Yes, it is early in the season. Yes, there are 159 games of baseball left to be played in 2011 before the playoffs begin. But for the highly praised Philadelphia Phillies pitching rotation, the season started off about as well as it possibly could have. Opening the season with a tandem of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt, (yes, that is a real roster of players, not a fantasy team), Philadelphia sits at 3-0. Now what exactly makes each pitcher so effective? With Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, and two-time Cy Young winner Roy Halladay in line to face the New York Mets this week, the Phillies and their fans are hopeful for continued results. In this staff, each pitcher has a role and an approach to hitters that varies, making every hurler so dangerous.
Halladay is the power pitcher of the staff. With constant movement on his pitches, he is always able to keep hitters off balance. With a sinker topping out around 93 MPH, it is not hard to understand why hitters have so much trouble with him. Halladay will throw between four and six different types of pitches in a given game, and is able to go all nine innings with ease. Called by many the best pitcher in the game, Roy Halladay is one or two more years of production away from cementing a spot in Cooperstown.
Cliff Lee is the second man on this staff, but his signing in December caused as much buzz across baseball as any transaction in years. In returning to Philadelphia, he spurned as much as $30 million from the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers. Lee's consistency lies in two things, his quick work on the mound in between pitches (which keeps the hitters unprepared from pitch to pitch) and his ability to throw strikes. With a straight fastball and a curveball that drops off the table, Lee looks poised for a career year.
Roy Oswalt is the third starter on the staff. He's won 20 games more than once, has started Opening Day many times, and has an NLCS MVP award on his shelf. The second winningest active pitcher in the National League (behind his teammate and fellow Roy, Halladay) does not throw the fireballs he used to, but Oswalt is still a phenomenal hurler. With a fastball that can still touch around 94 on the gun from time to time, Oswalt derives most of his power from his legs rather than arm strength, as he stands around 5'10''. His signature pitch is his slow curve, which can drop up to 20 to 25 MPH behind his fastball. Also, he has yet to lose in Citizens Bank Park, posting a record of 10-0 in 11 starts with a sub 3 ERA.
Cole Hamels is the young gun on the staff. At only 27, he already has a World Series MVP award under his belt. While his win-loss record may not have shown it, 2010 was the best year of Hamels career. He posted a 3.06 ERA and dominated the Reds in the NLDS on the way to a complete game shutout. Hamels' effectiveness lies in his ability to throw his circle change. Described by other National League hitters as "not fair", Hamels has come a long way as a pitcher since 2008. With an improved curveball and a newly refined cutter, Hamels looks to be a trendy Cy Young pick.
Joe Blanton rounds out the staff at number 5. While not in the elite pantheon of his fellow Phillies pitchers, Blanton is no hack. He is a powerful pitcher with a good breaking ball, and is an effective innings eater. Blanton is fully capable of going six or seven innings in any given start, and will win his share of games. Look for Blanton to post around 13 wins in 2011, with an ERA hovering just under 4.
In conclusion, the Philadelphia Phillies have constructed themselves a rotation for the ages. That being said, here are the projections for the 2011 season, based upon past statistics, this year's projections from Baseball Prospectus, and this writer's own inkling.
ROY HALLADAY- 21-9, 2.57 ERA, 204 K
CLIFF LEE- 20-11 2.96 ERA, 177 K
ROY OSWALT- 17-8, 3.30 ERA, 181 K
COLE HAMELS- 18-11 3.12 ERA, 215 K
JOE BLANTON- 13-10 3.98 ERA, 145 K