

Zolecki notes in the Inquirer today that the Phillies have gone 31-19 since essentially raising that white flag at the trade deadline. He raises the possibility that the club could become the first in baseball history to reach the postseason after conducting a fire sale.

Because it's going to be a long winter, let's leave aside for now the many interesting discussions that could flow out of this--the highly debatable cause/effect relationship between the dumpoff and the charge; whether the fire sale and subsequent veteran additions speak well to Pat Gillick's regard for "flexibility" or just suggest that he has no idea what his team is about to do--for later consideration. What I want to do here is show why I think the team has gotten back into the race, and perhaps make a case that Cole Hamels is at least the second-most valuable Phillie this year.

Probably more than most, I'm a fan of the "quality start" statistic. It's defined here as "a game started in which a pitcher lasts for six innings or more and allows three runs or less." For my purposes of measuring a start that gives the pitcher's team a real chance to win the game, I actually think this definition is a bit too restrictive--any start of more than six innings, by virtue of allowing the manager to shorten his bullpen, is probably "quality" in some sense, and if the guy gets shelled in the 7th or 8th, more often than not I think it's on the manager for not getting him out there. Similarly, I think it's hard to argue that a start of five scoreless innings isn't worth more than a "Lidle" (6 IP, 3 ER, if you've already forgotten). Rob Tejeda had a bunch of those last year; Hamels had a couple in the first half this season, so the numbers below are a bit skewed by that.

But for now, let's go with the above definition. All year, as we know, the Phillies have scored well enough to succeed; they're first in the NL in runs and fourth in MLB. But through the first four months, their starting pitching was terrible: Lieber was ineffective, then hurt; Floyd and his replacements (Brito, Bernero) were abysmal, and Madson wasn't much better; Lidle was mediocre at best; Myers was good until he hit his wife, then was out and inconsistent for a month.

Since the last week of July, though, the rotation has both stabilized and improved. Myers hasn't missed a turn, and while he had a rough stretch in August he's still been the team's most solid full-year starter. Lieber, last night's mess against the Cubs notwithstanding, has been a solid innings-eater. Finesse lefties Randy Wolf and Jamie Moyer have kept the team in most of their starts, though their numbers aren't good. And Cole Hamels has been a revelation. Here's how they break down.

Brett Myers
April 5-July 28: 19 GS, 14 QS, (6-5, 3.57)
Aug. 2-Sept. 15: 10 GS, 6 QS, (5-1, 5.07)

Jon Lieber
April 3-July 31: 16 GS, 4(!) QS, (4-8, 6.09)
Aug. 5-Sept. 18: 9 GS, 6 QS, (4-2, 3.32)

Randy Wolf
April 3-July 30: 1 GS, 0 QS, (0-0, 6.23)
Aug. 4-Sept. 17: 9 GS, 2 QS, (4-0, 5.40)

Jamie Moyer
April 3-Aug. 17: n/a
Aug. 22-Sept. 14: 5 GS, 3 QS, (2-2, 5.27)

Cole Hamels
May 12-July 29: 12 GS, 2 QS (3-5, 5.71)
Aug. 3-Sept. 16: 9 GS, 7 QS (5-3, 3.02)

April-July: 56 GS, 22 QS
Aug-Sept: 4 GS, 0 QS

April-July: 104 GS, 42 QS
Aug-Sept: 46 GS, 24 QS

As the starters' numbers in parentheses show, the Phillies rotation hasn't exactly turned into the Koufax/Drysdale Dodgers: three of the five current starters have ERAs over 5 since the break. But with this offense, they haven't had to be. The starters are going deeper into games, limiting the exposure of the bullpen--which was of particular importance during Tom Gordon's absence--and, more often than not, keeping it close enough in the early innings to let the hitters do their work.

Hamels, meanwhile, won't be the Phils' second straight Rookie of the Year winner... but if there were an award for Most Valuable Rookie Pitcher, he'd get my vote. With the exception of two starts, he's been spectacular since the deadline. If I've done the math right, the league is hitting .198 off him since the start of August--and if you subtract the Cubs game in which a knife cut screwed with his grip, it's .168. That's just astonishing.