What will the Philadelphia Phillies rotation look like in 2021?
By Mitch Larson
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So, who might round out the final rotation spots?
With Nola, Wheeler, and Eflin locked in at the top of the rotation, that leaves a minimum of two rotation spots open. The Phillies have a host of arms who will fight for innings, and while some candidates feel more likely than others, everyone will be given an equal chance to compete — and nothing is guaranteed. Here are some of the most likely candidates:
- Spencer Howard saw his first taste of MLB in 2020 and flashed the potential that made him one of the top prospects in the organization. However, more often than not, he struggled. His 5.92 ERA and 1.644 WHIP were concerning, but that said, six starts is a very small sample size. He also recently ranked 42nd on MLB.com’s top 100 prospect rankings for 2021. The Phillies hope Howard makes good on his potential and becomes a rotation fixture for the next decade.
- Vince Velasquez will be back in red pinstripes, perhaps to the dismay of many fans. He has thrown 501 innings over 99 starts and 112 games since coming over in the Ken Giles trade back in December 2015. Whereas Eflin has consistently improved year over year, Velasquez has flat out regressed. After lowering his ERA from 5.13 in 2017 to 4.85 in 2018, it has increased in consecutive seasons since. In 2020, it ballooned to a career-worst 5.56.
- After spending all of 2020 pitching effectively in Japan, Matt Moore will also be given every opportunity to seize a rotation spot. One area where Moore has an advantage is that he’s a lefty. The Phillies have been in desperate need of a left-handed starting pitcher since they dealt Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers in 2015. How desperate? Well, since 2016, just 6% of all Phillies games have been started by a lefty. Not great in terms of balance.
- Also recently signed to a one-year, MLB deal, right-hander Chase Anderson was shelled last season, posting a -0.5 WAR and 7.22 ERA with the Toronto Blue Jays in 10 appearances. Before that, he spent four very effective seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, throwing 590 innings over 112 stars for the Brew Crew from 2016-2019. He had a 3.83 ERA and won 38 games, although he did lead the NL in home runs allowed in 2018 with 30. The Phillies are banking that Anderson can return to form, eat innings, and keeping them into games.
- Bringing in free-agent Ivan Nova to a minor-league deal was another low-risk, high-reward singing. Nova was hammered by opposing hitters in 2020 to the tune of an 8.53 ERA. However, from 2016-2019, Nova made 120 starts across three different teams and boasted a 43-43 record with a 4.31 ERA in 697 innings. He will be given an invite to spring training and has familiarity with manager Joe Girardi from their time together with the New York Yankees — where Nova spent the first 6 and a half seasons of his career.
It’s always possible that the Phillies go out and sign someone like Cole Hamels, James Paxton, or Taijuan Walker in free agency, but I wouldn’t bet on it at this point — following the Anderson and Moore signings. A far more likely option is that the team relies on another in-house arm, such as Ranger Suarez or Adonis Medina, before bringing in another major-league free agent.