*Editor’s note: yes, we are well aware that previewing a season that might not happen seems silly in exercise. However, we are committed to continuing onward toward the beginning of the season, whenever that may be.
The Phillies’ pitching staff was arguably the biggest thing that was in need of improvement headed into the 2020 season. They struggled early and often last year, some because of changes to the ball, some because they had too high of expectations in the first place. Then there were the injuries. Man oh man the injuries. Rarely have we seen a team in any sport, let alone baseball, that was beset by an almost biblical plague of injuries to one part of its roster. Watching starters and relievers alike go down almost on a weekly basis.
However, there were still others that didn’t perform as expected. Even though Aaron Nola threw 200 innings, struck out his highest K/9 rate of his career and still had 3.4 fWAR on the season, it still felt like a giant step back from his third place finish in the Cy Young voting the year before. Jake Arrieta was performing under expectations again before he succumbed to bone chips in his elbow. Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta....well, the less said, the better. Then there was the seemingly endless cavalcade of slightly below average starters that were trotted out simply because someone had to pitch every fifth day.
The bullpen? You want to talk about the bullpen?
Hector Neris was good. So was Ranger Suarez. Jose Alvarez too!
So, the team headed into spring training this year intent on improving. Zack Wheeler was signed to give a bonafide #2 starters behind Nola.
Annnnnnnnnnnnd that’s about it.
There were some minor league signings, some guys brought back from the past, but for the most part, the team will be relying on health and a new pitching coach to cure what ails them. So, how have they done this spring?
The fight for the rotation
- There have been a lot of strikeouts, particularly by the guys you would expect it from - Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. They’ve struck out more than a batter per inning, which is what you want to see from those guys.
- Ranger Suarez, ladies and gentlemen. From left-handed reliever extraordinaire to possible rotation member? This was surely something we didn’t see coming. Gabe Kapler did something right last year in bringing Suarez to the majors and leaving him there to excel in the bullpen. Joe Girardi is doing something right this spring by letting him pitch himself into a spot in the team’s rotation. He’s been quite good there and has a case as the best pitcher this spring.
- There have been a lot of hits given up by the pitching this spring. Nola has given up 13, the surprising number. Most of the starters have given up at least a hit per inning on average, which could be a problem. Couple that with the seeming lack of control exhibited by the amount of walks these pitchers have allowed and it’s a recipe for disaster. This needs to get fixed.
- Does anyone want to win the fifth starter’s job? The two presumptive candidates, Velasquez and Pivetta, haven’t exactly made a lot of headway in the competition. I mentioned Suarez earlier as the one that probably takes the job, but it has to be extremely disappointing that the team basically told the two members of the old guard to battle it out and neither did anything to say they deserved it.
The members of the bullpen don’t exactly have that many innings in which to show you statistics. At least, the innings aren’t that numerous and against enough quality of opponent that it’ll mean something. Names like Hector Neris and Mauricio Llovera have looked good from the right side (though Llovera has since been moved to the minor league camp), while Austin Davis, Jose Alvarez and Francisco Liriano have been great from the southside. The Seranthony news hasn’t been good since he’s pretty much the best non-Neris reliever the team has, but the hope is that guys like Reggie McClain and perhaps Deolis Guerra can help the team weather the storm when (if?) Dominguez returns.
Yes, this is the part of the team that should bounce back simply because there can’t be that many injuries as there were last year. But with all the new faces coming in, there at least remains the possibility that this is the soft underbelly of the team as it heads into 2020. This is also the area of the team that Matt Klentak will probably look to address as the trading deadline approaches. It will be interesting to watch as the season unfolds.