The Phillies starting rotation has long been the team's primary strength, boasting arguably three aces in Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. Halladay's retirement raises questions about the rotation and leaves a glaring hole. While Halladay had been sidelined with injuries over the last couple of seasons, his strong leadership and veteran presence had come to be expected, and it helped set the tone for the entire team. What does the season hold for the Phils' pitching staff, and do you want any of their pitchers on your fantasy team? Here are my thoughts and projections for the coming season.
2014 Philadelphia Phillies - Pitching Staff Preview
Cole Hamels - SP
Hamels will again anchor the Phillies rotation. Hamels had a disappointing 8-14 record in 2013, despite a respectable 3.60 ERA and a strong 1.16 WHIP. He is a very durable pitcher, having made at least thirty starts in each of the last six seasons. Expect Hamels to be a dependable option for your rotation with a nice rebound in wins and another season of 200+ strikeouts. With another mediocre finish in the division likely for the Phillies, the opportunities for wins for all of their starters will be difficult. If your league rewards quality starts instead of wins, Hamels should move up a few slots in your rankings. He has the tools to be an ace, but the other team dynamics will hold him back from that potential.
Cliff Lee - SP
The 35-year-old Cliff Lee will follow Hamels in the rotation. Lee is a crafty lefty who flies below the radar with a quiet demeanor, despite a career filled with production and consistency. 2013 was a good season for Lee, as he registered a 2.87 ERA and a WHIP barely above 1.00. Fourteen wins represents a great season for most starters, but the fourteen wins that Lee registered don't reflect how well he pitched last season. The outlook on Lee is virtually the same as with Hamels-- they both deserve consideration for the top of your rotation, and either one is capable of outperforming his draft position with some better run support.
Kyle Kendrick - SP
Kendrick will likely start the season as the team's No. 3 starter, but he doesn't yet have the skill set to warrant a spot on your roster in a traditional 5x5 Roto league. If you are in a very deep league or find yourself streaming pitching, Kendrick can be useful, but pick your spots carefully. "Mediocrity" just about sums it up for Kendrick.
Miguel Gonzalez - SP
Gonzalez is an intriguing option in the rotation, joining the Phillies after defecting from Cuba. The stats on Gonzalez from Cuba are rather underwhelming, but they don't tell the whole story. The righty hasn't pitched much since 2011. In 2012 he was caught trying to defect from Cuba and he was suspended. While serving that suspension, he had some minor surgery to remove bone spurs from his elbow. Is that cause for concern, or an explanation for his mediocre stats? The scouts and the litany of big league teams that were bidding for his services suggest that he has a better future than the stats would hint at. It is worth mentioning that after agreeing to his contract with the Phillies for a reported six-years and $60M, a physical prompted the team to renegotiate a club-friendly three-year, $21 million deal. I see Gonzalez as a late-round flier, but not much else this season. He will have the element of surprise on his side, but if established aces like Hamels and Lee struggle to live up to their potential because of the Phils' aging lineup, it is difficult to project big things for Gonzalez in his rookie campaign.
Jonathan Papelbon - RP
Papelbon is no longer among the elite in the game, but he is just the type of player I like to target for my team. He is unlikely to save 40 games, but he is equally unlikely to lose his job during the season. Pencil him in for 28-32 saves with a low WHIP and ERA, and move on. He is the perfect closer candidate to target after the other teams have burned their picks on the bigger names. Papelbon's K/9 rate was down pretty dramatically last season, but all of his other measurables were in line with his career averages, so I expect a bump back closer to what he has done in the past.
Admittedly, 2014 does not look like a very exciting season for the Phillies on the field or for fantasy owners. What about 2015 and beyond? Are there top prospects pushing for a spot on the roster or a mid-season call up that you need to keep an eye on to boost your lineup? That's what we will be looking at in our next segment!