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The Phillies' All-Decade Team: Pitchers

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As many observed in the comments to Monday's piece, this is the tough part.

The Phillies got many strong pitching performances during the decade about to conclude, but a lot of them were of short duration: very, very few Phils hurlers had more than two really good seasons over the course of the ten years. In part this is a product of pitchers' higher injury risk; in part it's a result of the team's practice, through three GMs now, of adding important arms in mid-season. (Note: Ed Wade stunk at this, bringing in the likes of Turk Wendell and Mike Williams and Todd Jones. Pat Gillick was pretty good, with Jamie Moyer, Kyle Lohse and Joe Blanton; Ruben Amaro killed it in 2009 with Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez. You won't see many of these names on the list below, though.) 

Again, to qualify for the all-decade team, players must have spent more than one full season with the Phillies in the role for which we consider them. Thus, no Lee or Pedro or Lohse (or Williams or Jones), but Blanton is eligible. And since this is a more difficult call than the position list, I'll divulge a bit about my methodology, such as it is: I went back and looked at Baseball-Reference.com player pages for any pitcher I considered, marking all seasons in which they posted an ERA+ figure above 100 and then considering less obviously quantifiable factors (e.g. Brett Myers put up an unspectacular 96 ERA+ in 2008, but he was unhittable for two months after coming back from the minors; the team wouldn't have won the division without him). Still, much more so than with the first list, there's a lot of room for argument here. 

So let's get to it. 

SP1: Cole Hamels

Hamels would have been the unquestionable "ace" had his 2009 season gone a bit better/seen fortune smile on him a bit more. As it is, his 2007 and 2008 campaigns were so good--easily better in ERA+ than even Wolf's best season of 2002--that I think he edges Wolf for the top spot. In 116 career regular-season starts, he has a 48-34 record and impressive 3.67 ERA. He's proven shockingly durable in his major-league tenure after a succession of injuries during his minor-league apprenticeship, making 93 starts over his three full seasons and finishing second in the NL with 227.1 innings pitched in 2008--plus those five playoff starts that October which you might have heard about. Like Curt Schilling, the Phillies' ace of a decade earlier, Hamels has a strikeout-to-walk rate to die for: he's finished in the top five in the league each of the last three seasons in that category, bouncing around four Ks for every base on balls. Going forward, he might be the most fascinating Phillie to watch in 2010 after encountering the first on-field adversity pretty much in his life; if he stays healthy, my money is on a dominating bounceback season that lands him in the top five for Cy Young balloting. 

 

SP2: Randy Wolf

That Wolf is pretty clearly at least the Phils' second-best starter of the decade despite posting just two seasons with an ERA under 4, winning more than 11 games only once and never earning a Cy Young vote is, in a twisted way, a tribute to just how good of a job the organization did patching together basically functional pitching staffs year after year. His injury-plagued last three years as a Phillie and the multiple subsequent off-seasons in which he flirted with returning to the team before signing elsewhere might have obscured how valuable he was in those first few years of the decade: 48 wins between 2000 and 2003, ten complete games and six shutouts, 780 innings, 661 strikeouts--all in his age 23 through 26 seasons. If Terry Francona and Larry Bowa had been a bit more judicious with the little left-hander, Wolf might have held up from 2004-2006--and his presence might have lifted one of Charlie Manuel's first two teams into the playoffs. 

 

SP3: Brett Myers

If Pat Burrell's redemption story was the "single" of the Phillies' organizational journey through the '00s, the saga of Brett Myers is the B-side. His career ERA+ of 99 puts him at almost exactly league-average--but Myers really has never been average. His first six years in Philly were a relentless succession of highs and lows: the major league debut in 2002 in which he famously outdueled Cubs phenom Mark Prior, his rough go as a struggling young starter in 2004 (5.52 ERA in 32 starts), the ugly domestic violence incident with his wife in Boston in 2006, his reinvention as a quality closer in 2007 and joy when the team finally broke through to win the division on the last day of the season. He did the whole journey in miniature again in 2008: from Opening Day starter to minor-league demotion, dominating return down the stretch, unforgettable playoff at-bats and ultimate championship triumph. Myers' 2009 season was a weirdly fitting coda to his Phillies tenure: he started the year on pace to shatter Bert Blyleven's record for most home runs allowed in a season, suffered what seemed like a season-ending injury in May, rehabbed like a demon to come back for the stretch run as a reliever--then hurt himself again in an off-field incident in Florida that still hasn't been fully explained and was a non-factor in the playoffs. Right after the Phils' World Series defeat, Amaro let Myers know he wasn't wanted back for 2010. Still, his 73 wins are the most of any Phillies pitcher in this decade, and he was the team's most productive pitcher during the key 2005-2008 stretch. Maybe he won't be missed, but he should be appreciated. 

SP4: Jamie Moyer

Here's where it gets really difficult, as Moyer's on-field contributions are themselves deeply ambiguous and his less quantifiable attributes ("Jedi guidance") are almost totally a matter of speculation. But let's start with what we know: since joining the team in late 2006, Moyer has made 104 appearances for the Phillies (99 starts) and earned a win in 47 of them. In his age 44 and 45 seasons of 2007-2008--years when the rotation was in almost continuous upheaval--he won 30 of his 66 starts (against 19 losses), pitched 395.2 innings, and never landed on the disabled list. He was superb in 2008, going 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA and 118 ERA+. It's entirely plausible that he aided the development of Hamels and J.A. Happ, among others. Even in 2009, when his own poor performance and the arrivals of Lee and Martinez pushed him into the bullpen, Moyer contributed: he was superb as a reliever, going 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA in 18.2 innings over five starts, allowing 10 hits and 3 walks while striking out 16 before an injury in the last week sidelined him for the playoffs. That I don't relish--in fact dread--his presence in the rotation for 2010 shouldn't overshadow what he's meant to the team in the last three-plus years.

SP5: Joe Blanton

The least flashy but most consistent member of the Phillies' 2009 rotation, the man we call Cupcakes has been solidly above-average since joining the Phillies in July 2008. He pitched through minor injuries in the second half of '08 and some truly awful luck in early 2009, then reeled off a few months in the middle part of '09 almost as good as Myers' late-'08 run: over 18 starts between May 26 and September 5, Blanton went 7-3 with a 2.59 ERA,  combining with Happ to stabilize a rotation once again in tumult after Myers' injury, Moyer's poor performance and Hamels' inconsistency. I'll admit that he also gets points for contributing the most implausibly wonderful moment I've experienced first-hand in more than 30 years of Phillies fandom: that home run in Game Four of the 2008 World Series. 

Honorable Mention: Robert Person, Vicente PadillaCory Lidle

Until doing this, I'd forgotten just how good Person was in 2000-01: 24-14 record, 3.94 ERA, 347 strikeouts in 381.2 innings. But he fell apart in 2002 and never really pitched in the majors again. Padilla provided a reminder of his talent this past October with the Dodgers, shutting down the Phils in LA's one NLCS victory; years earlier, he posted consecutive 14-win seasons with sub-4 ERAs in 2002 and 2003, going over 200 innings in both years. If it weren't for his poor 2005 season, in which he helped sink the playoff chances of Charlie Manuel's first Phils squad, he'd probably be #4 or #5 on this list. The late Cory Lidle made 62 starts for the Phils over three seasons and was almost perfectly average--4.50 ERA, 100 ERA+--though his durability and consistency gave him value beyond the pedestrian numbers. 

Closer: Billy Wagner

Trust me: there's no one on the all-decade team I dislike more than this mouthy lefty, who left town trailing bad blood and disappointment and deserved every bit of misery he got in four unpleasant years with the Mets. But he was scary-good in two seasons with the Phils: a 1.86 ERA over 126 innings, with 146 strikeouts and a holy-s%&^$ WHIP of 0.81. (Even in his superb 2008 season, Brad Lidge allowed 1.226 hits and walks per inning.) We remember the psychologically scarring Craig Biggio homer in large part because it was so unlikely; Wagner simply didn't do that when he was a Phillie. (With the Mets, on the other hand...) Of course, we wish him all the worst in his future endeavors with the Braves

RHP relievers: Ryan Madson, Tom Gordon, Geoff Geary

In five seasons where he was pretty much solely a reliever, Madson has never put up an ERA+ worse than 106 (2005). His best year actually remains his rookie season of 2004, when he posted a 192 to go with a 2.34 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. In 2007, he was just starting to reconcile himself to a bullpen career and take off in the role--he didn't allow a run in his last eight appearances, over a span of 12.1 innings--when an injury ended his season. But 2008 was his breakout year: suddenly flashing a high-90s fastball to set up his killer change, Madson was nigh-unhittable down the stretch and through the playoffs. In 2009, he struck out better than a batter per inning for the first time, but struggled in save situations when he had multiple opportunities to take the closer role from Lidge. It'll be interesting to see if he gets another chance going forward; the stuff certainly is there. 

Gordon, signed to replace Wagner before the 2006 season, had a great first few months in Philadelphia, earning all-star honors with a 2.17 ERA and 21 saves. But the injury bug--probably a delayed result of Joe Torre's extreme overuse during Gordon's Yankees tenure--began to bite after the all-star break, and never really stopped again: he missed large chunks of the remaining two and a half years on his Phillies contract. Still, he makes it here for a few stretches of excellence when he was available: in 15 games between September 8-30, 2007, Gordon posted a 1.32 ERA to help the Phils run down the Mets and win the division title. And after a nightmarish 2008 debut in which he took the loss in the season opener by allowing five runs in a third of an inning, Gordon put up a 2.13 ERA over his next 27 games, helping the Phils race out to the division lead. Unfortunately, he made only six more appearances for the club, ending his season on July 5 with another injury and having to watch the ensuing months as the team stormed to the championship. 

Much-maligned as a quad-A arm, Geary sandwiched one excellent relief season--2006, when he posted an ERA+ of 158--between two pretty good ones in 2005 (118) and 2007 (104). A 15th round pick in the 1998 draft that also brought Burrell and Madson into the organization, the slightly built Geary became a six-year minor league free agent before landing some security with the Phils during the 2005 season. He lacked great stuff but mostly kept the ball in the park and was stingy with walks--and unlike some of the big names not in the all-decade bullpen, he never had the one disastrous season that wrecked the team's chances. The current Phils system is actually replete with possible future Geoff Gearys: low-cost guys who can capably fill out a bullpen, allowing the team to save its dollars for higher priority needs. Ironically--or maybe not--Geary went to the Astros and former GM Ed Wade at the precise moment when he accumulated enough service time and earning power to shed that status. 

LHP relievers: J.C. Romero, Rheal Cormier, Aaron Fultz

The scrap-heap superstar of the 2007 Phils, Romero posted a 1.24 ERA and astonishing 369 ERA+ after joining the team in June of that season, teaming with Gordon and Myers to give the team a formidable late-game trio. He was almost as good over the full season in 2008, which he capped by picking up two wins in the World Series--despite the looming knowledge that punishment for failing a drug test (about which Romero continues to maintain his essential innocence) would ensue after the season. Even in a 2009 season mostly lost to suspension and injury, Romero was effective when available, and the team is counting on a bounce-back for 2010. 

Cormier was the embodiment of everything Ed Wade did wrong in building a bullpen, overspending for unpredictability. But that doesn't mean he was always awful on the field: in his five and a half seasons with the Phils, he was good-to-great for two and a half, horrifically bad for two, and about average for one. Cormier was at his best in 2003, going 8-0 with a 1.70 ERA and a WHIP under 1 over 84.2 innings of work; unfortunately, Larry Bowa didn't realize that the 36 year-old lefty was his best reliever until about September 25. Two years later, Charlie Manuel didn't make the corresponding logical jump--that Cormier and his near-6 ERA was killing his team's chances--until the end of August. 

Fultz, on the other hand, represented the team's gradual enlightenment regarding relief pitching. The journeyman southpaw posted an out-of-nowhere great year in 2005 at age 31, with an ERA+ of 196; he supplanted Cormier as the team's top lefty down the stretch. A year later, he was slightly better than average; that winter, the team let him walk rather than overpay for the variance in his future performance. 

Honorable Mention: Brad Lidge, Jose Mesa, Clay Condrey

It feels wrong to leave off Lidge, who might have been second only to Hamels in responsibility for the 2008 championship. But as has been well documented, his 2009 was historically awful--and those are his only two seasons as a Phil. On the other hand, it feels right to leave off Mesa even considering his pretty darn good 2001-2002 performances (combined 2.67 ERA/152 ERA+): Mesa's truly wretched 2003 tanked what otherwise might have been a contender, and in terms of character he makes Brett Myers seem like Gandhi. Condrey followed in Geoff Geary's footsteps as an unspectacular 11th or 12th pitcher, though he looked like he might become more than that in 2009 before a mid-June injury marred his effectiveness and sent him to the shelf for more than a month. 

To Paul Abbott, Adam Bernero and Adam Eaton... better luck next decade.