While the ongoing MLB lockout is bad news, the delayed start to the season could actually help the starting pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies.
The start of the 2022 MLB season is officially delayed, with the first week of games canceled for the Philadelphia Phillies and the league’s other 29 teams.
While it’s bad news for baseball to have the opening day date in question and the season guaranteed to be shortened, the delayed start could actually benefit the Phillies’ starting pitching.
The team enters the year with five starters who will likely make up the rotation, barring injuries or potential acquisitions, with Phillies ace and reigning Cy Young Award finalist Zack Wheeler, 2018 Cy Young Award finalist Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, Ranger Suárez, and Kyle Gibson.
However, Eflin was not on track to be ready for the previously scheduled opening day of March 31. He had a 4.17 ERA and 1.249 WHIP in 18 starts last season before being sidelined with a knee injury shortly after the All-Star break, which led to season-ending surgery in September.
RotoWire lists Eflin’s estimated return date as April 15 and it’s hard to predict how quickly he can get back to pitching effectively after the extended absence.
Not having Eflin available for the start of the season would create the need for a spot starter or a bullpen game, which could possibly be avoided if the season is delayed long enough for him to be ready.
Eflin had a 3.88 ERA through 17 games before the All-Star break last year, pitching six or more innings in 14 games and striking out five or more batters in 12 contests. Overall, he led the team’s qualified pitchers with a 6.19 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Eflin established himself as the clear third-best pitcher in the rotation prior to his injury and the potential of having him ready for his first turn in the order is certainly a benefit.
Another starter who could benefit from the delayed season is Ranger Suárez.
Suárez started 2021 in the bullpen, where he went 21 innings without giving up a single earned run to start the year, posting a 1.12 ERA and 0.868 WHIP in 27 relief appearances overall.
He entered the starting rotation in early August and continued to impress, with a 1.51 ERA and 1.081 WHIP in 12 starts. His penultimate outing of the season was a complete-game shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he gave up four hits and struck out seven.
Even more impressive was that Suárez did all of this after barely seeing any action in 2020. A case of the novel coronavirus during summer camp delayed his season debut, where he gave up nine runs in four innings, across three games. He was then sent to the alternate training site for the remainder of the year.
Being a starter for a full season of major league baseball would be another huge jump in innings pitched, so it’s possible that a delayed start could help Suárez manage the increased workload and be able to pitch effectively late into 2022.
His increase from four IP in 2020 to 106 IP last year was a tremendous increase, but potentially doubling that career-high could be a lot.
Wheeler led the team with 213 1/3 IP in 2021, followed by Nola with 180 2/3 IP. Suarez’s previous major league-high was 48 2/3 IP in 2019, so a delayed start could help him avoid having to go 180-plus IP in a full season.
Another benefit of a delayed start is the ability to get a better look at minor league starting pitching.
There are always times in a season where the full rotation isn’t available or there’s a long stretch without an off day, creating the need for a bullpen game or a spot starter. With the Phillies’ bullpen continuing to be a point of concern, a spot starter could be a better option.
If the season had started on time, there’d be a spot to fill already with Eflin’s absence. Instead, the Phillies have minor league spring training and the start of the MiLB regular season to look at for potential spot starter options.
Top pitching prospects Mick Abel and Andrew Painter are still working their way through the minor leagues, while familiar options who made their MLB debuts last year, such as Cristopher Sánchez, Bailey Falter, and Hans Crouse, are now on the Phillies’ 40-man roster, so there will be new names to watch in the minors.
The delayed start will give teams that lack depth, such as the Phillies, a better sense of which starters are performing in the minor leagues before needing a call-up.
While it’s hard to find many positives from the delayed start to the MLB season, caused by the ongoing lockout, there’s some silver lining when it comes to starting pitching for the Phillies.