Reflections from a reporter born in 1987

Cliff Lee to Phillies: What the Nationals will be facing in 2011

December 14, 2010 - 12:25 PM
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Here's a face that Nationals fans really, really don't want to see, for the 'T' has given way to a 'P' (Photo: Associated Press)

The Washington Nationals play the Philadelphia Phillies 18 times during the 2011 season (six three-game series, to be precise). So, it's very likely that the Nats will see a lot of baseball's newfound fearsome foursome: Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and now Cliff Lee. Sure, it looks good on paper, but just how good is this rotation actually going to be? I've examined the statistics, and I have my own predictions (barring injury) for each man after the jump.

Roy Halladay

2010 Statistics: 21-10, 2.44 ERA, 250.2 IP. WHIP: 1.041. K/9 rate: 7.9. ERA+: 165. Winner, 2010 National League Cy Young Award.

Last year was Halladay's first season in Philadelphia, and what a season it was. Speaking strictly statistically, 2010 was Halladay's best season since 2005, but considering he threw just 141.2 innings that year compared to 250.2 innings pitched in 2010, we can safely call last season the best of Halladay's career. 

Can Halladay match that performance in 2011? I'll say no, but he'll come close. Opposing batters' batting average on balls in play (BABIP) against Halladay was right about average (.298, and we're assuming a break-even rate of .300), but Halladay got a little lucky in terms of leaving runners on base (LOB %: 82.7 in 2010. Halladay's career average: 73.2%). On the other hand, both Halladay's ground ball percentage and home run percentage have been below and above his career average each of the past two years, respectively. Compare his career-average ground-ball percentage of 55.6 to the 50.2 and 51.2 each of the last two years. Also, compare his home run percentage of 10.6 and 11.3 to his career average of 10.4. Some of that, no doubt, is the effect of Citizens Bank Park, but surely 2011 will bring about some self-correction.

Verdict: He won't hit the highs of 2010, but Halladay will still be able to post very good numbers in 2011.

Cole Hamels

2010 Statistics: 12-11, 3.06 ERA, 208.2 IP. WHIP: 1.179. K/9 rate: 9.1. ERA+: 132.

After a disappointing 2009, in which he admitted that he was fatigued by all his newfound obligations after winning the 2008 World Series MVP, Hamels looked more like his old self in 2010. Like Halladay, Hamels did get a bit lucky with baserunners (LOB %: 82.7. Career average: 76.6) and threw way above his average percentage of ground balls (45.4 ground ball percentage in 2010, compared to his 41.3 career average).

Verdict: Like Halladay, Hamels's numbers will go down slightly, but they'll still be good enough for Hamels to be an ace on many teams. However, this Philadelphia squad isn't many teams.

Roy Oswalt

2010 Statistics (2 Teams, acquired by Philadelphia via trade July 29): 13-13, 2.76 ERA, 211.2 IP. WHIP: 1.025. K/9 rate: 8.2. ERA+: 143.

And we have our outlier, folks. Oswalt was absurdly lucky for the entire 2010 season, not just during his time with Philadelphia. The BABIP of opposing hitters against Oswalt was .261, and his K/9 rate for the season (8.21) was almost a full strikeout above his career average (7.44).

Verdict: Expect a big drop-off from Oswalt in 2011. He's the weak link in this rotation.

Cliff Lee

2010 Statistics (2 Teams): 12-9, 3.18 ERA, 212.1 IP. WHIP: 1.003. K/9 rate: 7.8. ERA+: 130

Lee's 2010 statistics are similar to Oswalt's, you'll notice. The difference here is that while Oswalt got very lucky last season, Lee was very unlucky, with an LOB% of 67.9 (career average: 71.8). He didn't get a whole lot of help behind him either: his fielder independent pitching (FIP) was 2.58, a whole .60 earned runs better than his traditional ERA. However, like Oswalt, I wouldn't look for Lee to match his K/9 performance last season. His 7.8 K/9 rate in 2010 was almost a full strikeout higher than his career average (6.9).

Verdict: We'll see if the weaker National League lineups compensate for any normalization in Lee's stats. At the moment, I predict a small drop-off, but more along the lines of what should happen to Hamels and Halladay rather than Oswalt.

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