Depth is a funny thing. You absolutely need it, especially among starting pitchers, if you want to complete a 162 game schedule. Except, of course, when you don’t.
The Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds made it through the 2012 season with exceptionally healthy starting rotations. The Reds famously started just six pitchers all year, with their original five-man rotation making every scheduled start save one Todd Redmond spot start in August. The Nationals used eight different starters but the great Stephen Strasburg Shutdownbacle of 2012 informs their use of starting pitches.
The World Champion Giants (!) got only two starts from outside their Opening Day starting five. Keeping pitchers healthy is a skill but these cases are the exceptions rather than the rule. The upstart Orioles ran through starting pitchers like regression through the 2013 Orioles, as only one pitcher made 30 starts for the AL Wild Card winners.
The Phillies are in an unique position. They don’t have a lot of depth in the rotation but have more top-level talent than any team in baseball. But that talent is old and old players are frail. For the Phillies to compete in the NL East, they need more than just three starting pitcher to carry them.
David Murphy of Philly.com looked at the Phillies pitching depth beyond the big three starters yesterday. His findings are…less than encouraging for Phillies fans. The starting five in Philadelphia looks this way, barring anything “unforeseen” or, more accurately, glaring apparent to anyone following Grapefruit League results.
Beyond that starting five, the quality drops off as one would imagine. Veterans on minor league contracts like Aaron Cook and Rodrigo Lopez in addition to some interesting younger arms like Adam Morgan, Jonathan Pettibone, and Tyler Cloyd.
Murphy argues that Lopez’s rough spring pushed him even further down the depth chart, below the “sixth starter” spot which John Lannan occupied with the Nationals last season. Lannan’s is an interesting case as he spent nearly the entire year pitching in Triple-A, pitching very well in the International League. The Nats non-tendered Lannnan as he was due a raise after making $5 million in 2012, but the Phillies wasted no time in giving him a guaranteed contract for $2.5MM.
Given Roy Halladay’s health questions, somebody is going to need to step into the Phillies Phray this year. Aaron Cook made a decent account of himself for a little while in Boston last year. Sadly, he succumbed to his NotGoodAtAllitis. Cook struck out just 20 batters in 94 innings, though he did manage a complete game shutout of the Seattle Mariners.
The Orioles are interesting for the complete opposite reasons. After cheating and stealing their way to the 2012 post-season on the back of improbably decent starters, they have a legitimate cache of young pitchers making a case for the big leagues. Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman will start the year at Double-A but stand poised to takeover the rotation any minute now.
The previous generation of Orioles can’t miss arms is still around, as well. Chris Tillman made a strong impression in 2012 and while the jury is still out on Brian Matusz, Zach Britton and Jake Arrietta, nobody can accuse the Orioles of not having options. Or, worse yet, relying on Aaron Cook for anything other than Triple-A cannon fodder.
While Jair Jurrjens and Miguel Gonzalez currently occupy spots among the five starters expected to break camp, the Orioles won’t be scratching their heads when it comes time to replace their innings in the rotation.
There is no hard and fast rule as to the number of starters required for a winning team. But just about everybody needs more than five to finish a season. The Phillies demonstrate just having three studs isn’t enough while the Orioles seem content to replicate the Rays model with waves of talent rolling in at regular intervals. Betting on health is a fool’s errand; it is always wise to have a contingency plan in place.
And the rest
Looking at the first pitch of season. Sit dead red (unless you’re playing the Blue Jays for the next three years ) [Fangraphs]
One Canadian fan’s view of the WBC games in Arizona [Mop Up Duty]
Adam Rubin updated his original report. After a denial, the owners acknowledge they are trying to dump the pension plans for non-uniformed personnel. [ESPN New York]