With pitchers and catchers set to report Saturday, we here are Philthy Stuff are grading the Phillies by position as they prepare to work towards a sixth-straight National League East title and try to return to the World Series in 2012.
In baseball, they say that pitching wins championships. While that is partially true (luck and an occasional clutch hit are pretty important, too), no one can deny that the strength of one's rotation is directly related to the overall success of a team.
Fortunately, for the Phillies, they've got enough starting pitching to go around, starting with the three aces at the top of the rotation. But how does the rest of staff rank?
It goes without saying, but the starting rotation of the Phillies -- their greatest strength in 2011 -- will continue to dominate the National League. Anchored by Roy Halladay, who somehow gets better with age (highest K/9 of his career) and followed by Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, the Phillies are going to get a boatload of elite innings from the three guys atop the rotation.
The trio -- unequivocally the best in all of Major League Baseball -- all had sub-3.00 ERAs last season, and owned three of the four best ERA+ in the National League, which is a pretty clear indicator of just how good they were in 2011.
Of course, when you are that good, there is really nowhere else to go. It would be foolish to think that they could get any better in 2012, right? Then again, maybe not. Halladay isn't slowing down, Lee shouldn't have as many ups-and-downs next season, and Hamels is just entering the prime of his career, so anything is possible.
The Rest: B-
After The Big 3, the quality of the Phillies' arms drops considerably. That's not a knock on the trio of Vance Worley, Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick; it's just the harsh reality of it all.
Thanks to a breakout rookie season where he had an ERA of 3.01 in 131 innings, Worley is all but assured a spot in the rotation to start the season, where he figures to be the No. 4 pitcher. While advanced statistics would indicate that he won't duplicate his 2011 success, he'll likely still be more than capable on the hill.
The last spot in the rotation is a bit of a crapshoot, because it hinges upon Blanton's health. The 31-year-old, who had just eight starts last season thanks to elbow issues, is in the final year of a three-year extension signed before the 2010 season, and will the overwhelming favorite to take home the last spot in the rotation.
Since being traded to the Phillies in 2008, Blanton has a respectable 4.43 ERA, but has dealt with injuries in the past two seasons that limited his playing time. When healthy, he can be a valuable commodity -- an innings eater (194-plus innings pitched per season from 2005 to 2009), especially at the back end of the rotation.
For now, it looks like Kendrick is the odd man out, even though he had a good enough year split between the rotation in the bullpen, where he logged a 3.22 ERA over 114 innings. Despite lacking a varied repertoire and an ability to strike hitters out at a decent clip, Kendrick has continued to prove himself a useful tool at Rich Dubee's disposal. However, in 2012, that usefulness will likely be in the 'pen, not the rotation.
Minor League Grade: C+
In the minor leagues, the Phillies are in decent, not great, shape. With their best pitching talent at the lower levels, they will have to rely on journeymen and career minor leaguers to step up, should one of their starters go down.
The best of the bunch is 33-year-old Joel Pineiro, who most recently played for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He is more than capable of stepping up to make a spot start, or more, if needed, and he has the requisite big league experience that makes him all the more attractive.
Behind him are the likes of Nate Bump and Ryan Feiereabend, both whom are not likely to have any significant impact on the big club, save for an occasional spot start.
The biggest name though in the pipeline is Trevor May who pitched at Single-A Clearwater last season.
When you have a rotation that consists of three of the best pitchers in the game, everything else is just white noise. It doesn't really matter who is getting the ball on the fourth and fifth days, because during the rest of the days, it will be in some of the most capable hands in the game.