Last year’s Phillies team was plagued by inconsistent pitching. Aaron Nola was the team’s ace, and it felt like he was the only decent pitcher on the team at times. Early on in 2019, it looked like Zach Eflin was going to step up and be the number two man in this rotation after a very solid month of May, posting a 2.64 ERA. But, he fell apart in the second half of the season when he was suffering from “Heavy Body” according to Gabe “Optimism” Kapler. Jake Arrieta was also a disappointment, as his $20+ million annually continues to haunt Matt Klentak.
Young starters who had some promise or hype around them going into last year like Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez did not take the next step and made baseball hard to watch at times last year in Philadelphia. The huge deadline acquisition, lefty Jason Vargas, did not win a game as a Phillie.
The bullpen was no delight in 2019 either, but this was mostly because no one could stay healthy and Gabe had to rely on guys who were on the streets to try and pitch us to the post season. Jared Hughes, the olympic sprinter, was hard to watch and Blake Parker is not even worth noting. Injuries to David Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez, Tommy Hunter and Adam Morgan made it very difficult to hold a lead with inexperience on the mound every night. I thought Hector Neris was a bright spot for this team, but even he went on stretches where he failed to close out ball games.
As we turn the page on last season and prepare for the 2020 campaign, let’s take a look at how our pitching staff stacks up.
Potential Starting Rotation
1. Aaron Nola
2. Zack Wheeler
3. Jake Arrieta
4. Zach Eflin
5. Nick Pivetta
Sent to the Pen
Mid-season call up
Nola has been the rock for this Phillies team for the past few seasons, stepping up as one of the best pitchers in baseball with his pin-point accuracy and swing and miss stuff.
Nola will not overpower you, as his velocity sits in the 91-94 range. His style is similar to the late great Roy Halladay, who also never overpowered hitters. Crafty pitchers last longer than power pitchers in this league, with the exception of Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer.
Nola was much better than his 3.87 era would indicate, with some horrendous early starts inflating his statistics. I think the rough start coincided with his near Cy Young season in 2018, he just was not 100% after a severe workload when April came around. Still in a “down year” Nola flourished and kept this Phillies rotation afloat for most of the season. Nola will fill in as the ace of the staff and hopefully will be starting in game 1 of the post season.
2019 Stats: 12-7/3.87ERA/202.1IP/229Ks/1.26WHIP
2020 Projection: 15-5/3.17ERA/221IP/232Ks/1.18WHIP
The Phillies inked 29-year-old former Mets right handed pitcher Zack Wheeler to a five-year $118 million contract to be our number two starter for the foreseeable future this past offseason.
Considering Gerrit Cole got $324 million from the Yankees and Steven Strasburg got $270 million to return to the Nationals, I think getting Wheeler for the price the Phillies paid was the bargain of the offseason, given the fact that he was the 3rd best starter on the market.
It will be interesting to see what Wheeler can do when he is not in the shadows of Degrom, Syndergaard and Stroman. Now, he’ll have the spotlight on him to improve this Phillies rotation and set an example for the pitching prospects like Spencer Howard, who is on the brink of the Major Leagues.
2019 Stats: 11-8/3.96ERA/195.1IP/195Ks/1.26WHIP
2020 Projections: 14-8/3.55ERA/208.2IP/205Ks/1.20WHIP
For some odd reason, Phillies fans seem to wipe their memory of Arrieta’s horrendous pitching every winter and gain tremendous optimism for him each spring. Now I know he was toughing it out for the Phillies last year, pitching with bone spurs in his elbow, which is a pretty serious injury, but he clearly is not worth a fraction of his 20 million dollar annual salary.
If — big emphasis on if — Jake can stay healthy for the 2020 season I think he can be a solid starter in the middle of the rotation. I do not think you will ever see the Cy Young award Jake Arrieta ever again, but if he can be just slightly decent, eat up innings and not get shelled once a week, he could be a very important part of this starting rotation that desperately needs guys to step up.
For my projection, I will base it off him being healthy for the entire 2020 season, but I think he will find himself missing time yet again in 2020.
2019 Stats: 8-8/4.64ERA/135.2IP/110Ks/1.47WHIP
2020 Projections: 9-11/4.22ERA/175.1IP/150Ks/1.35WHIP
In 2019, Zach Eflin showed that he has the stuff to be a quality starter in this league, but his lack of consistency draws a big red flag going into 2020. As mentioned in the beginning of the article, Zach suffered from “heavy body”, which is a nice way of saying he was fatigued, and he clearly was not what the Phillies needed down the stretch run of the season.
Eflin has a very good tempo on the mound and when he can keep the ball down and locate his fast ball, he has the potential to go deep in the game every fifth day. He showed flashes of the starter he could potentially be with a 2.64 ERA in the month of May.
If Eflin can just eat up innings and give a decent outing every fifth day it would take a lot of stress off Nola and Wheeler to carry this rotation.
2019 Stats: 10-13/4.13ERA/163.1IP/129Ks/1.35WHIP
2020 Projections: 11-11/3.99ERA/177IP/140Ks/1.32WHIP
The Phillies acquired Nick Pivetta a few years back by giving up the Phillies all-time leader in saves and a personal favorite of mine, Jonathan Papelbon. Pivetta has an elite arm with his average fast ball ranging from 94-98 MPH. He also possesses a hammer of a curve with one of the best spin rates in the league.
This is most likely the last chance Pivetta will get to flourish as a starter for the Phillies, as he has been given many opportunities and has had little to no success yet. I am rooting for Pivetta to take the next step, mostly because he has all the pieces to do so.
He struggled to keep the ball in the park last year as he lacked fast ball command and threw too many pitches early on in starts, leading to early exits from games. I have him listed as the number five starter but if things click this season for him, he could end up being the third option for this rotation. The pressure is on Pivetta and Eflin with top 100 pitching prospect Spencer Howard in their review mirror.
2019 Stats: 4-6/5.38ERA/93.2IP/89Ks/1.52WHIP
2020 Projections 8-7/4.13ERA/140IP/122Ks/1.38WHIP
Philly fans are starting to really hear about who Spencer Howard is as he has now climbed up to number 22 on some top 100 prospect lists. I expect to see Howard in the majors by mid-June if all goes well in his early starts in the minors.
Howard has a plus fast ball with a little bit of a funky delivery that gives off deception to hitters. He has high K/9 ability and will be a big part of the Phillies contending in the future. I think Howard will replace Arrieta, if he gets injured. Eflin or Pivetta could also be replaced if they struggle.
2020 Major League Projection: 4-2/3.44ERA/75IP/95Ks/1.10WHIP
Projected Bullpen and roles
Vince Velasquez: Long Man
Ranger Suarez: 6th/7th Inning situational
Adam Morgan: 7th inning situational
Victor Arano: 6th Situational
Fransisco Liriano: 7th/8th Situational
Tommy Hunter: Yikes
Seranthony Dominguez: Bridge to Neris, Potential Closer
Hector Neris: No Doubt closer