While most of the Phillies’ pitching needs are in the bullpen, there are glaring needs in the starting rotation if the Phillies want to succeed in 2021. The Phillies have already begun to make moves to improve the bullpen, so it is time to shift some attention to the rotation.
Phillies’ Recent Moves
The Phillies recently began to address their starting pitcher needs. In the days since the J.T. Realmuto signing, the Phillies signed veteran starters Ivan Nova and Matt Moore. Nova owns a career 4.38 ERA over his 11-year career, having started under Joe Girardi in New York.
Meanwhile, LHP Matt Moore was signed to a major league deal on Friday. The 31-year old spent 2020 pitching in Japan for a 2.65 ERA. The former All-Star owns a career 4.51 ERA in the Majors. Moore will compete for a starting pitcher slot in Spring Training.
Transitioning Back to a Full Season
While the recent moves by the Phillies are a start, there is still work to be done. As Major League Baseball looks to transition back to a full season’s worth of games in 2021, starting pitchers are going to have to readjust to a full season’s workload. For any pitcher, there will be a risk when you go from starting 10-12 games to 30 over the course of one season. Veteran pitchers like Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler should not have a problem readjusting as they have done this for years, but the risk remains.
These risks become even more pronounced when you look at a player like Spencer Howard, who has yet to pitch more than 112 innings in a single professional season. While Phillies’ pitchers and training staff can take preventative measures to ensure said injuries do not occur, the Phillies front office cannot bet on no injuries taking place in 2021.
Concerns On The Back-End
Heading into 2021, Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin stand ready to act as the top three in the rotation. The issue falls into the fourth and fifth slots, which are currently held by Vince Velasquez and Spencer Howard.
Vinny Velo possesses a 4.72 ERA over the course of 106 starts dating back to 2015. At his best, he has been a slightly above-average starting pitcher, and he has seldom reached that level. Velasquez has outstayed his welcome according to Phillies fans. But while the Phillies are not likely to trade Velasquez, the 28-year-old still has a chance to transition to a consistent bullpen role.
Meanwhile, Howard (24) has proven that he still has to improve upon. Currently, he is listed as the 28th best prospect in baseball. The young pitcher earned the call up to the big leagues in August, and made six starts over the course of the season. Those six starts equal the number of starts Howard had at AA Reading the year before. In a normal 2020 season, Howard would have likely spent most of the season at Reading and AAA Lehigh Valley before earning a September call-up. The inexperience with high-level opposition became apparent as Howard pitched for a 5.72 ERA in 2020 for Philadelphia.
Between the inability of Velasquez and the inexperience of Howard, there are several large question marks at the bottom of the rotation.
How Can the Phillies Be Ready?
Between the risks in returning to a full-season’s worth of action and the question marks at the bottom of the rotation, there are issues the Phillies need to address.
First and foremost, the Phillies need to sign a surefire fourth starter. There are still several good candidates available (including former Phillies Cole Hamels and J.A. Happ). Signing a bonafide pitcher for the fourth slot will not only increase team depth, but create a strong competition in Spring Training for the fifth slot. Moore would likely have the inside track at that job, with Howard having to prove he is ready for a full season in the Majors. Velasquez would be a dark horse in this race, likely heading to the bullpen.
Depth will be the name of the game in 2021. In addition to a bonafide starter, the Phillies should look to pick up one or two more Nova-esque pitchers. Grabbing the older pitchers who want to return to the big leagues would give the Phillies depth to call upon when the inevitable injury bug bites.
What kind of depth are you talking about?
Simple. One starter for $5-8 million and one or two more veterans on minor league contracts.
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