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Evaluating the NL Playoff Starting Rotations | September
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It came down to the final day of the season, but the NL playoff teams and matchups are finally set, with the Phillies hosting the Cardinals and the Brewers hosting the Diamondbacks. The Phillies clearly have the strongest starting rotation, with both Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee expected to finish among the Top 4 in the NL Cy Young voting, and Cole Hamels a certain Top 10 finisher. The Brewers just barely edge out the Diamondbacks for 2nd place, with the trio of Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum, and Zack Greinke all capable of shutting down an opponent. But none of the three had a dominating regular season. Right with the Brewers are the Diamondbacks at a very close #3, led by the amazing season of Ian Kennedy. Daniel Hudson has been solid, and both Joe Saunders and Josh Collmenter have been much better than expected. Ranking 4th are the Cardinals, whose pitching staff will be without ace Chris Carpenter until Game 3. Let's take a closer look at the likely starting rotations for each team.

PHILLIES

Pitcher W L ERA WHIP IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP ERA+ FG WAR BR WAR
Roy Halladay 19 6 2.35 1.04 233.2 8.5 1.3 0.4 2.20 165 8.2 7.4
Cliff Lee 17 8 2.40 1.03 233.2 9.2 1.6 0.7 2.60 161 6.8 6.9
Cole Hamels 14 9 2.79 0.99 216.0 8.1 1.8 0.8 3.05 138 4.9 5.4
Roy Oswalt 9 10 3.69 1.34 139.0 6.0 2.1 0.6 3.44 105 2.5 1.7
TOTALS 59 33 2.70 1.07 822.1 8.2 1.7 0.6 2.75 147 22.4 21.4

No matter how you evaluate the Phillies rotation, they are clearly the best in baseball. If you go with ERA-based stats as Baseball-Reference.com, Halladay, Lee, and Hamels rank #1, 3, and 5 in terms of Wins Above Replacement (WAR). If you use the Fielding Independent Pitching stats from FanGraphs.com, the trio rank #1, 3, and #9. All three pitch deep into games, strike out over 8 batters per nine innings, walk less than 2, and average less than 1 HR per 9. That's about as good of a front three as you will ever see. The 4th member of the rotation will be Roy Oswalt, who had the worst year of his outstanding career, but still managed a very solid 3.69 ERA/3.44 FIP. The Phillies also have Vance Worley, who went 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA/3.32 FIP. Worley probably out-pitched Oswalt this year, but the Phillies will probably go with the veteran in the postseason.

BREWERS

Pitcher W L ERA WHIP IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP ERA+ FG WAR BR WAR
Randy Wolf 13 10 3.69 1.32 212.3 5.7 2.8 1.0 4.29 106 1.4 3.0
Y. Gallardo 17 10 3.52 1.22 207.3 9.0 2.6 1.2 3.59 111 3.1 2.6
S. Marcum 13 7 3.54 1.16 200.7 7.1 2.6 1.0 3.73 110 2.7 3.3
Zack Greinke 16 6 3.83 1.20 171.7 10.5 2.4 1.0 2.98 102 3.9 1.6
TOTALS 59 33 3.64 1.22 792.0 8.0 2.6 1.0 3.68 107 11.1 10.5

I think the Brewers' rotation is probably a little better than that of the Diamondbacks, mainly because of their #3 starter. Yovani Gallardo will probably start Game 1 in Milwaukee, and he has been much better at home (10-2, 3.00 ERA). Gallardo has also been very tough on right-handed hitters, holding them to a .663 OPS. Over his final three starts, Gallardo has struck out 36 batters in just 20.1 innings. Since Greinke started the season finale on Wednesday, Shaun Marcum may be the Game 2 starter. Marcum has been outstanding against RHP, holding them to .195 AVG and a .566 OPS. Unlike Gallardo, Marcum has struggled pitching in Milwaukee this year, with a 4.81 ERA at home compared to 2.21 on the road.

Greinke has the best FIP of the group at 2.98, but also has the highest ERA at 3.83. That high ERA is driven by Greinke's .318 BABIP, which may not be too surprising given his ground-ball tendencies and the team's poor infield defense. But he has fantastic stuff, and has been very good in the second half, with a 2.59 ERA and 102K/29BB in 97.1 IP.  At #3 in the rotation, Greinke is very tough. Randy Wolf will be the #4 starter. Like Saunders, he is a veteran lefty who doesn't strike out very many and has a much better ERA than FIP.

DIAMONDBACKS

Pitcher W L ERA WHIP IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP ERA+ FG WAR BR WAR
Ian Kennedy 21 4 2.88 1.09 222.0 8.0 2.2 0.8 3.22 137 5.0 5.4
Dan. Hudson 16 12 3.49 1.20 222.0 6.9 2.0 0.7 3.28 113 4.8 2.6
Joe Saunders 12 13 3.69 1.31 212.0 4.6 2.8 1.2 4.78 107 1.0 2.4
J. Collmenter 10 10 3.38 1.07 154.3 5.8 1.6 1.0 3.80 117 2.2 2.4
TOTALS 59 39 3.35 1.17 810.1 6.4 2.2 0.9 3.76 119 13.0 12.8

The Diamondbacks are a tough starting rotation to evaluate, because they all have pretty large disparities between their ERA and their FIP. At the top is Ian Kennedy, who had a remarkable season, and an even more amazing second half, going 12-1 with a 2.01 ERA. His overall ERA ended up 0.34 below his FIP. Daniel Hudson's FIP of 3.28 was almost the same as Kennedy's, and FanGraphs actually had Hudson as more valuable than Kennedy throughout most of the season, before Kennedy finally took the lead over the final three weeks. But Hudson actually gave up 15 more ER than Kennedy (in the same number of innings). and if you include unearned runs, he actually allowed 25 more total runs than Kennedy.  Among the regular starters, Hudson had the highest BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) at .295, and a lot of that may not have been bad luck. Hudson particularly struggled in the first inning this year, giving 27 runs (22 ER) in his 33 first innings. But Hudson did pitch better down the stretch, compiling a 2.85 ERA over the final two months, and dropping his BABIP by 20 points. Right now, he should be a solid #2 for the Diamondbacks.

The #3 starter will probably be LHP Joe Saunders. This is a somewhat controversial choice, as Saunders' ERA numbers are a little worse than Collmenter's, and his FIP numbers are much worse. But Saunders is a veteran, so it seems like Manager Kirk Gibson will go with him over the rookie in Game 3. In Saunders' defense, his FIP may not be a good way to evaluate his pitching. His ERA has been lower than his FIP by 1.09 this year, and he also bettered it by 0.57 in 2009 and 0.95 in 2008. Part of this is probably due to his ability to induce double plays, as he led the league with 28 GIDP, getting them in 21% of his opportunities. Collmenter will probably start Game 4, unless the team decides to bring Kennedy back on short rest. Collmenter has been a remarkable story this year, and no one is really sure if he can keep succeeding with a fastball that only averages around 87 mph. But his deceptive motion has worked so far, and he has held opponents to an excellent .176/.206/.252 (.458 OPS) the first time through the lineup.

CARDINALS

Pitcher W L ERA WHIP IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP ERA+ FG WAR BR WAR
C. Carpenter 11 9 3.45 1.26 237.3 7.2 2.1 0.6 3.06 105 5.0 3.8
Jaime Garcia 13 7 3.56 1.32 194.7 7.2 2.3 0.7 3.23 102 3.7 0.9
Kyle Lohse 14 8 3.39 1.17 188.3 5.3 2.0 0.8 3.67 107 2.5 2.5
Edwin Jackson 5 2 3.58 1.46 78.0 5.9 2.7 0.9 4.01 102 0.7 0.8
TOTALS 43 26 3.48 1.27 698.3 6.6 2.2 0.7 3.38 104 11.9 8.0

I've put the Cardinals at #4, but they aren't very far behind the other three teams. But one disadvantage for the Cardinals is that their ace, Chris Carpenter, had to pitch the season finale on Wednesday, so he probably won't be available for Game 1 or 2. Carpenter threw two complete game shutouts in September, and also had 8 scoreless innings against the Phillies on September 18.

The Cardinals have several options for the first two games, picking from Kyle Lohse, Edwin Jackson, or Jaime Garcia. All three have had stretches of strong pitching, but have also had some very poor stretches during the season. Garcia has an impressive 3.56 ERA this year, but has given up 23 unearned runs, giving him a 4.62 RA. But he has pitched well in September, going 3-0 with a 2.64 ERA and 24K/4BB in 30.2 IP. Surprisingly, the lefty Garcia has struggled with left-handed batters this year, allowing them to hit .308 with a .770 OPS.  

Jackson has been quite consistent since coming over from the White Sox, allowing 3 ER or less in 9 of his 11 starts with the Cardinals. His strikeouts are down in 2011, but he has managed to keep the ERA in the 3's. Jackson will probably start Game #2. Lohse would have been the scheduled starter for a Thursday play-in game, but now will probably drop to Game #4. He was very bad in July and August, with an ERA around 5.70, but rallied in September with 4 strong starts where he gave up a total of 4 ER. Historically, though, Lohse has never been considered a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, with a 4.79 ERA coming into this year.  

Edit: Looks like the Cardinals will go with Lohse, Jackson, Carpenter, Garcia for the first four games.