Steve Carlton. Cole Hamels. Cliff Lee. Adam Morgan.
OK, maybe not Adam Morgan, but over the years, the Phillies have featured a handful of outstanding left-handed starting pitchers but, once again this year, they appear ready to begin another season without a southpaw projected as part of their five-man rotation.
Since 2017, 30 games have been started by left-handers for the Phils, around 5.5% of their total games. Drew Smyly (12) and Jason Vargas (11) lead the way, which is crazy when you consider both were acquired in the middle of the 2019 season. Cole Irvin (3), Ranger Suarez (3), and Jose Alvarez (1) started the remaining seven, and in most of those cases, were relievers selected to begin a bullpen game. The Phillies have not entered a season with a left-handed pitcher slated to start every fifth day since 2016, when Adam Morgan was still regarded as a starter.
The same remains true now. Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin are penciled in as the top three in the rotation, seemingly a strength of the team, with prospect Spencer Howard and veteran Vince Velasquez the presumed Nos. 4 and 5 starters.
Last year’s pandemic-shortened season meant everyone in the rotation, and every team throughout baseball, had pitchers see a big drop in their innings totals last year. With commissioner Rob Manfred indicating the league will play a full 162-game schedule this year, starting pitching depth will be more important than ever.
Nola and Wheeler both pitched 71 innings, Eflin threw 59, Velasquez tossed 34 and Howard threw only 24. Expecting all five to comfortably hurl 160-190 innings this season isn’t realistic, and team president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski should be scouring the free agent market for depth.
MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reported earlier this week the team was showing interest in former Nationals starter Anibal Sanchez, who was awful in last year’s pandemic-shortened season. The 37-year-old gave up more earned runs than anyone in the NL (39), posted a 6.62 ERA, and a 1.660 WHIP. However, in the Nationals’ championship season of 2019, he made 30 starts with a 3.85 ERA, 4.44 FIP, and 3.7 bWAR.
It likely won’t cost more than a $1-2 million contract and would provide the Phillies with some needed depth, but it’s yet another right-handed option amongst a staff that is perpetually filled by righties. There are also a number of solid left-handed starters on the market Dombrowski should go after.
The 32-year-old has battled injuries over the years, including last season, and recently threw for prospective teams potentially interested in his services.
When he’s on, he’s as dependable as they come. In 127 starts from 2014-19, he had an ERA of 3.57, a FIP of 3.28, and averaged 9.9 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. He made 29 starts for the Yankees in 2019 and went 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA and 3.86 FIP. However, those 29 starts were the most he’d ever made in a season. Prior to that, he’d started 13, 13, 20, 24 and 28 starts in his first five full seasons in the big leagues.
Last year he made only five starts with a ghastly 6.64 ERA and saw his average fastball velocity drop from 95.5 mph in ‘19 to 92.1 mph. It was reported Paxton threw 94 mph in his audition for teams three weeks ago, so it would appear he’s on the road to recovery and should be available on a reasonable one or two-year, incentive-laden deal.
Quintana is another left-handed starter who missed a lot of time last year due to multiple injuries, including thumb surgery and a lat strain. He pitched just 10 innings but is still just 31 years old and has never relied on big-time velocity and swings-and-misses to be effective.
Prior to last season, he had been extremely durable, with at least 31 starts and 171 or more innings in every season from 2013-19 for the White Sox and Cubs. He was worth 3.5 fWAR in 2019 for the North Siders when he put up a 4.68 ERA and a 3.80 FIP. If healthy, he’d be a nice complement to the Phils’ righty-heavy rotation.
Hamels is someone Phillies fans know very well, obviously, and like the two hurlers mentioned above, he also missed virtually the entire 2020 season because of injuries.
Cole signed a one-year contract with the Braves last off-season and made just one start and pitched 3.1 innings for Atlanta. He made 27 starts in 2019 for the Cubs and remained an effective middle-to-back-end starter, with a 3.81 ERA and 4.09 FIP, averaging 9.08 K/9 and 3.56 BB/9. Once again, if the nearly 37-year-old is healthy, he could be good depth and a left-hander to help balance the rotation.
Lester is one of the best free agent starting pitcher signings of the last 10 years, a steady and sometimes spectacular southpaw in the Chicago rotation. He made 12 starts for the Cubs last year but was not nearly as effective in the COVID-shortened season, with a 5.16 ERA and 5.14 FIP. The 37-year-old saw his velocity drop a bit further, to an average of 89.2 mph in 2020.
Last year’s down season likely means he wouldn’t be expensive and could probably come to Philadelphia on a one-year deal, although it sounds as though Chicago would like for him to return for another season.
It’s pretty incredible that Happ is now 38 years old, one year older than his former teammate Hamels, and Happ has been rumored to return to Philadelphia for years now, but it hasn’t happened. This might be the off-season it does.
In nine starts last year, Happ’s 3.74 ERA remained respectable, although a 4.57 FIP belied those numbers a bit. He’s never been a strikeout guy and relies on grounders and keeping teams off-balance with his off-speed stuff and cutter. Again, he’d be a solid No. 4 or 5 starter candidate and give Joe Girardi more options and depth in the rotation.
Gonzalez is a realistic option for the Phillies in that they would likely get him on a minor league deal. The 35-year-old made four starts and pitched 31.2 innings for the White Sox last season and put up a 4.83 ERA and 5.50 FIP.
To be honest, this does nothing for me. He’s a left-handed Vince Velasquez; maddening to watch pitch and ultimately extremely frustrating, but he’d be cheap and provide depth.
Anderson has been a No. 4 or 5 starter his entire career, but has generally been pretty reliable. In 10 starts for the Brewers last season he had a 4.21 ERA and 4.38 FIP and in 2019 made 31 starts, pitched 176 innings and allowed a 3.89 ERA and 4.57 FIP. Like many of the other left-handers on this list, he doesn’t strike guys out (6.13 K/9 last year, 4.60 in ‘19), but that also means any loss of fastball velocity isn’t a killer. At 32 years old, he’s one of the younger options available.
Rodon is a former No. 3 overall pick by the White Sox in 2014 and is still only 28 years old. Unfortunately for the Sox, he never lived up to the hype. His best effort was a 2.7 fWAR season in 2016 when he had a 4.04 ERA and 4.01 FIP, but in 2019, made just seven starts for Chicago with a 5.19 ERA. He was a disaster last year, with an 8.22 ERA in two starts (7.2 innings). Injuries have hampered him throughout his career, and any team that takes him on has a reclamation project on their hands.
Wood is shockingly just 30 years old but has dealt with injuries and poor performance each of the last two seasons. In 2019, he made just seven starts with a 5.80 ERA, and last year put up a 6.39 ERA in two starts (nine appearances total). Wood could probably be had on a minor league deal, and a return to the Dodgers for a third time makes a lot of sense, but he’d be a fit in Philadelphia as well.
Montgomery is not an option that should enthuse anyone. He was outright by the Royals this off-season after an injury-plagued 2020 in which he made just one start and had two relief appearances. In 13 starts (33 appearances) in 2019, the 31-year-old had a 4.95 ERA and 5.52 FIP. He averages about 6.5 K/9 and relies on the ground ball, although he’s been homer-prone the last few seasons.
Hill is old. I mean, he’s younger than me, but old by starting pitcher standards, at 41 years of age. He’s had some great moments with the Red Sox and Dodgers over the last few years and made eight starts with the Twins last season with a solid 3.03 ERA and 3.99 FIP. His K/9 dropped significantly from 11.05 in 2019 to 7.22 last season, but also saw his home run rate drop in half, from 1.53 to 0.70 HR/9. He would be an intriguing addition to the middle of the Phils’ rotation.
Anderson was an adequate left-handed starter for the Giants last season where, in 11 starts (13 appearances) had a 4.37 ERA and 4.36 FIP, with a reduced strikeout and walk rate from the season before. It’s difficult to know exactly what you’re going to get with Anderson, who spent his first four years in Colorado, a notoriously awful place for pitchers to thrive, and last year in San Francisco during a pandemic-shortened season. Again, if the Phillies are looking for mid-rotation depth, they could do a lot worse than Tyler Anderson.
On the latest episode of Hittin’ Season, I talked about the left-handed starting options some more, ran down the latest news & notes of the Hot Stove season and wondered more about how a 162-game schedule will shake out this summer! Download and subscribe!