Countdown to Pitchers and Catchers- Rotation and Catcher Predictions

It is just 8 days until Phillies pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater, Florida in preparation for one of most exciting and potentially historic season of all-time. For the next 8 days, I am going to preview the Phillies from bottom to top, offering my predictions of the starting-nine. Today, we look at the Phillies’ rotation and catcher Carlos Ruiz:

1. Roy Halladay 2011 Predictions

19-6, 2.79 ERA, 220 K’s

The 2010 National League Cy Young award winner is no joke. He came to the National League with high expectations, and exceeded them. But, for an arm that logged 250 innings last season, and for an arm that’s about to turn 34 years old, most pitchers would be unable to duplicate such an incredible season. Well, there is only one Roy Halladay.

Throughout his career, Halladay has maintained an extreme work ethic, which has him up working-out vigorously before your morning news paper even hits your door. With such a regimen, Halladay has been able to be the active-career leader in complete games (58), shutouts (19), and winning percentage (.663). He is truly a baseball marvel; one of few pitchers in baseball who has every pitch he throws work for him. With that said, the Doctor should be operating with much precision in 2011, and will post yet another amazing season.

2. Cliff Lee 2011 Predictions

17-6, 3.25 ERA, 189 K’s

Cliff Lee is truly one of the games most dominant left-handed pitchers today. One clear indicator of this is that the Phillies gave him $120 million. They did it for a reason; because he has Cy Young type stuff.

Since 2008, when Lee won the American League Cy Young award, he has been one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball, posting an ERA no higher than 3.22. He is able to achieve such excellence by doing the one job that some pitchers fail to do; throw strikes. But, just how many strikes does Lee throw? Well, last season, 71% of Lee’s pitches crossed the plate as strikes. A percentage like that surly means walks are a minimum. As a matter of fact, in 2010, Lee only walked 18 batters in 212 1/3 innings, giving him a 0.8 walks per 9 innings for the season. This kind of pinpoint-accuracy is sure to carry into 2011, as Lee has been an aggressive strike thrower throughout the last three seasons. With that said, Lee and his array of pitches, mixed-in with his sharp-shooter type accuracy, will baffle the National League in his return to the Phillies.

3. Roy Oswalt 2011 Predictions

18-9, 2.87 ERA, 203 K’s

This isn’t the first time Roy Oswalt has been paired in a powerhouse rotation, but this is his first time in a rotation that consists of four legit Aces. Opposing the number-three starter for the other team on most nights means the Oswalt will have a season more like his earlier days.

Oswalt, age 33, has been one of the NL’s premier starters over the last 10 years. Since, he first started back in 2001, Oswalt has maintained the 5th lowest ERA of any active pitcher today (3.18), and has won 15 or more games five times in his career. This included a two-year stretch in which Oswalt won 40 games, from 2004-2005. He has been able to be one of the games’ most winningest pitchers, by mastering a pitch that has baffled hitters since the start of his career; the curveball.

Matched up with a high 90’s fastball, an above-average change-up, and a good slider, Oswalt’s curveball is just another piece to a pitching combination that has brought him great success. His curveball, arguably the best in baseball, has kept opposing batters from hitting the ball. With his array of pitches, Oswalt held opposing hitters to a .213 batting average last season. Look for a big season out of the Phillies third starter (that feels so weird to call Roy Oswalt a third starter…)

4. Cole Hamels 2011 Predictions

16-7, 3.10 ERA, 194 K’s

Cole Hamels is just two season’s removed from being the World Series MVP ace of the Philadelphia Phillies. Today, however, he finds himself as the fourth starter, and on most days will be facing the likes of a Randy Wolf or a Chris Young. The days of seeing Hamels go up against power-pitchers such as Johan Santana and Tim Hudson are, for the time being, over. But, what Hamels now becomes is the best number four starting pitcher in all of baseball.

Last season, Hamels bounced back in a big way from his disappointing 2009 campaign. He did so by incorporating a cutter into his list of pitches, and by also improving his fastball placement and limiting his use of his mediocre curveball. Last season, Hamels finished the season with a 12-11 record and a 3.06 ERA. His poor win-loss record was not attributed to bad pitching, but to a lack of run support. In 2010, Hamels had a run support of 3.7 runs per games. If the Phillies get back to hitting like the Phillies, and they very well should hit the opposing team’s number four pitcher hard, then Hamels should have no problem putting together his best season of his young career.

5. Joe Blanton 2011 Predictions

12-7, 4.10 ERA, 154 K’s

Joe Blanton certainly will be pitching with less pressure this year because of the presence of the “Big Four.” But needless to say, he still is Joe Blanton. You can expect tough first innings, solid innings for the next four, and a 5th and 6th that will have your heart racing. That is just how Blanton gets stuff done.Nevertheless, the big man still gives the Phillies a lot of innings, and if healthy, can produce a solid year for a number five starter.

Last season, Blanton pitched horrible for the first-half of the season, posting an ERA of 6.41. But, as the page turned towards the second-half, Blanton too turned the page on his season, going 6-1 with a 3.48 ERA. Overall, he finished the season with a record of 9-6 with a 4.82 ERA.

Catcher Carlos Ruiz 2011 Predictions

.281 AVG., 10 HR, 67 RBI’s

Carlos Ruiz is the man who will sit behind the plate for this rotation for the majority of the season, and a man who’s bat is going to be heavily counted on to produce. Last season, Chooch showed us all he is the man for the job.

Behind the plate, Ruiz is one of the best when it comes to working with his pitchers. When he was catching, pitchers had a 3.31 ERA last year. He also has limited the opponents running game better in recent years, allowing only 50 stolen bases last year and having a 29% caught stealing percentage last year. But, what is truly remarkable is how he has grown offensively. Over the course of his career, Ruiz’s batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage have all went up. He has become a reliable, and consistent bat in the Phillies line-up, hitting .293 with runners in scoring position. If the Phillies do continue to hit like last year, Ruiz’s bat is gonna be counted on more than ever, especially after the departure of outfielder Jayson Werth.

Tomorrow, I bring you my predictions for Phillies’ first baseman Ryan Howard.

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