The rebuild felt like it was going a lot better in April, didn’t it?
After the first month of the season, the Phillies were 14-10 and the starting rotation had the second-highest fWAR in baseball. Their five starters, Aaron Nola, Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton, Vince Velasquez and Jerad Eickhoff led all of baseball in K/9 (10.25) and had a collective 3.55 ERA.
But the worm has turned as of late. Nola and the recently-called up Zach Eflin are done for the season after suffering injuries, and it’s fair to say they will enter 2017 with a lot of question marks. And Velasquez has been bombed his last three outings, although he is apparently healthy.
Nola was brilliant through his first 12 starts, with a 2.65 ERA. He had struck out 9.81 batters per nine and walked just 1.73.
Velasquez had his 16-strikeout game, and through his first 19 starts was 8-3 with a 3.33 ERA, striking out 9.99 batters per nine. He had given up just 11 homers.
After a tough MLB debut against the Toronto Blue Jays, Eflin went 3-2 in his next seven starts, with a 2.08 ERA, throwing two complete games, one of them a shutout.
Then the wheels came off. In Eflin’s next three starts he posted a 13.85 ERA and had a 5/9 K/BB ratio. He gave up six homers in those three starts. He then was lost for the year with patellar tendinitis in both knees, and will undergo surgery on both this off-season.
After getting shelled once again on Sunday, Velasquez has given up 19 earned runs in his last three starts for a 10.47 ERA. He’s allowed eight bombs in those three starts. Everyone says he’s fine, but it appears as if Velasquez has hit the wall, and he continues to run up high pitch counts in few innings. The whispers of his viability as a starter long-term are not dissipating.
Nola's demise is perhaps the most disturbing. After being one of the best pitchers in baseball through his first 12 outings, he was one of the worst through his next eight, with a 9.82 ERA, and an opponents batting average of .355 against. He then was lost for the season with elbow issues, a strained ligament that is also associated with Tommy John surgery.
Thank goodness for the rock solid Eickhoff, who continues to be the most dependable pitcher on the team.
But there is one important statistic that I should mention that I have not yet.
Zach Eflin is 22. Aaron Nola is 23. Vince Velasquez is 24.
They are still just babies in their MLB careers.
The same is true for most of the Phils’ position players. Maikel Franco has been an up-and-down player for the Phils this year, and his wRC+ of 96 indicates a sub-par offensive season. But he’s swatted 22 homers this year in 492 PAs, and is batting .253/.309/.444.
Those aren’t great numbers and are below the .280/.343/.497 he put up last season in 335 PAs. But this is his first full season in the Majors. Franco is still just 23. Let’s compare Franco’s numbers to another Latino third baseman who has had a nice little career for himself.
That’s future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre’s numbers through his age-23 season. You’ll notice they are quite similar to Franco’s.
Franco is one of the most frustrating players to watch, because when he looks bad, he can look really bad. But he also has the ability to carry a team on his back when he gets hot. And one can hope the plate discipline improves a bit as he gets older.
Odubel Herrera has fallen on hard times in the second half after a phenomenal first half.
Obviously, the All-Star hasn’t kept up the pace. But it’s important to remember, Herrera is still just 24.
Tommy Joseph is holding his own at first base, batting .254/.302/.504 for an .806 OPS, with 16 HRs in 255 PAs. He’s 24. Aaron Altherr is batting .242/.310/.407 with a .717 OPS, he’s slugged four homers in 100 PAs. He’s 25.
And then there are the prospects on the way. J.P Crawford will likely not join the Phillies this season, but that’s OK because he’s still just 21. Nick Williams, who has endured a miserable month of August in Lehigh Valley, is 22. Jake Thompson, who has made just three starts with the Phils and has an 8.79 ERA so far, is also just 22.
There are also the guys in Reading. Jorge Alfaro, Rhys Hoskins and Roman Quinn are all 23. Dylan Cozens is 22.
This is not to say that everyone on this list is going to turn out to be a part of the Phils’ future. In fact, there’s a very good chance most of the players on this list may not pan out.
But as we judge the performance of these players this season, it’s important to note just how young they all still are.
It’s understandable that teams may feel a sense of panic by what they’ve seen out of the starting rotation the last few weeks, and it’s understandable to be frustrated by the up-and-down play of Franco and Herrera.
But as you keep a watchful eye on the 2016 Phillies, remember two things.
First, the Phils are not expected to be contenders in 2017 either, although none of us would be bummed out if they turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
Second, everyone that matters on this team is still very young. There is still so much room for growth, and none of them are finished products. All are presumably still a few years away from their primes.
Just remember that as you watch what could be a brutal last five weeks of the MLB season. It’ll help keep you sane.