Phillies’ rotation might be their best asset in 2020

Spencer Howard Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Spencer Howard Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

Despite their lineup making headlines in the offseason, the Phillies’ starting pitching could very well be the strength of the team.

Over the past two offseasons the Phillies added a lot to their lineup. Aside from Bryce Harper, they signed former MVP Andrew McCutchen and Didi Gregorius all the while trading for All-Stars in J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura. The pitching has not changed as much or enjoyed the same attention.

They did sign Zack Wheeler to a five-year deal in this offseason, but besides that, most of the Phillies pitching has been similar faces. Of course, they did sign Jake Arrieta to a 3-year deal entering the 2018 season, but no one held out Cy Young expectations as he was entering his mid-thirties.

Prior to making pushes for the playoffs in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, both of them faltering in September, Aaron Nola was the only sure thing they had.

So far this season, Aaron Nola owns a league-leading 15.1 K’s/9, most recently holding the New York Yankees to one run over six innings with 12 strikeouts. The Phillies and fans know he can be the ace of the staff.

The newcomer Wheeler has been impressive as well. He is a double-play machine, leading all pitchers across the league with six in two starts. His fastball is sitting right around 96mph, while his sinker, which he throws 28.7% of the time, sits at 96.4mph on average. Wheeler is also responsible for two of the Phillies’ four wins so far this season — undoubtedly an upgrade in the rotation compared to anyone after Nola last season.

Despite being only 10 games through in 2020, the Phillies have some starting pitchers later in the rotation stepping up. Obviously, the one-two punch of Nola and Wheeler was something Phillies fans could bank on coming into 2020, but everything behind them was far from certain. Aside from Nola, none of the other Phillies starters had an ERA below 4.00 last year.

In previous years Jake Arrieta has been inconsistent with stints on the IL. Nick Pivetta, albeit praised for his electric stuff, has been disappointing. Vince Velasquez caught fire in his first few months as a Phillie but hasn’t replicated anything close since.

Zach Eflin, a 2012 first round pick, has quietly improved each season but put up numbers consistent with a backend starter.

But, in 2020 both Zach Eflin and Jake Arrieta have been stellar. Last week, Eflin went four strong innings against the power-riddled New York Yankees’ lineup. His two-seamer/sinker had serious movement setting him up for five strikeouts. Eflin finished with 76 pitches (limited due to his first start), but would’ve had less if it weren’t for a misplay by Scott Kingery that also cost him two unearned runs.

Looking past his overall 2019 numbers, Zach Eflin pitched pretty well last season. If you take out Eflin’s rough month of July, his season ERA would have been 3.04.

Jake Arrieta pitched very well against the rival Braves Saturday night. In six innings, Arrieta held Atlanta to three hits and struck out six batters with no walks and no runs allowed. His sinker also had substantial movement and he was able to paint the outside corner with it. Arrieta is pitching for another contract in the big leagues which should hold incentive for him.

Other arms on the staff include Vince Velasquez and Spencer Howard. Both will be expected to make starts with multiple double-headers in the Phillies future.

Velasquez looked good in the Phillies first game of the doubleheader, striking out six batters through four innings, but also yielded three walks and a hit batsmen. Unfortunately known for constantly high pitch counts and lack of control, Velasquez did earn trust from Joe Girardi that originally granted him a spot in the rotation.

Spencer Howard, the Phillies top pitching prospect, made his debut on Sunday. Although he got hit around, Howard flashed a fastball in the mid-to-high 90s, with plus off-speed pitches. He has the potential to be an ace, but a strong number 3three behind Nola and Wheeler would be great for years to come.

You can never have enough pitching — especially true in 2020, with the Phillies overwhelming number of double-headers.

The combination of Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler will be strong. Package that with a productive Zach Eflin and purposeful innings from Jake Arrieta, all the while Spencer Howard develops, and the Phillies could last well into the 2020 postseason. That is if the lineup starts hitting and the bullpen figures it out — but those are different articles for different days.