Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suárez, Taijuan Walker
Fifth Starter Mix
Bailey Falter, Michael Plassmeyer, Cristopher Sanchez, Andrew Painter*
What to expect
The 2022 Phillies were best known for their offense. “Ball go boom” was the saying that persisted all season long as they slugged their way to a World Series. But their starting rotation was perhaps the most underrated aspect of their NL Champion roster.
The traditional baseball card stats were not necessarily eye-popping. The Phillies finished with a 3.80 starter’s ERA, good for 14th in baseball and 8th in the NL, and 15th in strikeouts per nine innings (8.50).
When you begin to look deeper, you see just how good the rotation was.
The Phillies finished second in the Majors in fWAR with 17.5. They were edged out by the Houston Astros, the very same rotation that finally silenced the Philadelphia lineup in the World Series. They were fifth in FIP (3.54) and fourth in xFIP (3.53), displaying that the Phillies generally outpitched their shaky defense.
The two biggest reasons for those numbers are Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola. The pair were brilliant all season long aside from some injury related hiccups from Wheeler in late August. Wheeler made 26 starts and posted his third straight season with a sub 3 ERA and at least a 140 ERA+. Nola led all starters with 6.3 fWAR and finally conquered his late season demons by pitching the Phillies into the playoffs on October 3rd. Wheeler and Nola were huge weapons in the postseason as well, as the two combined for a 3-2 record and 2.32 ERA in 7 starts prior to the World Series. Despite their excellent start to the postseason, the two aces hit a wall in the fall classic as it became clear that they were at their limit from throwing heavy innings to get the Phillies that far in the first place.
Wheeler and Nola will once again be anchors for the Phillies, but the team may look to limit their innings when possible. A deeper bullpen should help as manager Rob Thomson looks to save some bullets for October. Off the field, the looming free agency of Nola hangs over the spring with an imposed deadline of Opening Day for an extension. Nola is set to be arguably the best non-Shohei Ohtani pitcher on the open market and will have no shortage of suitors if he were to reach free agency, especially if he posts another Cy Young caliber season.
The most underrated part of an underrated rotation is Ranger Suárez. The lefty struggled with consistency early last season but was huge down the stretch and especially into the postseason. Suárez did it all in October, starting three games and appearing in two others out of the bullpen while totaling a 1.23 ERA across 14.2 IP. He has established himself as one of the better number three starters in the league and his postseason heroics may have just earned him the elusive yet ambiguous title of a “big game pitcher.” However, Suárez may be a bit behind schedule after returning from the World Baseball Classic with forearm tightness.
Taijuan Walker is a new addition that will look to improve upon former starter Kyle Gibson’s dismal 2022 season. Walker has been a solid mid-rotation starter in his career when healthy but has had very poor second halves the last two seasons. The right hander made 26 second half starts the last two seasons and logged a 5.95 ERA with a 4.70 xFIP. Last year’s 4.80 second half ERA is partially misleading though, as Walker had one nightmare start on August 5th where he allowed 8 earned runs in just one inning pitched. His ERA among the other 12 starts was a much more manageable 3.76.
The fifth rotation spot is not quite set yet. It was set up to be top prospect Andrew Painter’s to lose, but with his UCL injury it seems a safe bet that Bailey Falter will get the nod to begin the year. Falter was huge for the Phillies late last season when Zack Wheeler was on the injured list. In six starts in late August and mid-September when Wheeler was out, Falter had a 2.36 ERA and 0.98 WHIP while the Phillies were 4-2 in those starts. Falter stabilized the Phillies rotation at a time when it seemed their postseason hopes were headed to life support.
Michael Plassmeyer and Cristopher Sanchez are both in the mix, but with Sanchez throwing mostly one inning relief this spring and Plassmeyer’s inexperience, these two will likely serve as depth in Triple A. Painter’s injury however means they are one more injury away from joining the rotation, as the Phillies starting pitcher depth is rather thin.