Philadelphia has four outstanding pitchers forming the core of their 2011 rotation – can the Cardinals quartet compete?
Most prognosticators have already ceded the Philadelphia Phillies the NL East, NL Pennant, and World Series Championship in 2011. This is based on the team being able to send a formidable foursome of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels to the hill on a recurring basis. No other team, as the logic goes, can match that rotation for quality and depth.
Well, perhaps Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Baumgarner, and Jonathan Sanchez. But let’s not sell Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook, and Jamie Garcia short – they can pitch too. How close are these Cardinal hurlers to the new National League gold standard?
Looking at Wins Above Replacement for each pitcher over the past three years, one is amazed at how durable the Phillie starters are. Consider:
- Roy Halladay WAR (2010-2008): 6.8, 6.6, 7.3
- Cliff Lee WAR : 6.7, 7.1, 6.6
- Roy Oswalt WAR: 4.2, 4.7, 3.0
- Cole Hamels WAR: 4.2, 3.8, 3.6
Now compare that to the Cardinal starters over the same period.
- Chris Carpenter WAR (2010-2008): 3.7, 5.6, 0.4
- Adam Wainwright: 6.7, 6.1, 5.7
- Jake Westbrook: 2.3, missed all of 2009, 0.4
- Jamie Garcia, 3.2 (rookie season).
Wainwright is as good as any pitcher in the league, and was every bit as good as both Halladay and Lee in 2010. After him there is a significant drop-off. Carpenter was hurt in 2008, Westbrook missed most of 2008 and all of 2009 to injury, and Garcia just completed his first full season in the bigs (after missing 2009 to arm surgery). And let’s not get into Kyle Lohse’s injury history since his bit 2008 season.
Carpenter is certainly still capable of putting up another season close to his 2009 effort, but will probably be in the 3.7-4.2 WAR region for 2011. He is a warrior, but he will also turn 36 next season and has a lot of miles on his right arm (not to mention injuries). Garcia will improve in his second season and will probably be close to Carpenter, perhaps 3.5-4.0 WAR. Westbrook is 33; his best years were 2004-2006, and his best WAR was 4.5 (2006). If he is able to stay healthy all season, he’s probably a Carpenter-level guy (3.7-4.2 WAR). Wainwright will remain one of the best pitchers in the league (6.4-7.2 WAR).
Figure Halladay and Lee to post between 6.3-7.0 WAR, and Oswalt/Hamels to post similar numbers (somewhere in the 4.0-4.7 range).
What does it all mean? It means pitching-wise, this team is still good enough to win the NL Central and make a run in the post-season. It means Cardinal pitchers are pretty good too – perhaps not quite as vaunted a rotation as the Phillies have, but certainly good enough to win 90+ games.
Granted, should they make it to the NLCS, having to face Halladay, Lee, and Oswalt twice each in a 7-game series is a tough task. If the 2006 post-season taught us anything, however, it’s that the playoffs are a crapshoot. In 2010, that lesson was reinforced – who seriously thought the Giants would beat Cliff Lee twice in the World Series?
So let’s not mail Ruben Amaro Jr the National League pennant for 2011 just yet. There’s a pretty good staff working alongside the banks of the Mississippi too.