Thursday, I spoke at length about the possible ways the Phillies could build a rotation with all the starting pitching depth that they have at the major league level. One of the easier ways to lessen this strain would be to begin with Spencer Howard in the minor leagues in order to manage his early season workload. Of all the non-Nola/Wheeler pitchers on the staff, he may be the most talented, but he’s also the one that needs innings consistently, something he may not be able to find in Philadelphia.
Today, what I wanted to propose was a way to set up the rotation using those six pitchers I mentioned yesterday. It may not be what the typical way to set them up would look like, but it would make a lot of sense if they did.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the team is going to forgo the idea I put forth about a six-man rotation. Doing so would take away starts at the beginning of the year that would go to one of their top two pitchers. It’s a logical argument, one that we are going to assume will win the day. That means the team’s rotation would include five names, probably put in an order of something like this:
SP1: Aaron Nola
SP2: Zack Wheeler
SP3: Zach Eflin
SP4: Matt Moore
SP5: Chase Anderson
SP6/swingman: Vince Velasquez
When people look at the pitching staff, they usually put those two atop the rotation since they are the best two pitchers available, followed by the one that looks best primed for a breakout season in Eflin.
But what if I told you that breaking them up would be most beneficial for the team? What if I argued that breaking up the top three starters may actually be the best course for the team to take? Instead of bunching up Nola, Wheeler and Eflin together, the team might best be served to have their rotation look like this:
SP6/long reliever: Velasquez
I have two reasons for this.
The bullpen is still an issue
As much as Dave Dombrowski and Sam Fuld have tried to address the bullpen, it still is the biggest weakness on the team. While adding Archie Bradley was a wise investment, there are still too many innings earmarked for relievers that have yet to consistently provide quality appearances. While the team should reasonably assume that the career worst performances shown by several members will not repeat themselves, splitting up Nola and Wheeler could help alleviate the bullpen’s potential exposure.
I argued yesterday that the innings are going to be limited this year. However, if there were two starters that were most likely to provide starts lasting into the sixth, seventh, even eighth innings, it would be Nola and Wheeler. Keeping them together in the rotation could mean that the bullpen gets repeated nights off, which is a good thing, but splitting them up would mean that instead of having the relievers throw a lot of innings three games in a row, it might only be one or two, depending on the performances of the other starters.
For example, let’s say Nola can give the team 6 1⁄3 innings on a Monday night. That means the relievers only need to get eight outs to finish the game. On the following night, perhaps Moore can only go five innings (not a bad assumption since even in Japan, he only averaged 5 2⁄3 innings per appearance). That means the team needs to get four more outs than they needed to get the night before and if those innings are high leverage innings, there is a chance that someone may not be available if they had been used the night before. However, Joe Girardi might be more comfortable using the high leverage reliever two nights in a row since he knows that the following night, he has Wheeler fully capable of going six or more quality innings, lowering the necessity for that high leverage arm and giving him the night off.
The use of this concept is operating under the assumption that Nola and Wheeler can each go at least six innings each outing. Obviously this would get changed as the start dictates (if Nola is bad through two innings, he’s gotta go), but the concept remains the same.
A long man can’t go back to back nights
We are assuming that Vince Velasquez is headed to the bullpen as a long reliever, something he may not like, but judging from his past, it might be the best spot for him. So, if a pitcher that has struggled of late like Anderson or one that has in his past major league experience not gone too deep into starts like Moore requires someone like Velasquez to go multiple innings each time he starts, it will run Velasquez into the ground. We don’t know how he would fare as a reliever since we don’t have much evidence of his doing so, but even from the stats I showed yesterday, we saw that he did much better when given a long time off between appearances. Even still, asking him to be ready to throw multiple innings for a few days in a row is not a way to keep him healthy. As divisive as he is among the fans, he’s also still someone who has major league talent and therefore is depth this team sorely needs. You’d also rather that he be doing longer outings so that if he is forced to ramp up due to injury, it won’t take him two weeks in Lehigh Valley to get ready. He’ll be here and able to go longer with each subsequent start.
It also doesn’t have to apply to Velasquez alone. If the bullpen is forced into picking up the slack for the starters three or more nights in a row, there are going to be problems of 2020 proportions. That might be extreme of course, but the sentiment is not. We have seen plenty of examples of bullpens getting burned out quickly because the rotation cannot give the team quality innings. And let’s face it: the Phillies don’t exactly have the quality depth available to pull from where they can use a phantom injury to bring a fresh arm up from Triple-A. Splitting up the pitchers most capable of giving the bullpen a break at least tries to remedy to potential for multiple extended bullpen appearances.
These are merely suggestions for the team. I would not expect them to do as much because teams love having their rotations set up by order of talent. It’s why Jacob deGrom is not the third pitcher for the Mets, why Gerrit Cole is not the #4 starter for the Yankees. But in a season where everything pitching wise should be on the table, this might be a way to get the pitchers working at the best of their ability.