The Sure Things: Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee
They have been excelling for years. Hamels and Lee will lead this staff as they have in the past. Since Lee came back to the Phillies in 2011, the duo has a 132 ERA+. Hamels has a 3.15 ERA in that time and Lee has had a 2.80 ERA in that time. They've also been to a combined four All Star appearances. In order to contend, the Phillies just need to excel behind their aces. In 2013, the Phillies went just 29-35 behind Hamels and Lee, a number that needs to change in 2014. Hamels and Lee will pitch strong in 2014, but for the Phillies to make the playoffs, they need to get some wins behind them.
Could Be Good, Could Be Bad: A.J. Burnett and Kyle Kendrick
These guys are exactly what the title says, they could be good or they good be bad. Burnett was very good in 2013, but he is 37-years-old, and posted a 5.20 ERA and a 83 ERA+ not too long ago in 2010 and 2011 with the Yankees. Some say that the Yankees were not a fit, but Burnett heads back to a hitter's park in Citizens Bank Park. However, he's in a better situation than teammate Kyle Kendrick, who the Phillies are still trying to make a good rookie season out of. Kendrick went 10-4 with a 3.87 ERA in 121 innings in his rookie season in 2007. They both need to excel to give the Phillies some hope.
The Questions: Jonathan Pettibone, Roberto Hernandez, Miguel Gonzalez
These three guys will be battling for the fifth spot in 2014. First, we have Jonathan Pettibone, the only pitcher to have pitched in a Phillies uniform prior to this season. Pettibone posted a 95 ERA+ in 100 1/3 innings pitched with the Phillies. He was good at times, but never great. Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona) was an All Star in 2010, but has a below-average 75 ERA+ since. I personally do not think he is the answer there. And finally, we have Miguel Gonzalez, the complete wild card here. Gonzalez is an interesting case. The top international prospect initially signed a $48 million deal, which ended up getting reduced to $12 million after physical issues. One of these guys will have to step it up in 2014.
My Prediction for the 2014 Phillies Rotation:
1. Cliff Lee
How can you not go with Cliff number one? Now that we know Hamels won't be ready until the second or third week in April, Cliff is almost a lock to get the Opening Day start. He's a very good pitcher and will lead this Phillies staff throughout the season. If he pitches well (he usually does), and the Phillies have to win behind him, a lot of good things will happen.
2. Cole Hamels
Hamels won't be ready by Opening Day, but he'll still be back to make 25+ starts. Again, Hamels is an ace and the Phillies need to win behind him to have a chance in the tough National League East. If Hamels can win 15-18 starts this year, and the Phillies take three or four more of his no decisions, the Phillies again could be put into a good situation. However, it's not that easy, and execution is key.
3. A.J. Burnett
Nothing surprising here. Burnett was paid $16 million this offseason, following two very strong showings in back-to-back seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Burnett led the National League in K/9 rate and still managed to pitch over 190 innings. Burnett could be the make-or-break of the Phillies rotation; if he pitches well, the Phillies could have a feared staff. If not, well the Phillies may actually show zero improvement from last season.
4. Kyle Kendrick
In my opinion, Kendrick deserves to be in the bullpen, but since this is a prediction, and not analysis, Kendrick will realistically be in the starting rotation. But since I've got no good stats to share with you, I'd like you to know that Kendrick has a career 3.50 ERA out of the bullpen, compared to a 4.44 ERA from the starting rotation. Batters' career OPS+ against Kendrick out of the rotation is 101 compared to a 84 out of the bullpen (lower is better). Just saying guys.
5. Jonathan Pettibone
I believe the Phillies don't trust Miguel Gonzalez and that Roberto Hernandez is a dud. While Gonzalez still may make the bullpen, Pettibone's the guy who will take the fifth starting rotation spot. This isn't necessarily a bad thing by any means. Pettibone will improve in 2014, knowing that he's got a real shot at the rotation. (He made the rotation in 2013 due to a Roy Halladay injury.) In his last seven starts in 2013, Pettibone posted a 3.46 ERA in 39 innings.
6. Roberto Hernandez
As I said, I believe Herandez is a dud, but the Phillies don't trust Miguel Gonzalez enough to give him the sixth spot. Hernandez will likely open the season in Philadelphia due to Hamels' injury, but shouldn't be given much more thought if everyone remains healthy.