Tempering Expectations on Pettibone – Phillies Nation

Tempering Expectations on Pettibone

Jonathan Pettibone has been a revelation for the Phils.  How long can it continue? (AP Photo).

Jonathan Pettibone has been a revelation for the Phils. But how long can it continue? (AP Photo).

As I wrote in my recap on Tuesday night, Jonathan Pettibone deserves a lot of credit.  He has started five games so far this year and the Phillies have won four.  He has shown a veteran’s ability to battle through jams.  He has displayed a pretty good fastball, which at least through his first three starts, he routinely threw for strikes and forced opposing batters to put the ball in play.  But before we all get carried away, it’s important to note that Pettibone is not the first marginal Phillies pitching prospect in recent years to enjoy immediate success upon his big league promotion.

Consider the statistics for the following Phillies starters, past and present, compared to Pettibone through five starts:

Jonathan Pettibone:  3-0, 3.41 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 5.3 K/9 in 29 IP

Vance Worley:         2-2, 2.09 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 7.7 K/9 in 27 IP

J.A. Happ:                1-1, 3.57 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 6.5 K/9 in 27.2 IP

Kyle Kendrick:        3-0, 4.40 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 2.9 K/9 in 30.2 IP

While the numbers are different, each former farmhand was able to have a certain level of success right away.  Pettibone’s rookie predecessors were also able to sustain their effectiveness beyond their first start.  Worley was a huge part of a playoff team in 2011.  Ditto for Happ in 2009 and Kendrick in 2007.

But each pitcher’s success came to an abrupt end after one season’s worth of starts… or about the amount of time it took for the majority of the league to get another look at them.  For the most part, that is what happens with mid-level pitching prospects that are, at best, projected to be back-end of the rotation starters.  And the odds are, it will likely happen with Pettibone too.

I point this out not to throw cold water on Pettibone’s promising start, but simply to temper the expectations on a pitcher who has displayed guts, but only mediocre stuff.  Anytime a prospect comes up and hits the ground running, it is easy for fans to excitedly pencil him into the lineup or rotation for the foreseeable future.  Hell, it is easy for players to do it too.  Here is Kevin Frandsen on Pettibone after Tuesday’s performance, courtesy of Mandy Housenick of the Allentown Morning Call:

“He never gave in.  He could have let it go when we were down 2-1 and he kept fighting and fighting and made great pitches. … That’s a stud right there. He didn’t back down. That’s awesome.”

Pettibone has certainly been resilient and shown a comfort level pitching in sticky situations.  And it is great that his teammates are excited for him.  But what Frandsen sees as moxie, I see as a caution sign.  Although he has battled out of them, Pettibone’s been in those jams for a reason.  His WHIP of 1.28, while not bad, indicates that his ERA is due for a correction.  And after issuing four free passes in each of his last two starts, his walk rate is headed in the wrong direction.

While Phillies Nation graded Pettibone as the organization’s sixth best prospect headed into this season, that ranking needs to be taken with a grain of salt in the grand scheme of things.  The Phillies farm system has been decimated by trades, and – Domonic Brown’s development excluded – hasn’t produced a single impact player in more than five years… an assessment that stands even if you count the top prospects they’ve traded.

Given the history with Phillies pitchers of his ilk, it is possible, and maybe even likely, that Pettibone’s effectiveness continues well into the summer.  Credit him for working hard to get this far… and credit Rich Dubee for getting these guys acclimated to the big leagues so quickly.  Just don’t bank on it lasting.

While Kendrick has miraculously transformed himself from a Pettibone-type into a trustworthy middle of the rotation starter, it took him several years and countless ugly starts to do it.  He is the exception.



  1. George

    May 16, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    I’ve always noticed that the Phils’ back-end starters many times have early success due to other teams’ unfamiliarity with them. But whenever the Phils face someone else’s new guy, according to fans, it’s always the fault of the Phils offense when those new guys win.

    • hk

      May 16, 2013 at 4:23 pm


      I’ve often thought the same things about the Phils starters succeeding in the early stages of their careers and the Phils hitters struggling in their first times facing new pitchers. I wonder if the statistics back this up.

      • George

        May 16, 2013 at 7:12 pm

        I don’t have the statistics, but based my remark only on comments I’ve seen frequently about how the Phils can’t seem to hit starters who supposedly aren’t all that good (that, of course, would include guys who’ve just been called up after so-so minor league careers). For some reason, many fans here give very little credit to the opposing pitcher and mostly blame the Phils hitters for poor OBP skills and an inability to knock in a runner or two. I’m not saying Phils hitters are good at those things, but I do think the pitcher, at times, has something to do with that.

  2. bacardipr

    May 16, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    I wondered that myself. Though the Phils in general usually let their minor leaguers toil in the minors more than the average bear. I seem to recall but i could be wrong where AA pitchers where called up and shut the Phils down. I wonder…

    • hk

      May 16, 2013 at 9:12 pm

      This sounds like a job for shmenkman, who is able to dig up any statistic.

      • schmenkman

        May 17, 2013 at 12:49 am

        lol appreciate the confidence. I can’t resist a challenge. From what I can tell from baseball-reference’s play index feature, since 2007 the stats of pitchers vs. the Phils are…

        4.92 ERA – pitchers in one of their first 10 games (all pitches, not just starters)
        4.41 ERA – all other pitchers

        I think it certainly does happen that pitchers first called up have great games against them, and because it’s unexpected we remember those games more.

        What I don’t have is how other teams do in these two numbers, and so whether the Phils are worse relative to other teams vs. new pitchers than other vs. other pitchers.

  3. DaveP

    May 16, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    Dang, reading this post makes me pine for the days of the vanimal. Alas, he’s gone, and he doesn’t even seem to be the same guy anyway.

  4. Jaron B

    May 17, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    I actually have the same gut feeling about Pettibone as you do, Alex. Since Biddle is projected to be a 2 or 3, will we see him have a sophomore slump like Worley or Kendrick?

    • Jaron B

      May 17, 2013 at 1:12 pm

      Or Halladay in 2001?

      • Alex Lee

        May 17, 2013 at 6:32 pm

        Good question. I think Biddle’s stuff would make him less susceptible to regression… unless something else was a factor… like maybe fatigue or something like that. It is obviously difficult to predict, and every young pitcher is a little different. But guys like the four I mentioned in this story survive their high wire act for so long before they come crashing down.

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