With Oswalt and Hamels pitching out of their minds and Halladay sleepwalking through quality starts, the Phillies arguably have the best front three starters in franchise history. Couple that with an increasingly solid Joe Blanton and the rotation is among the league's best. What is less certain is the status of the fifth spot in the order: incumbent Kyle Kendrick or 22-year-old Vance Worley.
Following Rich Dubee's documented disappointment in Kendrick after a four inning performance against Milwaukee, it seemed like KK's borrowed time in the starting rotation had run out. But next time his spot in the rotation came up, he was on the mound twirling a Kendrick special - five innings, two runs, one strikeout - as good as it gets for the hardly overpowering righty. Kendrick is also slated to take the hill today against the Nationals.
Worley, on the other hand, turned a sub-par 2009 in Double-A into a terrific repeat performance at Reading, earning two major league call-ups and a spot start. While Worley is hardly a strikeout pitcher, his 2.72 career strikeout to walk ratio is head and shoulders above Kendrick's 1.52. Worley's also done a better job keeping the ball in the ballpark, a 0.8 HR/9 compared to a 1.3 for Kendrick.
So what gives, really? Vance is three years younger than Kyle, with a better fastball, secondary stuff, and control. In order to be successful, Kendrick needs to live on the corners, but when he does so, he tends to nitpick and walk batters. His stuff is simply not good enough to consistently retire major league hitters -- the 85 ERA+ is evident of that. The sinker, while good, is not biting enough to cover up his mistakes.
Charlie's reason for going back to Kendrick again and again is employed by the same logic he used for throwing Brad Lidge into the fire again and again -- he's their guy. Familiarity goes a long way with this coaching staff, but Lidge, unlike Kendrick, had the track record to back up his performance. The bottom line is, when Kendrick takes the mound, the team has to score five runs to win. He's given up 17 home runs in his last 15 starts -- just not acceptable for a team trying to win their division.
After today, however, the need for a fifth starter becomes less important. If handled correctly, Worley/Kendrick will have one more scheduled start. The bigger question is what happens next season. With Jamie Moyer figuring to be out of the picture and the front four in place, Kendrick, Worley, and Andrew Carpenter are the only in-house candidates for the fifth spot. While I like Worley's stuff out of the pen better than Kendrick's, I'd give the edge to Vance to get the starting spot from the onset. Worley's ceiling is of a fifth starter on a good team, fourth would be stretching it. Kendrick will always be fringy due to his inability to strike batters out. Carpenter doesn't really figure into the equation for me.
For the rest of this season -playoffs included- and the next, it would behoove the team to keep Worley on staff over Kendrick, who figures to be anywhere from Lehigh Valley to another major league team by Opening Day 2011. With a three game lead over the rest of the National League, it feels pretty good to say it doesn't really matter who the fifth starter is.