Where is the next Phillies ace going to come from?

Mar 4, 2014; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee (33) and Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher R.A. Dickey (43) laugh while warming up at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 4, 2014; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee (33) and Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher R.A. Dickey (43) laugh while warming up at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports /

The Phillies starting rotation needs an ace to stabilize it and be the centerpiece for the future. Where is that ace going to come from?

The Phillies have not had an ace on the roster since they traded Cole Hamels to the Rangers in 2015. You could even say they haven’t had one since Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay’s careers came crashing down due to injuries. Without any ace, the starting rotation has been piecemeal with an arrangement of traveled veterans and inexperienced youngsters.

The struggles of the rotation have come to a head this season. Phillies starters have the second-worst ERA (5.25), fifth-lowest strikeout rate (17.2%), and sixth-highest WHIP (1.43) in all of baseball this year. They have allowed the third-most home runs (48) and logged the sixth-fewest innings (269.0)

Part of the struggles of the rotation this year has been the lack of stability. Injuries to Aaron Nola and Clay Buchholz forced the team to call up Zach Eflin and Nick Pivetta, both of whom are under 24. Both have since returned to the minors after struggling.

The team’s Opening Day starter and the ace by default Jeremy Hellickson has not been consistent this season. He had a 1.80 ERA and was among the best starters in the league through April. Since then, Hellickson has given up 24 runs in 30.2 innings, including two starts where he gave up six runs or more. He allowed just two runs in April; he has given up nine this month.

More from Phillies News

With Hellickson out of contention as the ace, especially considering this might be his last year in Philadelphia, the next choice is to look at 2014 first-round pick Nola. That pedigree, along with the fact that he rocketed through the minors in just over a year, prompts several fans to see Nola as the next ace.

However, Nola was never considered to be a future ace. Even at draft time, when optimism is at its highest, his ceiling was viewed as a No. 2 or 3 starter.

Injuries have plagued him in the last year after missing two months with an elbow strain in 2016 and missing a month with a back strain this year. Nola’s career ERA of 4.30

Nola’s career ERA of 4.30 certainly doesn’t jump off the page. Hopefully, his career WHIP of 1.277, FIP of 3.79, and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.69 mean that he is better than his ERA indicates. As of now, he is teetering on the edge of a mid-rotation starter, let alone an ace.

The only other option to be an ace that is in the rotation right now is Vince Velasquez. He has the dominating fastball and strikeout ability to be an ace, but it doesn’t mean anything if he can only give five innings every outing. Velasquez has a career ERA of 4.47 and FIP of 4.05, neither of which are special. He still has a lot of development to do just to remain a starter.

More from That Balls Outta Here

Looking towards the minors any chance for an ace-level pitcher is still years away. The team’s best pitching prospect, Sixto Sanchez, is at Low-A Lakewood and hasn’t pitched since May 7 because of neck stiffness. He has all the raw ability to be an ace but still needs to develop a lot.

The same applies to Franklyn Kilome, who is a level above Sanchez at High-A Clearwater. The righty has been solid in nine starts there, posting a 3.02 ERA and 8.4 K/9 through 41.2 innings. He also has ace upside like Sanchez, but he still needs to develop a third pitch that he can work with and hone his control.

Without any options in the imminent future for an ace in the rotation, the team may have to go on the open market to get one. 2015 NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta and three-time All-Star Yu Darvish will both be free agents this offseason. Both are ace-caliber pitchers, but Arrieta has not been the same pitcher this year and Darvish has a Tommy John surgery under his belt.

The free agent class after the 2018 season has a couple solid starting pitching options but doesn’t offer any ace-quality pitchers. If the Phillies want to buy their starting pitching – which they said they don’t want to – they will have to do it this offseason.

Next: All-Star early voting results announced

It’s hard to say where Philadelphia’s net ace is going to come from, whether it be external or internal. They need to find someone soon though or this starting pitching staff is going to get ugly.