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Fifth Starter? Not Important Now

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Sat, March 13, 2010 06:33 PM | Comments: 39
Opinion, Posts

The loneliest time for any human being? That hour you have to wait for AAA to help change your flat tire.

Look, I’m no tire expert. Dad didn’t wheel me under the 1988 Ford Escort – which I remember most for its front license plate: the old-school Phillies typography and a cartoon Phanatic. My hands never knew oil or sludge and I for years, I couldn’t tell a monkey wrench from an Allen wrench. Horrible, but true. So when I find a deflated tire on my car, I call the pros – the guys who might appreciate that Escort more for its strange hum than its childish license plate.

During that hour waiting for AAA, I started thinking about numerous things, chief among them the Phillies fifth-starter competition. It’s truly the only competitive battle ongoing in spring training. Bullpen entrants will be left up to chance; if Brad Lidge can convince the managerial crew that his knee is elastic, his arm is fantastic and his head isn’t spastic, he’ll be slinging sliders in the ninth inning by opening day. That will eliminate a job for Antonio Bastardo or – shudder – Ryan Vogelsong. But the winner of the fifth starter competition will truly be victorious: He’ll get an opportunity to pitch major innings for one-fifth of the National League champion’s season. The loser? Maybe the bullpen. Maybe Lehigh Valley, where he’ll likely be shagging balls with Vogelsong. Seriously, Vogelsong.

Fifth starter. It’s one of the common buzz terms of spring. Every team seeks a fifth starter. They sign a couple retreads, hand a cookie to a prospect and assure a veteran slop-thrower that he is not completely secure in his position. And some kid who’s already tasted the sour juices of major league rejection gets a lemony shot at redemption. Jamie Moyer is that veteran. Kyle Kendrick is that kid.

Then you add ingredients. Moyer is the $8 million reason the Phillies aren’t shuttling out an all-universe rotation in 2009, led by the studious duo of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, backed by the feisty Cole Hamels and rock-solid Joe Blanton and JA Happ. Because of Moyer and his inability to leave a game he says to love more than flank steak, the Phillies opted to refill the system, swallow the pills and hope that the National League still can’t figure out the wicked combination of 74 MPH curveball and 81 MPH changeup. Needless to say, the preferred exit was with the Clydesdales and Pat Burrell.

Kendrick had his chances. He broke through in the wacky 2007 season, when the National League failed enough to let a bullpen co-led by Antonio Alfonseca reach the postseason. Kendrick’s fastball-sinker routine won some games, then got tired, then stunk. His head blew up. He moved to Allentown. Now he has gained a changeup, a “sick” cutter (always believe a 30-something female ex-”Survivor” contestant) and the tutelage of Halladay, the coffee-slurping breaking-ball king who plows through the elliptical for breakfast.

On one end: The old guy who doesn’t know how to leave. On the other end: The hungry youngster with the greatest teacher in pitching land.

I know who I’m taking.

But that’s not the point. It’s the fifth-starter competition. The winner has the opportunity to start one-fifth of the Phillies games, but will he? Tough to call. For help, let’s run through the names of 2009 Phillies starting pitchers:

Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels, JA Happ, Cliff Lee, Chan Ho Park, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, Pedro Martinez, Andrew Carpenter, Rodrigo Lopez, Antonio Bastardo, Kyle Kendrick.

The Phillies used 12 starters in 2009; only two of the five pitchers who started the season on the rotation ended the season on the rotation (Blanton, Hamels). Durability is a key. The ability to pitch solidly is the other key. Not a key? The ability to pitch well in March, when hitters are working on their timing and managers are shuffling lineups every three innings. Take, for example, Mr. Park.

Park’s spring 2009 numbers would have made Lee or Halladay blush: 21.1 IP / 6 ER / 20 H / 25 K / 2 BB / 2.53 ERA. He translated that to the 2009 season, where right out of the gate, he showed his true colors: 3.1 IP / 5 ER / 7 H / 2 K / 3 BB / 10.38 ERA. While he improved from there, he wasn’t an effective starter, leaving the rotation for the man who lost that 2009 spring battle, Happ. That kid only ran through the National League, barely missing a Rookie of the Year award despite a sub-3.00 ERA. Today, Happ is entrenched in the Phillies 2010 rotation; Park, meanwhile, is trying desperately to win a starting job with the New York Yankees.

What 2009 showed is however strong a man can pitch in March, it won’t mean much once the calendar turns to April. Moreover, you have to look at the big picture. Park was obviously effective as a reliever with the 2008 Los Angeles Dodgers; in 2009, he again showed his worth as a reliever, a man who can turn all his pitches up to 11 for one or two innings, instead of pacing himself for six or seven.

The problem here, is that in 2009, Kendrick barely showed enough to prove he can last six or seven consistently against National League offenses, while Moyer has proven that at least enough to give him a decided advantage in the fifth-starter competition. The good thing, though, is that the Phillies won’t use just five starters in 2010. Someone will get sore or injured. Someone won’t pitch well enough to hold his job. There might be a trade. Anything and everything can and probably will happen – the joy of a baseball season.

This is why when I waited for that AAA-certified auto-repair man, I realized there wasn’t much of a competition for fifth starter. With all likelihood, Moyer will start in April for the Phillies alongside Halladay, Hamels, Blanton and Happ. But Kendrick – wh0 has pitched quite well so far this spring – is the next guy in the ready. He’ll be starting by May or June, when he can prove himself worthy of facing and defeating National League hitting. If he can do that, he won’t find the same fate that found Andrew Carpenter, Rodrigo Lopez and Antonio Bastardo. Instead, he’ll be starting the important games in September 2010, maybe with the division on the line, maybe with 40,000-plus red-clad radicals throwing their towels around and screaming like banshees.

Oh, yeah, he did that last year.

It’s likely he’ll be there again this year, but he won’t prove it in March.

Tim Malcolm is a former regular writer at Phillies Nation. He’ll write once in a while to talk Phillies. He also writes a once-in-a-while scribe of the 2010 Phillies at Pheel! The 2010 Philadelphia Phillies.

Avatar of Tim Malcolm

About Tim Malcolm

Tim Malcolm has written 1947 articles on Phillies Nation.

 
 
  • Posts: 0 Ed R.

    Great read Tim. Glad to see you’re still hanging around and providing quality reading material for us at PN. Hope all is well with you. Take care.

     
  • Posts: 0 ash

    Cross off Chan Ho. For whatever reason, Yankees dumped Edwar for Park. Weird, right? Or do you know something about Park they don’t?

     
  • Posts: 0 The Dipsy

    Yup, thats about the size of it. I don’t think one can fault Jamie for not retiring and giving up the 8m or whatever obscene amount he’s making. That’s Ruben’s fault. I would say that Jamie or no Jamie, Cliff was not gonna stick around. Nice to have ya back, if only for a moment, Tim.

    The Dipsy

     
  • Posts: 0 Manny

    Tim Fuc*ing Malcolm!

    Great to see you back! Just read a couple of your posts on “Pheel!”… I missed your posts man… it’s ’08 all over again!

     
  • Posts: 0 George

    Maybe Moyer will be overpaid. Maybe he’ll pitch like he did in ’08. Give the man a break. Hamels sucked last year, too, but no one complains about his salary. Moyer at $8 million will still beat Eaton, who earned $21 million, and he might pitch better than Wolf for the Brewers and Marquis for the Nats. It’s a big might, but who expected his sub 4.00 ERA in ’08?

    And with the Halladay trade, Lee was gone no matter what. It takes someone really good to gain three decently rated prospects.

     
  • Posts: 0 illrhyme

    Park seems like he was convinced that he won’t be the starter for Yankees. according to his word, he’s now caring about winning a ring more than being a starter. Park may try, but yanks have no interests with Park as a starter.

     
  • Posts: 0 Brett

    Tim! Great to see you back! I hope your personal and professional lives are going well. It hasn’t been the same here without you. Good article. It’s nice to see someone acknowledge that the winner of the “5th Starter Competition” is really only the fifth starter til the inevitable injury, day off, or utter failure of one of the established starters. Hope to see more of you.

     
  • Posts: 0 EdDelahantyDivingTeam

    You’d think with all the time you spent waiting for someone else to change your tire, you’d have had time to proofread this at least once.

     
  • Posts: 0 Lewisauce

    Tim, good to see you back. Hope all is well.

     
  • Posts: 0 Matt

    Tim, great to see you back. If only you were still a regular contributor here at PhilliesNation…

    Hope life is going well for you, many of us miss reading you here.

     
  • Posts: 0 ben

    read two sentences and knew it was you. good read timmy!

     
  • Posts: 0 Manny

    Talking about 5th starters, KK just pitched 4 shutout innings, only 2 hits!!

     
  • Posts: 0 BurrGundy

    Great to read your post, Tim. We miss your input, insight and excellent writing.

     
  • Posts: 0 Bill

    This has nothing to do with the fifth starter. It’s just an good article about Matt Stairs I thought some might enjoy and I didn’t know how else to share it.
    http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=jp-stairs031210&prov=yhoo&type=lgns
    Enjoy.

     
  • Posts: 0 Jason

    Great read…Classic line: “if Brad Lidge can convince the managerial crew that his knee is elastic, his arm is fantastic and his head isn’t spastic, he’ll be slinging sliders in the ninth inning by opening day.:

     
  • Posts: 0 Chuck

    Why is my comment “awaiting moderation”?? What did I say wrong??

     
  • Posts: 0 mikemike

    that was low chuck even for you

     
  • Posts: 0 John

    I saw that article about Stairs as well, a pretty neat story. Matt really seems to me like the kind of guy that will do really well in a broadcast or analyst role when he hangs ‘em up. Hope has a nice season for SD.

    Some nice work from Carpenter today — Decent showing from KK as well.

     
  • Posts: 0 Chuck

    WHAT did I say?????????

     
  • Posts: 0 Jeff

    ESPN is reporting the phillies and the cards swapping howard for albert. Jr. denies the reports. I dont think the cards with just do a swap without victorino. They cant afford albert. If we have a chance to make that deal i will drive the below average hitter to the airport for the best player in baseball…

    Utley and Albert. Oh my

     
  • Posts: 0 psijoe

    LOL Jeff, I was just going to post it. I would do it if we could sign Pujoles for 7/161 and that would be my final offer.

     
  • Posts: 0 shag beta sigma delta

    Not that I would not do that deal for Albert, but I think you would have to be able to sign the guy to some kind of extension, if we can not afford the Big Man after next year, how would the Phillies afford Albert.
    Also I would not mess with the karma this teams has but unlike others I believe in that sort of sht.
    And why would the Cardinals do that, they would not be able to afford the Big Guy if they can not sign Albert. Where did this rumor start anyway

     
  • Posts: 0 John

    Nice to think about, for sure. But the only way the Cards would do that is if they could for sure resign Ryan. I think it’s obvious that as things stand now Ryan will be looking for at least a $100 million deal after ’11. That’s a hefty chunk of change for a team that just gave Matt Holliday an inflated contract. The only possible reason to get rid of Albert would be payroll concerns. Adding a $20+ million per year player doesn’t really address that though. In my mind the best case scenario for the Cards would be finding someone to dump Holliday on, and extending Pujols.

    I agree psijoe — anything more than 6/7 yrs would be a huge mistake, even that long of a deal would be a big gamble.

     
  • Posts: 0 George

    Jeff, you make it sound as though the deal is done. It’s not even close, and probably never going to happen. ESPN was only reporting “discussions” among Phils front office personnel, which Amaro is calling lies. ESPN didn’t even claim that the Cards have been approached.

    If this is all ESPN can offer, it really must be a boring day in their offices.

     
  • Posts: 0 The Dipsy

    You have just got to be kidding. Thats the silliest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. If St. Louis makes that deal, the franchise should be stripped from the city and plunked down in Newark. New Jersey, not Delaware.

    The Dipsy

     
  • Posts: 0 psijoe

    Dipsy, I disagree. If they let Pujoles go and get two picks then they would be villified.

     
  • Posts: 0 The Dipsy

    Of course not. You would resign him. If not, then don’t trade for Howard because if the Cards can’t sign Pujols they won’t be able to sign Ryan either. Trade him for someone’s whole farm system.

    The Dipsy

     
  • Posts: 0 Chuck

    In Olney’s article he mentions the trade that never happened….Joe DiMaggio for Ted Williams. Just comparing THIS possibility to something of THAT magnitude of a possibility gives me chills…

    Of course….just like that scenario that never materialized….this one probably won’t either..

    But, oh man….What if ?????……..

     
  • Posts: 0 Blockbuster

    whats all this talk about trading ryan howard for Albert Pujols?! I hear nothing from the philly stations, but its all over ESPN.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=4994845

    It doesn’t make sense for either side!

     
  • Posts: 0 John

    As first I was quite excited reading the article, not because I think there’s a chance of it ever happening. No, I was momentarily convinced it was April 1 and we were almost done with the ST drudgery.

     
  • Posts: 0 Brooks

    Another gem by Kendrick today. And another gem by Carpenter today – he did give up a run and his ERA is currently 1.13, struck out 5 in 3 innings.
    Pumped yet?

     
  • Posts: 0 Jeff of Nova

    Once again, I don’t think that is going to happen.

    But, if it does, St Louis would have no issue signing Howard, in fact they could get a hometown discount.

    Pujos, would be getting a big payday unless he takes and extension much like Halladay. If that were to happen it could be the biggest trade in the history of the game.

    I love the chemistry of this team, I like Howard a lot he is the all American boy with a great heart and great attitude. I know Pujos is much of the same, but in Philly he will not be instantly.

    They could in fact sign Werth to a 3 year deal or so since Howard makes more than Pujos now. Then you let Ibanez walk and bring in Dominic Brown and we are set for the next 3-4 years with a studly lineup.

    But like I said not going to happen, and I am perfectly cool with that… I love this team!! They are in great shape going forward can’t wait till Opening Day!!! Just got my Tickets… Finally a reason to go to a Nats Home opener that makes sense

     
  • Posts: 585 Brian Michael

    Avatar of Brian Michael

    Chuck-

    Your comment was held in moderation because you misspelled Kyle Kendrick’s last name. You forgot the “r” which equals a no-no word. Pretty funny.

    Oh computers, you’re so stupid….

     
  • Posts: 0 George

    Really funny. I mentioned in my last post several players named Richard, but used the standard nickname, the name that all of them were actually known by. My comment, of course, is “awaiting moderation.”

     
  • Posts: 0 Chuck

    Seriously???? The computer ACTUALLY caught that???

    That IS pretty funny.

     
  • Posts: 0 Georgie

    Chuck, stop trying to slip dirty words past the computer, it NEVER works anymore :-)

    Tim, great to have you back, if only part-time. Enjoyed your articles over at “pheel”…

     
  • Posts: 0 Chuck

    I feel truly bad for guys like Mike Bor_ _ _ _.

     
  • Posts: 0 Anthony

    I m pretty sure, not definite, …..but wasnt Jamie the teams leading sp w/wins?
    What ever he was or is, its a problem that is surely welcomed. This is gonna give kendrick crazy ass desire to get in it(rotation). I see nothing wrong w/that and we all know, he will be pitching in ….say June. Hopefully later, that would mean everything is going as planned and great for the phightin. As you noted, he had tired and was gotten to later in the season. So, holding him back(like a raged tiger) could only benefit the team later in the season.
    I bleed Phillies red….d’oh

     
  • Posts: 0 Sherry W

    I like Kendrick but he needs another year. I have no idea why everyone is so much in love with him after his meh performance in ’09. The Halladay magic won’t rub off on him in a couple weeks. Put him in
    the pen, give him some starts and let him go at it next year.

    Jamie was really good after 5 days rest. I think he still has it in him. I really don’t think they are looking at how much a guy already cost them when they decide who they will start. They pay him the same in the Pen or in #5.

    Also, enough about Lee. Lee is gone and we have the guys we have. He wasn’t goign to take a pay cut big enough to stick around another year, Jamie or no Jamie. Get over it already. Halladay was worth it.

     
 
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