Spike Eskin: Phillies Huge Investment In Starting Pitching Seems Unsound

Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves

By Spike Eskin

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – With the six-year, $144 million extension the Phillies handed Cole Hamels on Wednesday, they will become the first team in the history of major league have three pitchers making an average of $20 million or more per season.

There is no doubt, that when they’re at the top of their respective games, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels all give the Phillies an excellent chance to win every time they pitch. There is doubt however, that the current state of baseball is one that makes it the most productive way to win.

It’s been well stated that we’re in a “pitchers era” in Major League Baseball.

The average WHIP in the National League in 2012 is  1.314, and was 1.309 last year, the lowest since 1992. Significantly lower than the 1.391 figure in the NL in 2008, when the Phillies won the World Series.

National League pitchers are striking out 7.7 batters per nine innings this season. If that figure holds, it will be the highest strike out per nine-inning ratio in NL history.

National League teams are scoring 4.21 runs per game this season, and scored 4.13 runs per game in 2011. Both numbers the lowest since 1992.

So, you get it. There’s a lot of good pitching out there.

Some super basic economics would suggest that scoring runs, not great pitching, is at a premium right now.

The Phillies will have $69 million committed to Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in 2013. For perspective’s sake, let’s take a look at teams that look to make the playoffs this year, and what they are spending on their respective pitching staffs.

These approximate numbers are for all five starters:

Washington Nationals – $22 Million.

New York Yankees – $35 million

Chicago White Sox – $30 million

Detroit Tigers – $32 million

Texas Rangers – $16 million

Los Angeles Angels – $45 million

Atlanta Braves – $20 million

Cincinnati Reds – $16 million

Pittsburgh Pirates – $32 million

San Francisco Giants – $55 million

Note that all of them are lower, most significantly lower, than what the Phillies are paying. This also doesn’t include Jonathan Papelbon’s $13 million salary for 2013.

It’s true that there is no salary cap in baseball, and if the Phillies decide they’d like to go significantly into luxury tax territory to field the 2013 team, there’s absolutely no harm in having three highly-paid starting pitchers. While that’s possible, it also seems unlikely.

Signing Cole Hamels was a necessity, for many reasons, for the Phillies. However, moving forward, they may be better served by investing in ways to score runs more than investing in ways to prevent them.

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