The Phillies made some major upgrades during the 2018-2019 offseason that they thought would finally help push them back into the postseason. During all the talk of stupid money and #HarperWatch, one thing was curiously left out from the wheeling and dealing: starting pitching.
The team opted to not change the quintet of Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, and Vince Velasquez. Part of the reasoning was clear. Their rotation had carried them throughout the 2018 season as the offense struggled, led by Aaron Nola’s brilliant Cy Young Award caliber season. But, as the season wore on, the rotation ran out of gas and was one of the factors in the Phillies’ September collapse.
So far through almost half of 2019, that decision has come back to haunt the Phillies.
The Phillies’ starting pitchers have a collective 4.36 ERA which ranks them 14th out of 15 teams in the National League and 15th in baseball overall. Individually, the numbers are even worse. Only Zach Eflin has an ERA south of four. Nola has a 4.89 ERA in 15 starts. Arrieta has a 4.31 in 14 starts. Nick Pivetta has a 5.00 ERA in 8 starts, although since being recalled from Lehigh Valley on May 28th, he has a 2.70 ERA over four starts.
The Dreaded Fifth Starter
The biggest weakness on the roster and the ugliest numbers belong to the fifth starter role. Three pitchers have occupied this spot for the Phillies, and none of them have been particularly good.
Vince Velasquez was first up. Through six starts with 29 1/3 IP, Velasquez had a 3.99 ERA before being injured and ultimately relegated to the bullpen. Out of the pen in 10 1/3 IP, Velasquez has a 4.35 ERA and a .957 OPS against.
Cole Irvin was next up. After being called up to replace the injured Velasquez, Irvin had a good major league debut against the Royals. On that day, Irvin went 7 innings and gave up one run on five hits. The rest of Irvin’s appearances have not even come close to replicating this success. Through 17 2/3 IP across three starts, Irvin has a 5.60 ERA. Add in his time coming out of the bullpen, either after an “opener” or in relief, that ERA jumps to 7.92 in 25 IP.
After originally being called up to replace the struggling Pivetta, Jerad Eickhoff eventually had a crack at claiming the fifth spot in the rotation. But through 10 starts, Eickhoff has a 5.40 ERA and has been plagued by the long ball. Across his starts, Eickhoff has allowed 16 home runs. In the month of June, Eickhoff has already allowed six home runs in just nine innings pitched, raising his total to 18 in 58 1/3 innings spread between the rotation and the bullpen.
What to do, what to do
Clearly, the Phillies’ rotation has not performed well as a whole. They could really use another top tier starting pitcher to help balance out the struggles of Nola. But, at the very least, the Phillies need to find a capable fifth starter. The trio of Velasquez/Irvin/Eickhoff have proven to not be up to the task, and the Phillies cannot throw out bullpen games every fifth day and wear out an already injury-ridden bullpen.
By electing not to acquire a starting pitcher via trade or free agency in the offseason, the Phillies backed themselves into a corner. With the trade deadline a little over a month away, they now must make a trade sooner rather than later to rectify that mistake. The rotation must drastically improve if the Phillies are to have a chance at making a run to the postseason.