What will the Philadelphia Phillies rotation look like in 2021?

Zach Eflin #56 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
Zach Eflin #56 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images) /
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Zach Eflin #56 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images) /

A way-too-early 2021 Phillies starting rotation prediction

I see the rotation shaking out something like this to begin the 2021 season:

  1. Aaron Nola
  2. Zack Wheeler
  3. Zach Eflin
  4. Spencer Howard
  5. Matt Moore
  6. Chase Anderson 

To address the elephant in the room, I think it’s likely the Phillies will employ a six-man rotation this season. Coming off the 60-game sprint and re-adjusting to a full 162-game schedule is going to be bumpy. Teams will have to consider pitch counts, innings, and days off in ways they hadn’t before, so they don’t overwork their starters too early and end up being dealt a rash of injuries when it comes time to chase a pennant. One way to do that is to give everyone an extra day by using as many starters possible, while still trying to get your ace the ball once a series.

With a flurry of new signings, Spencer Howard feels like has gone from near-lock to begin the season in the rotation, to something of a question mark. Maybe I am higher on him than most, but I still think he will be given every opportunity to start the season in the rotation. The Phillies have a lot invested in him, and he’s flashed the ability to deliver on his obvious potential. They have nothing to gain by sending him down, especially with Minor-League Baseball still without a start date. 

That said, Howard has battled arm injuries over the last couple of years and pitched less than 25 innings in 2020. If he isn’t healthy it wouldn’t make sense to rush him. Regardless of whether he opens the season in the rotation or not, expect the Phillies to be careful and keep him on a strict pitch count.

After Howard, the rotation could shake out any number of ways. I am banking on Matt Moore to beat out everyone else on the roster. Last season in Japan, Moore threw 85 innings, a mark that would have led Major League Baseball. Coming off a pandemic-shortened season, teams will be worried about how well-prepared and conditioned their starting pitchers will be.

Moore surely helped himself by throwing so many innings last season. He is also a former All-Star and top prospect, though he hasn’t consistently pitched like it since 2014. In 15 games in Japan, last season Moore went 6-3 with a 2.65 ERA, striking out 98 in 85 innings. If he can translate that back to MLB, his upside could be far higher than the other names seeking a spot in the rotation.

I see Chase Anderson rounding out a six-man rotation. His $4 million major-league deal likely ensures he won’t be cut. Despite his astronomically high ERA, he did have a career-best 10.2 K/9 in 2020. He’s proved he can be a reliable innings-eater who can strike people out in the past, something the Phillies will surely need in 2021.

Vince Velazquez feels ripe to earn a spot in the bullpen and get the occasional spot start. The Phillies are lacking a reliable long-reliever, and while “reliable” may not come to mind when fans think of Velazquez, he has experience coming out of the bullpen and starting. Looking around the roster, he’s by far the most likely candidate to fill the swing-starter/long-reliever role.

Ivan Nova is a non-roster invite to spring training and already has an uphill battle ahead of him — regardless whether the Phillies go with a five or six-man rotation. Ranger Suarez and Adonis Medina both entered the offseason as trendy names, but they too will face stiff competition. Look for Suarez to come out of the bullpen again this season.

More. Phillies eyeing 3 veterans for potential bench upgrade. light

Regardless of who makes the starting rotation, one thing that will be crucial for the Phillies will be depth. The biggest issue they had in 2020 wasn’t starting their games, it was ending them. While they have made some attempts to address the bullpen, one of the biggest ways they can improve in that department would be if the starters can pitch deeper into games.

If the starting rotation can click and chew up innings, the 2021 season could be a whole different ballgame for the Fightin’ Phils.