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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Competition in Clearwater: The Fifth Starting Slot





by: Ryan Waldis
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The boys are back.
Photo Courtesy: cadillacnews.com
After a long and tumultuous winter that isn't even over yet, hearing the words "pitchers," "catchers," and "report" in the same sentence can cause even the most casual baseball fan to feel warm inside, myself included. Seeing pictures of infielders fielding ground-balls under a bright blue sky means one thing: spring is near, and baseball season is only a couple of months away. However, this Spring Training feels a lot different than it has in previous years.

The Phillies aren't expected to do much this season, mainly due to a core that's up there in age. Carlos Ruiz, the recipient of a three-year contract in November, is 35, as are Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Cliff Lee. Ryan Howard is 34. Marlon Byrd is 36. AJ Burnett, perhaps the best free agent signing made by Ruben Amaro Jr. and the Phillies front office, is 37. If that's not enough, Bobby Abreu will turn 40 on March 11th. It's gotten so bad that some fans have dubbed the 2014 Phillies the "AARPhillies." Let's forget about the ages of several players on the roster for a bit and instead focus on other issues the Phillies have at this point in time. In this article, I'll be going over the four main candidates for the fifth spot in the starting rotation, making a case for each of them and ultimately deciding who will be in the starting rotation when Opening Day arrives. Enjoy!

The Candidates: Roberto Hernandez, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin

Candidate One: Roberto Hernandez

Career Statistics: 59-82, 4.67 ERA, eight complete games, three shutouts, 9.4 H/9, 0.9 HR/9, 3.3 BB/9, 5.6 SO/9

The Case: The man formerly known as Fausto Carmona agreed to a one year deal with the Phils worth $4.5 million. Ever since turning in a 19-8 record to go along with a 3.06 ERA in 2007, Hernandez has bottomed out. Take a look at his statistics from 2008-2013 below.

Year W L ERA GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
2008 8 7 5.44 22 120.2 126 80 73 7 70 58 1.624 9.4 0.5 5.2 4.3
2009 5 12 6.32 24 125.1 151 97 88 16 70 79 1.763 10.8 1.1 5.0 5.7
2010 13 14 3.77 33 210.1 203 98 88 17 72 124 1.307 8.7 0.7 3.1 5.3
2011 7 15 5.25 32 188.2 205 125 110 22 60 109 1.405 9.8 1.0 2.9 5.2
2012 0 3 7.53 3 14.1 17 15 12 4 3 2 1.395 10.7 2.5 1.9 1.3
2013 6 13 4.89 24 151.0 164 87 82 24 38 113 1.338 9.8 1.4 2.3 6.7
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/14/2014.

Photo Courtesy: CBS Sports
Taking a quick glance at his stats, the first thing that pops out is his ERA. Ever since the aforementioned '07 season, Hernandez has finished only one season with an ERA lower than 4.50. That can change from year to year of course, but if you're a Phillies fan, you shouldn't be paying attention to that. Take a look at that HR/9 column. Throw that 2012 season out of the equation (he only pitched three games anyway), and you have a pitcher who relies on getting ground-ball outs. That's a great trait to have in a ballpark like Citizens Bank Park, where the ball flies out, especially during the summer months.

Is Roberto Hernandez going to perform like he did in 2007 and 2010? No, but he won't be expected to assuming he's the fifth starter in the rotation. Realistically, Hernandez could post 10-12 wins to go along with a sub-4.00 ERA. However, if Hernandez starts to struggle, there's three other prospects that would be happy to take his place.

Candidate Two: Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez

Career Statistics: There's no official stat line, but click here for an in-depth analysis of Gonzalez's track record in Cuba.

Photo Courtesy: mlb.com
The Case: Ah, yes: the young man who my friend says is named after a pasta. All jokes aside, Gonzalez will be the biggest unknown on this list, simply due to the fact that most people have never seen him pitch. Sure, a few bullpen sessions and a couple simulated games can give you a slight idea, but you won't really know anything about the Cuban star until he starts pitching in some actual games. Since the Phillies signed him to a three year, $12 million deal (which, if you remember, was originally six years, $48 million), you can bet that he'll get enough opportunities to show what he's capable of.

Back in October, Amaro told reporters that scouts view Gonzalez as a potential number two or three starter as his career progresses. At this point, however, the Phillies are going to take it slow with him. Amaro also said that he hoped Gonzalez would join the rotation. He has as good of a chance as anyone else, so seeing him in red pinstripes from Day One isn't completely out of the question. Then again, neither is sending him down to the Iron Pigs for a few weeks to see what he can do against some of the top prospects in baseball. Only time will tell.

Candidate Three: Jonathan Pettibone

Career Statistics: MAJORS: 5-4, 4.04 ERA, 18 GS, 100.1 IP, 9.8 H/9, 0.8 HR/9, 3.4 BB/9, 5.9 SO/9
MINORS: See below

Year Age Lg W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
2008 17 Rk 0 1 0.00 1 1 1.0 3 2 0 0 1 0 4.000 27.0 0.0 9.0 0.0
2009 18 A- 2 4 5.35 9 8 35.1 37 28 21 0 16 36 1.500 9.4 0.0 4.1 9.2
2010 19 A 8 6 3.49 24 23 131.1 114 63 51 10 41 84 1.180 7.8 0.7 2.8 5.8
2011 20 A+ 10 11 2.96 27 27 161.0 149 62 53 5 34 115 1.137 8.3 0.3 1.9 6.4
2012 21 AA,AAA 13 8 3.10 26 26 159.2 146 64 55 9 49 113 1.221 8.2 0.5 2.8 6.4
2013 22 AAA,AA 0 2 6.45 5 5 22.1 31 18 16 1 6 14 1.657 12.5 0.4 2.4 5.6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/14/2014.

The Case: Pettibone actually started his career fairly well. From April 22nd (his debut) to June 4th, he was in possession of a 3-1 record, and had not allowed more than four earned runs in a start. His only loss came at the hands of the eventual World Series Champions, the Boston Red Sox. Better yet, the Phillies were 6-2 in the games he started. After June 4th, however, things started going a bit downhill.

Photo Courtesy: philly.com
He lasted just 5.1 innings in a 9-1 loss to Milwaukee in which he let up four earned runs. In his next start, he lasted only three innings in a 10-5 loss to Colorado. Pettibone let up six earned runs, and his record dropped to 3-3 in the process. He bounced back quite nicely in his next start, however, tossing six innings of five hit, one run ball. That should have been enough to get him the win, but the Mets managed to score six runs when Pettibone left. He wound up pitching at least five innings in his next six starts, allowing three earned runs or less in all six. Still, after a 12-4 loss to the Tigers, Pettibone was examined and was eventually shut down about a month later due to inflammation in his right rotator cuff.

If Hernandez wasn't signed, Pettibone would have probably had an easy shot at the fifth spot. He'll still have a chance to compete, but the track to that coveted fifth spot is a little tougher now.

Candidate Four: Ethan Martin

Career Statistics: MAJORS: 2-5, 6.08 ERA, eight GS, 40.0 IP, 9.5 H/9, 2.0 HR/9, 5.9 BB/9, 10.6 SO/9
MINORS: See below

Year Age Lg W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
2009 20 A 6 8 3.87 27 19 100.0 85 55 43 4 61 120 1.460 7.6 0.4 5.5 10.8
2010 21 A+ 9 14 6.35 25 22 113.1 120 84 80 10 81 105 1.774 9.5 0.8 6.4 8.3
2011 22 A+,AA 9 7 5.95 37 12 95.1 96 69 63 11 66 104 1.699 9.1 1.0 6.2 9.8
2012 23 AA 13 6 3.48 27 27 157.2 118 63 61 8 79 147 1.249 6.7 0.5 4.5 8.4
2013 24 AAA 11 5 4.12 21 21 115.2 94 56 53 11 67 107 1.392 7.3 0.9 5.2 8.3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/14/2014.

The Case: Our last candidate had to endure some growing pains when he transitioned to the majors late last season. If you remember, Martin tended to blow through the order his first time through. After that, however, it was a crap-shoot, with Martin typically on the wrong end.

Photo Courtesy: CBS Philly
In his first start against the Braves, Martin lasted just 4.1 innings, surrendering six earned runs (including two home runs) on 93 pitches. In what would be his final start against the Nationals on September 3rd, Martin lasted just 4.2 innings, surrendering five earned runs (and another home run) on 86 pitches. In between, Martin's numbers were fairly consistent. He lasted about four to five innings, allowing roughly four to six hits, two to three earned runs, six strikeouts, and one home-run. Still, the Phillies were not impressed with his performance, and he was sent to the bullpen, where he stayed for the rest of the season aside from one final start against the Braves in the second-to-last game of the season. Martin actually performed very well in the bullpen aside from a blown save against the Marlins, and many think the Martin will eventually become a relief pitcher.

Martin has the smallest odds (in my opinion) of earning the fifth spot in the rotation. It wouldn't surprise me to see him break camp as a relief pitcher, however.

THE VERDICT: I believe that Roberto Hernandez will end up winning the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez will either start the season in AAA or as a member of the Phillies bullpen. Jonathan Pettibone will begin the season in AAA, but if an injury occurs or Hernandez/Gonzalez struggle, he'd be the first option on the call-up list. Ethan Martin will start the season in AAA as well to hone his control if nothing else. His days as a starter are probably numbered, so if he's called up to the Phillies, expect to see him in the bullpen, with an occasional spot start if things become that drastic.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to tell me what you think will happen!




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