The Phillies Rotation by Brad Johnson February 12, 2014 Today has been a newsful day for the Philadelphia Phillies. They acquired a 37-year-old, front of the rotation starter while announcing that their putative number two would miss the start of the season. Big fantasy news abounds. Top Dogs Cliff Lee A.J. Burnett Cole Hamels Lee remains one of the best pitchers in most fantasy formats. I took a closer look at him earlier this offseason, noting that he’s especially valuable in leagues that include K/BB ratio and/or count more than four starting pitcher categories. For whatever reason, Lee is the afterthought of fantasy aces, so he’s sometimes available a few dollars cheaper than expected. The Phillies acquired Burnett today on a one-year, $16 million contract. Burnett loudly had a bit of a home run problem during his tenure in New York and that continued for one of his two seasons in Pittsburgh. Citizens Bank Park isn’t the friendliest place for homer prone pitchers. Burnett does generate ground balls over half the time (56 percent last two seasons), so having a high HR/FB ratio is hardly disastrous. Fantasy owners should worry about more than his stats page. A big reason for that is the possibility that he’s behind on his conditioning. He spent much of the offseason mulling over retirement, and it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that he’s a few weeks behind schedule. Monitor news reports for any comments either positive or negative. They should become available after his first few bullpens. If he’s ready to go, he’s a solid middle class asset. What Burnett giveth, Hamels taketh away. News emerged that he’s about 10 days behind schedule due to offseason shoulder pain and will miss opening day. He thinks he’ll be ready sometime in April and may avoid the disabled list altogether. The scarier news is that he had offseason shoulder pain. Hamels has managed 31 or more starts in each of the last six seasons despite a variety of maladies. He’s been fortunate enough to constrain treatment to the offseason, but the frequent offseason run-ins with elbow and shoulder issues are beginning to become a concern. Keep an eye on this, it may substantially affect Hamels’ draft cost. A Mound of Questions Kyle Kendrick Roberto Hernandez Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez It’s amazing that Kendrick will be pitching in his eighth big league season. I’ve always attributed his hanging around to going 10-4 in his first big league season. A decent 3.87 ERA belied a 4.94 FIP. Defense independent pitching metrics aren’t fans of pitchers who post a 3.64 K/9. Kendrick has managed to improve enough that he’s probably better than replacement level. Despite the improvement, fantasy owners will find it hard to get anything out of him. The Phillies brought in Hernandez earlier in the offseason. The groundball pitcher was ridiculously home run prone last season, with one-fifth of fly balls leaving the yard. That led to a healthy divergence between his 4.89 ERA and 3.60 xFIP. I thought a team with a large home stadium would target Hernandez, which would have made it easier to gamble on him reach his xFIP. There are other concerns in the profile, and I recommend watching from a distance. A couple days ago, I read a quote from Ruben Amaro Jr. where he basically said “we don’t know what to expect from Gonzalez. We haven’t seen him.” If the Phillies don’t know, then neither do I. Owners in NL only formats might want to target him as a sneaky late draft pick. His range of outcomes is probably somewhere from Hyun-Jin Ryu to Randy Wolf (2013 edition). Remember, Gonzalez nearly agreed to a much larger contract with Philadelphia before a failed physical knocked it down to $12 million. Prospects of Repute Jonathan Pettibone Jesse Biddle Severino Gonzalez Pettibone isn’t technically a prospect, but he is probably the first starter to be called out of the minors. The Phillies have had some success with getting a few decent seasons out of marginal pitchers like Kendrick, J.A. Happ, and Vance Worley. Pettibone seems to be the latest model. His numbers won’t help fantasy owners aside from the odd stream start. Biddle is the top pitching prospect in the system. He features a good strikeout rate and until last season he kept the walks under control. He caught pertussis (whooping cough) last season and wasn’t the same thereafter. A healthy Biddle could be ready to contribute by mid-to-late season. With his stuff, fantasy owners should add him to their watch list. There are better pitching prospects in the game, like Noah Syndergaard, so most of you won’t want to use a roster spot on Biddle. Gonzalez is entering his age 21 season with some excellent professional results. In particular, he’s managed a strong strikeout rate while handing out few free passes. His stuff doesn’t grade out as well as his results, with talent evaluators doubting his ability to survive the majors. Fantasy owners should file his name away. Usually these types wash out in the upper levels, but once and awhile they sneak through and maintain their strong peripherals while doing so.