For the first four months of last season, the Phillies starting rotation was the strength of the team and one of the best in baseball. Aaron Nola established himself as a true ace and Cy Young candidate, Jake Arrieta was outstanding for three out of the first four months, Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez had extended periods of brilliance and, for one month, Zach Eflin was unhittable.
With a struggling offense and the worst defense in baseball behind them, the Phils’ starters had a 3.81 ERA through July, 8th-best in the Majors. But in August and September, that ERA ballooned to 4.77, 21st in MLB. The young back-end starters simply ran out of gas late in the season, and Arrieta said this spring that he was dealing with a knee injury that limited his effectiveness in the second half, too.
During this crazy spending spree of an off-season, the Phillies did not make any changes to the rotation. They made an effort to sign Patrick Corbin to a big deal, but didn’t want to commit six years. Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez are both still out there, but unless Keuchel is willing to do a one or two-year deal, it’s unlikely the Phils are interested.
So if the Phillies are going to ride into the 2019 season with the same staff as last year, they’re going to hope the growing pains Pivetta, Velasquez and Eflin went through last year will be conquered and hope Arrieta’s knee is much improved. They also have to hope that an improved defense, a much better offense and an improved bullpen will help.
Over the last seven years, the Phillies have only had four qualified player-seasons in which that player had an OPS of at least .792. Last year, the LOWEST OPS among Rhys Hoskins, Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Andrew McCutchen was .792. The Phils were last in the league in hits and struggled to score runs early, ranking 21st in runs scored in the first three innings and 20th in first inning runs last season.
With a top of the lineup that could include McCutchen, Jean Segura, Harper, Hoskins and Realmuto, starters shouldn’t have to worry about being too perfect while they’re in the game. Pitching with an early lead should benefit everyone on the staff.
The addition of Segura to the left side of the infield puts an above average glove at one of their greatest areas of defensive weakness last season, too. Getting Rhys Hoskins out of left field and replacing him with McCutchen will be a huge step forward, and Harper, despite his abysmal defensive metrics last year, has historically been at least an average defensive player and will almost certainly be better than Nick Williams. And Realmuto’s experience calling a game and his ability to prevent wild pitches and avoid passed balls will benefit Phils starters as well.
Finally, if the Phils don’t want to sign Keuchel to be a left-handed starter in the middle of a all righty rotation, they could pursue Craig Kimbrel on a short-term deal. That would give the Phillies yet another top reliever for the later innings and would give Gabe Kapler the ability to use his relievers earlier in the game. While that may not be aesthetically pleasing to the viewer, telling Pivetta, Velasquez and Eflin that they don’t have to go 6-7 innings every time out can also help take the pressure off them.
On Episode 265 of “Hittin’ Season,” I talked more about how the Phils can help out the rotation without overpaying for Dallas Keuchel, and spoke with Yahoo Sports’ Mike Oz about Harper, his comments about Mike Trout, whether it truly was “tampering,” and old 1980s baseball cards. Give a listen and subscribe if you don’t already!