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Ben Lively - he ain’t that bad!

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A surprising start to his career could give Lively a leg up on the competition for a rotation spot in 2018.

Philadelphia Phillies v Miami Marlins Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

There are sparks.

There are fires.

There are tire fires.

And then, there is the Phillies 2017 starting rotation.

Alright, perhaps I am being bit unfair. Aaron Nola, after his inconsistent beginning of the season, has been a very good, if not ace-like, starter since returning from his disabled list stint in mid-May. But the rest of that rotation? Yeah, it hasn’t been good. Here are some of the gory numbers for that rotation through Wednesday’s games:

  • a 4.95 ERA, 25th in MLB
  • 19.7% strikeout rate, 14th in MLB, but they are 3% away to last place while being 6% from first (put another way, they’re closer to the bottom than the top)
  • 1.51 home runs per nine innings, 25th in MLB
  • 134 home runs allowed, 25th in MLB
  • a .270 batting average allowed, 26th in MLB

Yeah, it has been bad, but some of it had to be expected when the depth that was needed were those that were in the minors, still getting that patented “seasoning” we are always hearing about.

One of those minor leagues, though, has actually been pretty good. Ben Lively, in his 74.2 innings of work, has turned in some pretty decent numbers. The numbers have actually be good enough that out of all the young pitchers vying for a rotation spot in 2018, he should have a headstart on most.

Here are some of the numbers he has posted thus far:

3.86 ERA (5.60 DRA), 14.4 K%, 7.1 BB%, 37.6 GB%, 1.08 HR/9, .283 BABIP

When he was acquired in a very shrewd move by Ruben Amaro from Cincinnati for Marlon Byrd, he was looked at as mostly a back end rotation piece that wouldn’t do much to hurt a team, but couldn’t be counted on for much more. Going through the Phillies’ minor league system, that scouting report kind of stuck. He didn’t have overwhelming numbers, but he usually found himself still out there in the sixth or seventh innings, still giving his team a chance to win. We’re not talking about the old Jack Morris “pitch to the score” method of being a hurler, we’re talking about a guy who rarely blew a game open so badly his team had no shot at coming back.

Now, with his ascendance to the major leagues, he’s pretty much continued these ways. He is the only Phillies starter other than Nola to reach the eighth inning of a game. He owns the only complete game by any starter this season. Of his twelve starts at the major league level, only three have not been of the “quality” variety. He has held his own against good lineups and been very good against bad ones. He has basically been the epitome of a end of the rotation, innings eating starter. It’s more than we as fans could have asked for this early in his career. In the midst of a season in which the starters have struggled to log quality innings, Lively has been almost exactly what the team needs.

Yet when you look at his season with a more educated eye, you see his numbers and know that he is getting by mostly on a string of good luck that might not be too sustainable.

That DRA - yikes.

He’s not striking anyone out, the groundball rate isn’t all that impressive considering his pedigree, and a BABIP that might call for some regression as well. He doesn’t project to be too much better than he already is, which means he would be pretty easily expendable should a better option present itself. Taking everything into consideration, it’s not a profile to get very excited about when discussing the future of the franchise.

For now, though, Lively has given this team exactly what it has needed to close out another arduous season. Management is looking for arms to pitch the last few games, going so far to see what magic Henderson Alvarez still has up his sleeve for a few starts this month. The fact that Lively has been able to give them steady production these last few weeks is valuable in its own special way. Should he close out the season on the same level he is pitching at now, there is no reason to think he cannot have a more solid grip on a rotation spot come February. If he were to be beaten out by superior competition, so be it. At the very least, he might provide a modicum of trade value if a team were to pursue an upgrade this winter. Either way, the success he’s had has benefited the team greatly. Let’s hope he is able to help them succeed in another way heading into the offseason.