The Phillies continue to add starting pitchers to their 40-man roster in an attempt to provide depth and, hopefully, potential upside.
The team has officially announced a one-year, $3 million deal with Matt Moore, who pitched last season in Japan. Moore made 15 starts and, in 85 innings, had an ERA of 3.60, struck out 10.4 batters per nine, walked 2.8 per nine and had a WHIP of 1.118.
I've watched six minutes of Matt Moore in Japan highlights and can officially say the Phillies got a steal. pic.twitter.com/HdCwjPeAxD— Ben (@philshirt365) January 29, 2021
Moore was an All-Star in 2013 and finished 9th in the AL Cy Young voting for Tampa Bay, but has struggled to stay healthy and consistent since then. He made just two appearances with the Detroit Tigers in 2019 and, in ‘18, shuttled back and forth between the rotation and bullpen where he put up a 6.79 ERA with a 1.657 WHIP in 102.0 innings. Since 2015, he’s pitched 547.2 innings at the big league level with a 5.13 ERA.
They’re hoping something clicked in Japan last year.
The Phillies have also reportedly agreed to a one-year, $4 million deal with right-handed starter Chase Anderson, who struggled with the Toronto Blue Jays last year.
Source: Chase Anderson in agreement with the Philadelphia Phillies, pending physical.— Robert Murray (@ByRobertMurray) February 3, 2021
If you look at his back-of-the-baseball card stats, the 33-year-old was not impressive last season. He made seven starts and three relief appearances and put up a ghastly 7.22 ERA, a 6.16 FIP, and 12.0 hits per nine innings, but the peripherals insist those numbers were out of whack. His K/9 jumped from 8.0 in ‘19 to 10.2 last season and his walks per nine fell from 3.2 to 2.7. In the six seasons prior to last year’s weird COVID season, he had an ERA of 3.94, a FIP of 4.54 and an ERA+ of 106.
That’s $7 million combined for two players who the Phils hope are ready to bounce back in 2021. And given the rest of the back of the rotation, the Phillies desperately need some of these bargain signings to work out for once.
The top of the rotation remains one of the team’s strengths. Aaron Nola is a top-10 pitcher, and last year’s big free agent signing, Zack Wheeler, was just as good. Zach Eflin also emerged as a viable mid-rotation starter with upside, although he has yet to put it all together over a full season. Nonetheless, all three right-handers are expected to be productive mainstays in the 2021 rotation.
However, the Phils are adding depth for two reasons: last year’s COVID-shortened season that resulted in every pitcher throwing less than 100 innings, and some question marks that exist in the Nos. 4 and 5 spots.
Spencer Howard started last season as one of baseball’s top pitching prospects but underwhelmed in 24.1 innings of work. His 5.92 ERA and 5.86 FIP disappointed, as did a dramatic drop in his strikeout rate from 31.1% in AA Reading in ‘19 to 20.4% last season. The COVID-induced break between the two spring trainings negatively affected Howard and caused shoulder discomfort, which was largely responsible for his lackluster performance. The hope is a regular off-season followed by a normal spring training will get him back on track.
Vince Velasquez was re-signed by the Phils after another typical Vince season in 2020. Still just 28 years old, he posted a 5.56 ERA and 4.16 FIP in 34.0 innings as his walk rate jumped from 8.3% in ‘19 to 11.0% last season. His strikeout rate also went up, however, from 25.2% to 29.9%. Velasquez was useful as a No. 6 starter/fill-in type last year, so it made sense when the team brought him back on a $4 million deal.
Clearly, the Phillies needed more depth. No one expected them to be players for Trevor Bauer or anyone else at the top of the market, so Dave Dombrowski has collected a number of cheap arms on both Major and Minor league deals in an effort to add inventory. It’s not unlike what Matt Klentak did in off-seasons past, with little success.
Back in 2016, it looked like Klentak had stolen a quality arm in Charlie Morton, who had discovered an extra 3 mph of velocity on his fastball and looked like a completely different pitcher. Unfortunately, just four starts into his Phillies career, he blew out his hamstring running the bases and was lost for the season. He went on to sign a two-year deal with Houston and became one of the best pitchers in the American League for the next four years.
That’s bad luck, but it’s also one of the few instances in which the Phils’ instincts on a bargain pitcher proved correct. They need to get better at this and they hope some of the additions they’ve made this off-season will yield fruit.
In addition to Anderson and Moore, the Phils have added some pitchers on minor league deals. Ivan Nova has been an innings-eater his entire career, however, many of those innings have been bad. He made just four starts for Detroit last season (8.53 ERA), but started a league-best 34 games for Chicago in ‘19 and hurled 187.0 innings. Unfortunately, fans hurled as he gave up an AL-most 225 hits. Since 2014, he’s thrown 830.2 innings and posted an ERA of 4.59 and a FIP of 4.68. Manager Joe Girardi was Nova’s manager during all seven of the right-hander’s seasons in New York, and if Nova makes the big league roster, he’ll earn $1.5 million.
The Phils have also signed right-hander Bryan Mitchell to a minor league deal. Mitchell last pitched in the Majors in 2018 when he made 11 starts (16 appearances) with the Padres, with a 5.42 ERA and just 4.7 K/9. The Phils will also need help from young minor league hurlers Adonis Medina and Ranger Suarez, the two in-house options most likely to earn a spot in the rotation this season.
It won’t be possible for all of these acquisitions to pan out, but in a season where virtually every team is asking their starters to see a drastic increase in their innings totals from last year, many teams will consider going to a six-man rotation. The Phillies could absolutely go that route, especially in light of the pitching additions made over the last week.