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Who are the Phillies’ five best starters?

It’s a good problem to have.

St. Louis Cardinals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Since the acquisition of Michael Lorenzen, manager Rob Thomson has employed a six-man starting rotation that has provided some solid benefits over the last couple weeks.

Taijuan Walker’s velocity was trending downward since the All-Star break, so Thomson gave him nine days to see if some extra rest would do the trick. And, it has. Then Suarez hit the injured list with a balky hamstring which, without a sixth starter, would have been a big problem. But once Suarez returns, Thomson says he plans to return to a five-man rotation during the week of September 11. When they do, he will have to remove one of his six starters from the rotation and into the bullpen.

But which one?

Here are how some of their numbers compare, through Tuesday.

Phillies Nos. 3-6 Starters

Player IP ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 fWAR
Player IP ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 fWAR
Taijuan Walker 142.1 4.05 4.5 7.52 3.73 1.07 2
Ranger Suarez 97.1 3.88 3.89 8.23 3.24 0.92 1.9
Michael Lorenzen 131.2 3.69 4.13 6.7 2.46 1.03 1.8
Cristopher Sanchez 70.1 3.33 4.31 8.19 1.54 1.54 1.1

Suarez’ 2023 numbers don’t look quite like we were expecting, but his postseason pedigree, his ceiling and left-handedness almost certainly requires he stay in the rotation. He’s not getting relegated to the ‘pen and, in any potential Game 3 of a playoff series, one would expect Suarez would get the ball.

Walker leads the foursome in fWAR, but he’s been a bit shaky of late. Last night against the Angels he was constantly in trouble, allowing 10 baserunners in 5.2 innings but largely danced through the rain drops and finished three earned runs allowed on eight hits and two walks in the Phils’ 6-4 win. Since July 5, he has a 4.25 ERA and 4.80 FIP in nine starts, walking 4.42 batters per nine, and he’s had particular trouble in the first inning, allowing a .306/.387/.472 slash line and 6.66 ERA this season in the opening frame.

However, Walker is likely not destined for the bullpen, given his four-year, $72 million contract.

The final spot in the rotation is likely to come down to Lorenzen and Sanchez. Lorenzen famously pitched the team’s first no-hitter since 2015 three starts ago, but has been a bit uneven in his four starts in a Phils’ uniform. Sanchez, meanwhile, has been a revelation since joining the rotation on June 17. Outside of a six-run, five-inning performance against the Royals, he has not given up more than three earned runs in any of his other 12 starts and has a 64/12 K/BB ratio.

Sanchez has mastered a control and command issue that had dogged him throughout his Major and minor league career.

Sanchez’ 3.33 ERA is better than Lorenzen’s respectable 3.69, while Lorenzen’s 4.13 FIP is better than Sanchez’ 4.31. Sanchez is better with strikeouts and walks, but also gives up more homers than Lorenzen, 1.54-1.03 per nine innings.

Of course, we’ve all seen what Lorenzen can do when he’s on his game.

From July 6 through August 9 (his no-no), Lorenzen posted a 1.11 ERA over six starts in 40.2 innings. But he gave up six earned runs (seven total) in a 3.1 inning performance against the Nationals and then gave up four runs on eight hits in 5.2 innings against the Giants last week. Both Lorenzen and Sanchez are experienced out of the bullpen, although both have been much better as a starter in recent seasons.

It’s hard to argue that, at this moment, Sanchez isn’t this team’s third-best pitcher. With Suarez’ injury, Walker’s velocity drop/first inning issues and Lorenzen’s last two starts, Sanchez is, for the moment, pitching better than the other three. Of course, if the playoffs started tomorrow, one probably couldn’t argue that Sanchez should start that game over any of those three, but it’s hard to argue he shouldn’t start Game 4 of a playoff series over Walker or Lorenzen.

As for what the Phils will do when they return to a five-man rotation, Thomson should line it up like this:

  1. Zack Wheeler
  2. Aaron Nola
  3. Ranger Suarez
  4. Cristopher Sanchez
  5. Taijuan Walker

Lorenzen can be a very effective long-man/middle inning reliever down the stretch which is what Dombrowski got him to do. Until Walker proves to be a bit more stable, he’d be my odd man out in a postseason rotation right now.

There are still five weeks in the regular season for the playoff starters to work itself out, but a decision comes much sooner on who to send to the bullpen for the stretch drive.