A steep decline for Phillies pitching staff

Roy Halladay , once the ace of aces on the staff, has logged a 5.06 ERA in 207 innings pitched since 2012. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff
Roy Halladay , once the ace of aces on the staff, has logged a 5.06 ERA in 207 innings pitched since 2012. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff
Posted: September 07, 2013

The mound at Citizens Bank Park was not built for pitching success. Its tenants complained of unfavorable ballpark dimensions that bred flowerbed homers. Then 2011 happened and nary a word - beyond a fleeting expletive - will be spoken about that again. Instead, jealousy of that Phillies pitching staff mounts with every inept performance by the current one.

In less than two years, the Phillies went from the majors' best ERA to the National League's worst. It is a lesson in the volatility of pitching. The Phillies relied on aging arms and lacked an ability to develop effective young talent.

The 2011 staff posted a 3.02 ERA, the lowest mark for any major-league team in 22 seasons. These Phillies enter the weekend with a 4.29 ERA. They have not finished with the league's worst figure since 1992.

"There are some opportunities here," Ryne Sandberg said, "and some questions here, sure."

While the Phillies must fix an offense that averages 3.77 runs per game (29th in the majors), the pitching staff is mired in uncertainty. Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee anchor the rotation. The rest is undecided.

The 2011 staff may never be re-created. A gathering of Four Aces, the emergence of unproven arms Vance Worley, Antonio Bastardo, and Mike Stutes, combined with pure luck, conspired to mold one of the modern era's best groups.

Their downfall can be attributed, in part, to $40 million spent in the last two seasons on Roy Halladay. That is a wager that anyone in this game would have made. The erstwhile ace has pitched 207 innings to a 5.06 ERA since 2012.

He is reduced to using September as a quasi-tryout in advance of free agency.

"We don't know," Sandberg said. "You don't know until he pitches, but I think he's building an outing at a time to see how the outings go. Then he has the offseason to have his proper rest and to start his program that he normally has. Sometimes these types of things are a process."

Kyle Kendrick has a 5.82 ERA in his last 15 starts. He could make $8 million through arbitration. Cuban righty Miguel Gonzalez signed a three-year, $12 million deal, and the Phillies expect him to start in 2014. It is impossible to set his expectations.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has added these pitchers via free agency and trades since the end of the 2011 season:

Jonathan Papelbon

Chad Qualls

Jeremy Horst

Josh Lindblom

John Lannan

Chad Durbin

Mike Adams

Papelbon, signed to a $50 million deal, has accounted for 4.6 percent of the team's 2,6981/3 innings in the two subsequent seasons.

The system (though drafts and trades) has produced arms such as:

Jonathan Pettibone

Tyler Cloyd

Jake Diekman

Justin De Fratus

Phillippe Aumont

Ethan Martin

None replicated the rookie performances of Worley and Stutes in 2011.

There will be changes at various leve0ls. Longtime minor-league pitching coordinator Gorman Heimueller was fired. He held that job for 11 years. Rich Dubee, pitching coach for nine seasons, is likely to face a similar fate. His contract expires at the end of 2013.

The personnel limits the coaching staff's abilities. The bullpen (a 4.31 ERA) is not alone in its problems. The starting staff ranks 21st in baseball with a 4.29 ERA.

"Kyle Kendrick had a fine first half of the season," Sandberg said. "Maybe there is some growth there for him on what he needs to do to maintain that all the way through a full season and be where he wants to be. Along with who is going to be in the other two spots. Yeah, there are some question marks right there. And there are some outings that will be thrown and guys pitching down the stretch to solidify that or make a showing for themselves."


In Arms' Way

The Phillies' team ERA for starters and relievers:

Starters

2011: 2.86 (1st in MLB)

2012: 3.82 (10th)

2013: 4.29 (21st)

The bullpen

2011: 3.45 (8th)

2012: 3.94 (21st)

2013: 4.31 (28th)


Contact Matt Gelb

at mgelb@phillynews.com.

Follow @magelb on Twitter.

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