Mar 27, 2014; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher A.J. Burnett (34) in the dugout after he pitched against the Toronto Blue Jays at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

MLB Opening Day 2014: Projecting the Phillies starting pitchers numbers

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Yesterday evening, I projected what final numbers the each of the Phillies opening day starters will end the season with. In the piece, I also broke down how I arrived at those numbers. Prior to this afternoon’s season opener against the Texas Rangers, I’m going to do the same for a Phillies pitching staff, that entered Spring Training looking relatively deep, after the late addition of A.J. Burnett. Given the Spring Training struggles of Miguel Gonzalez and news that Cole Hamels will miss the first month of the season with left-shoulder inflammation, the rotation doesn’t look quite as impressive as the Phils enter the 2014 campaign. Nonetheless, here are my full-season projections for the Phillies rotation.

1. Cliff Lee

2014 Breakdown: Lee rebounded from a strange 2012 season, to post a 2.87 ERA and 14 wins in 2013. Given Cole Hamels’ disappointing 2013 and arm injury, Lee now gets the chance to get the ball on opening day for the first time since 2009, when he was a member of the Cleveland Indians.

While I’d like to see him mix in a few more pitches out of the zone, I see no reason why Lee won’t be one of the best pitchers in the game again in 2014. It’s hard to predict exactly how much run support he will get, which has a direct effect on his total wins, but a great spring (24 IP, 2.55 ERA) leads me to expect another superb year out of the 35 year-old lefty.

For the Phillies to  compete in 2014 (not likely), then Lee will have to be a pitcher who wins 17-20 games and posts an ERA below 2.70. If not, the Phillies would be foolish not to move him, because as he inches towards his late 30’s, his trade value will only go down.

2014 Stat Predictions: 16-9, 2.77 ERA

Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

2. A.J. Burnett 

2014 Breakdown: While he certainly isn’t worth $16 million, doing it on a one-year basis isn’t all that scary. If the Phillies feel like they are going to compete (which just about no one outside the organization does), then hey, they may as well go all-in.

What does scare me, is that Burnett took a long time this off-season pondering whether he even wanted to pitch this season. I liked the idea of bringing him in, but, if the Phillies start slow, I wonder whether Burnett’s approach will decline. Even if it does, Burnett has some type of no-trade clause (specifics aren’t known, but it is a limited no-trade clause), and a $7.5 million buyout for 2015, so it doesn’t appear like he falls into the category of someone who could be joining Lee as a trade deadline exit. That is, unless the Pirates want him back or the Orioles make another push for him.

There is certainly good that comes with Burnett though, as we know that he is going to pitch close to 200 innings. He is also a ground-ball pitcher, so he should be able to keep the ball in the park, even at Citizens Bank Park.

As long as you don’t expect him to pitch like a $16 million man, I think you will find Burnett to be a solid addition.

2014 Stat Predictions: 14-10, 3.63 ERA

Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

3. Kyle Kendrick

2014 Breakdown: Some people look at the combined 4.30 ERA that Kendrick has posted over the course of the last two years, and are terrified that he is going to be the Phillies number three starter for at least the first month of the season. While I would rather see Cole Hamels healthy and Kendrick down a spot in the rotation, I’m actually perfectly content with Kendrick as the number three guy early on.

Kendrick has established himself as a much better first-half pitcher the last two years, and I would expect a fast start from Kendrick again. The difference this year, is that Kendrick is in a contract year, and needs to put together a full season.

Kendrick doesn’t necessarily have swing and miss stuff, but he sports a solid cutter, and can be counted on for over 160 innings in 2014.

Like Lee, Kendrick could be an attractive piece to a contender at the trade deadline, should he put together a good first-half.

2014 Stat Predictions: 12-12, 3.79 ERA

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

4. Roberto Hernandez (The artist formerly illegally known as Fausto Carmona)

2014 Breakdown: Hernandez will begin the season as the number four starter, but as the season progresses, and a healthy Cole Hamels hopefully returns, him staying in the rotation isn’t a guarantee. Frankly, if he pitches how he has over the past two years (2011 and 2013, because he missed most of 2012), he won’t be in the rotation past April.

Hernandez’s 5.29 ERA in Spring didn’t exactly help the negative stigma that he came to Philly with. Hopefully he can at least hold over a rotation spot for the first month or so, until Cole Hamels comes back and the Phillies have some other options open up.

2014 Stat Predictions: 1-3, 5.05 ERA (I see him pitching the first month in the rotation, struggling, and being designated for assignment.)

Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Who will fill out the fifth spot?

Until Cole Hamels comes back, the Phillies will have to pick someone else as a fifth-starter. The reason that they didn’t do that yet is that, is because they have an off day after their first two games against the Rangers, so they will just skip the fifth starters spot in the rotation the first time through. After that, expect either Jeff Manship, who will open the season as the team’s long-man, or Jonathan Pettibone, who will begin the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, to get the nod for the rest of the time Hamels is out. If one of them do well enough, and they get the struggles of Hernandez that I expect, don’t be surprised if they remain in the rotation beyond that.

 As for Cole….

Let’s not kid ourselves here, Hamels was awful the first half of the year last year. I don’t care how well he pitched down the stretch or the fact that he didn’t get much run support, a 3.60 ERA is at least a run more than what I expect out of someone who got the type of payday that Hamels did. Once he comes back from his injury, hopefully he stays healthy, and is able to pitch at the elite level that he is being paid to pitch at. So far, the 2008 playoffs and 2011, are the only times I’ve ever seen him pitch at that level.

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Tags: A.J. Burnett Cliff Lee Cole Hamels Jeff Manship Jonathan Pettibone Kyle Kendrick Philadelphia Phillies Robert Hernandez

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