Finishing an even 81-81, the Phillies were a disappointment in 2019, in part because of their rotation. Their starting staff wound up 17th in the majors in ERA, 20th in K/BB ratio and 23rd in fWAR. The subpar production from the Phillies’ group of starters contributed to the team’s eighth straight year without a playoff berth, but the club has since since made a real effort to improve its rotation and better its chances of earning a postseason spot in 2020.
The Phillies’ biggest move of the winter was signing right-hander Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118MM guarantee. He’s now near the top of a staff that’ll also include Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta from one through three. Right-hander Zach Eflin’s set to occupy the fourth position, per Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia, which leaves a handful of names vying for the last place in the Phillies’ rotation. Touted prospect Spencer Howard could make his debut this year, but the Phillies will bring him along slowly, so it doesn’t seem he’s in the running for a season-opening rotation spot. Here’s a look at those who are…
- Vince Velasquez, RHP: The 27-year-old Velasquez throws hard (around 94 mph), but his ERA has hung around the 5.00 mark in recent seasons. He worked out of the Phillies’ rotation and bullpen last year, striking out just under 10 batters per nine (against 3.11 BB/9) from the team’s rotation. Problem is that Velasquez didn’t do well to prevent runs in either role. He ended up with a 4.91 ERA/5.21 FIP over 117 1/3 innings.
- Nick Pivetta, RHP: Pivetta was an effective starter for the Phillies as recently as 2018, but the wheels came off last season. He concluded the year with an ugly 5.38 ERA/5.47 FIP in 93 2/3 innings, some of which came as a reliever, though he did continue to post an average fastball upward of 94 mph.
- Ranger Suarez, LHP: The 24-year-old Suarez didn’t make a single start for the Phillies last season, but he did turn in a 3.14 ERA/3.89 FIP with 7.77 K/9, 2.22 BB/9 and a 55.1 percent groundball rate in 48 2/3 innings from their bullpen. Suarez does have quite a bit of starting experience in various levels of the minors, though. He owns a 4.02 ERA with 6.5 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 87 1/3 innings in Triple-A ball.
- Cole Irvin, LHP: Irvin, 26, made his major league debut last season, mostly working from the Phillies’ bullpen. He tossed 41 2/3 frames of 5.83 ERA/5.06 FIP ball with 6.7 K/9 and 2.81 BB/9. Irvin was far better as a Triple-A pitcher from 2018-19, during which he logged a 3.07 ERA with 6.9 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 in 255 innings.
- Damon Jones, LHP: Jones, 25, was an 18th-round pick of the Phillies in 2017 who hasn’t gotten to the majors yet, but he does rank as their 20th-best prospect at MLB.com. However, Jones had difficulty across a 34-inning Triple-A debut last season, when he walked just under seven batters per nine. Overall, Jones has issued free passes to a bit under five hitters per nine in the minors, so despite a lofty K/9 (11.1), it’s difficult to imagine him opening the season in Philly’s rotation if he doesn’t significantly improve his control.