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Assessing the Changes, Part II: Rotation

A couple weeks ago, I took a look at how the Phillies lineup has changed since the team ended its exciting but disappointing 2006 season in front of a few thousand possibly lost Floridians last October. The methodology for this exercise was to examine the overall offensive production the Phils got from each position, then to compare that to the weighted-mean 2007 PECOTA projections for each likely regular and offer an assessment of whether the team was likely to get more, less, or about the same level of production from that position in the coming season.

The findings were a little better than I initially expected. If PECOTA is basically on target--and presumably, we can be more confident in projections for players all in more or less the actuarial prime of their careers, as is the case with every likely Phillies regular--the offense should produce at about the same level overall as it did in 2006, when the Phils led the NL in runs scored. Today, we look at the rotation, the changes to which since the start of 2006 are probably the biggest reason for the optimism many fans are feeling four weeks before the real games start. As everyone knows, three members of the rotation from last April--Ryan Madson, Gavin Floyd, and the late Cory Lidle--are not in this year's group. A fourth, two-time Opening Day starter Jon Lieber, is likely to be traded in the next month. They've been replaced by the ultra-consistent Freddy Garcia (17-9, 4.53 in 2006), 216-game winner Jamie Moyer (11-14, 4.30 with Seattle and the Phils), young phenom Cole Hamels (9-8, 4.08 as a rookie), and talented but injury-prone Adam Eaton (7-4, 5.12). The one returnee, Brett Myers, was the team's best starter in 2006 (12-7, 3.91) and seems to be better prepared physically and psychologically to thrive in 2007.

But before looking to the hopefully happy near future, it's worth turning back to 2006, when the Phils rotation turned in a hide-your-eyes ugly overall performance.

The Phils actually got 60 wins from their starting pitchers last season, tied for fifth-most among the 16 NL teams and just five behind the league-leading Mets. But that's about where the good news ends: the starters' collective 5.08 ERA was 14th in the league, ahead of only the Cubs and Nationals, both last-place teams. The starters allowed 569 runs, dead last in the league, despite pitching a total of just 921.3 innings, 13th in the NL. Opposing hitters compiled a total .822 OPS against Phillies starters, again dead last in the league. Only in strikeouts, where Hamels' rate of more than 10 per nine innings was among the league's best, did the starters really excel: their total of 726 was second to Milwaukee's 765. The rotation was also fairly stingy with walks, allowing the fifth-least in the league with 308.

PECOTA is not quite as optimistic regarding the 2007 Phillies starters as most of us are, judging from the Community Projections for Garcia, Myers, and Hamels. But they do see major improvement over 2007. Here are the projections for the top six, including Lieber:

Myers: 13-9, 4.08 ERA, 1.29 WHIP 30 194.0 IP
Garcia: 13-10, 4.29, 1.30, 198.3
Hamels: 10-7, 3.77, 1.24, 152.3
Moyer: 8-9, 5.13, 1.46, 149.0
Eaton: 6-6, 4.71, 1.37, 98.7
Lieber: 9-8, 4.51, 1.30, 163

Collectively, these six projections account for a 4.38 ERA in 936.3 innings pitched. The won/lost isn't as encouraging, at a total of 59-49... but to give a sense of PECOTA's conservatism in this regard, consider that the January 14 iteration of the projections had just one pitcher in all of major-league baseball winning more than 14 games (Johan Santana, with 16).

I'm not smart enough to venture more than a guess at how many extra wins the team likely stands to gain from the rotation ERA dropping by 70 points. But if the Phils starters put up a collective 4.38 ERA, barring a total collapse by the offense (extremely doubtful) or the bullpen (more likely, but still pretty doubtful just because they have so many options to work among) it's probably a good idea to set aside some money for playoff tickets.