Phillies: What the first month has taught us about the 2019 club
Pitching – Backend Success in Rotation
Most would probably have said before the season that the biggest question marks for the pitching staff would be the rotation behind Aaron Nola, and the back-end of the bullpen. A month’s worth of games into the season, Nola has had troubling outings, while Jake Arrieta is having a revitalizing season, and Vince Velasquez is off to the best start of his career.
I touched on what I believe is going wrong with Nola, so I won’t dive into that again. It is worth noting that Nola looked very good in his last start against Miami.
Over his last three starts before Saturday’s debacle, Arrieta had pitched 21 innings and faced 82 batters, only surrendering seven runs (six earned) and 18 hits, with 18 strikeouts and only four walks. Five of his six starts have been quality starts (at least six innings, giving up three or less earned runs), and he has been the workhorse this rotation needs, with the bullpen getting a large amount of work early this season. I may not agree with his approaches in talking with the media, but there’s no denying he has been the best pitcher on the staff this year, leading the team with a 1.3 WAR.
Everyone in the baseball world anticipated that Nick Pivetta was poised to have a breakout year, and that Vince Velasquez would be fighting for his life to stay in the rotation. Now, one month in, Velasquez leads the rotation in ERA and BAA, while Pivetta tries to find himself down in the minors.
Velasquez has only given up five earned runs in his four starts, with four runs coming from home runs. He has been dominating with his fastball and by keeping hitters off by mixing well between 2/4-seam fastballs and sliders.
Velasquez currently ranks 12th in WAR, tied with Zach Eflin and Pittsburgh’s Joe Musgrove (1.2).
Outside of his first start against Miami, and the Mets game against Zack Wheeler were nothing went right, Eflin has been everything that Phillies’ fans hope Pivetta would be. Eflin has stranding more than 80% of runners he allows, and has the lowest walks per nine innings of the rotation (1.29). In fact, Eflin has the third lowest BB/9 in the entire league among qualified starters, behind a former-Cy young winner (Max Scherzer) and a World Series MVP (Madison Bumgarner).
Not to mention Eflin pitched the first Phillies complete game since September 2017. However, his major problem is home runs, similar to Nola’s. The Phillies and the Cardinals are the only teams to have two pitchers in the bottom 20 in home runs per nine innings (Eflin – 1.54, Nola – 1.99). If Eflin can minimize the number of home runs, his numbers will look even better, which will lead to wins.
That is, if the offense capitalizes on their opportunities.