Look, this is nothing to get our undies in a twist over or anything, but Jeremy Hellickson shouldn’t be the Phillies Opening Day starter in 2017.
Manger Pete Mackanin appears to be leaning in that general direction, however, telling beat reporters down in Clearwater, “[Hellickson’s] probably got the best chance to be our opening-day starter. I’m not going to definitely announce it because anything can happen in the spring. He was last year. I’m not making the announcement that he will be, but there’s a good chance he might be.”
Hellickson did start last year’s season opener and, if Mackanin has his druthers, would become the first pitcher to start two straight Opening Days since Roy Halladay started three in a row from 2010-12. He would slide right into the great history of multiple Opening Day starters like Cole Hamels, Brett Myers (3 times), Jon Lieber, Kevin Millwood, Curt Schilling, Terry Mulholland, Shane Rawley, Steve Carlton, and others.
But Hellickson wasn’t even supposed to be here this year. The Phils were hoping he would decline their qualifying offer of just over $17 million this season, but surprised everyone when he accepted it. That’s not to say having Helly isn’t a good thing or that the Phillies aren’t pleased as punch to have him back, because they are.
Last year, he went 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA and a 3.98 FIP in 32 starts (189 innings). His 3.2 fWAR was best among all Phils starters, so anointing him as the Opening Day starter makes some sense. And if Hellickson does end up being the starter for the season opener in Cincinnati, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Still, the Opening Day starter is a symbolic thing, and with the Phillies hoping to emerge from their rebuild within the next couple years, it would make more sense to give it to one of the young arms in the rotation - specifically one who has been the most consistent arm since joining the big league rotation late in 2015.
Jerad Eickhoff should toe the rubber for the Phils’ first game in Cincinnati.
CSN Philly’s Corey Seidman spoke about this on The Felske Files podcast, Episode 90, last week (at the 14:39 mark).
His 2.9 fWAR was only a few tenths of a point behind Hellickson’s last season, and his 197.1 IP and 3.65 ERA were the best on the team. And his consistency was metronome-like.
In only three of his 33 starts last year did he give up more than four earned runs in a game. He gave up precisely four earned runs in three other contests. And in none of those cases were they in back-to-back games.
Since coming to the Phils as part of the Cole Hamels deal, Eickhoff has made 41 starts and put up an ERA of 3.44 and a FIP of 4.00, with a 7.83 K/9 rate. Compare those numbers to Hamels’ since the deal, and you’ll find a near match.
Eickhoff vs. Hamels
That’s not to say Eickhoff is as good as Hamels, because he isn’t. But it does illuminate just how good Eickhoff has been since arriving in Philadelphia.
There are no injury concerns regarding Eickhoff. He has proven to be the one young starting pitcher with no question marks hanging over him heading into 2017. And, he’s also really good.
So to symbolize the Phillies march forward, it makes more sense to give the Opening Day start to a young hurler who will likely be a part of the next good Phils team, rather than a veteran pitcher on a one-year deal who will likely be with someone else in 2018.
Again, going with Hellickson isn’t the end of the world. It’s just not the best choice.