Analysis

Grading the 2016 Phillies: Starting Pitchers



Before we move ahead with scouting the 2017 offseason, we’re going back this week to grade the 2016 Phillies.

Today we’ll tackle the starting pitchers. Tomorrow we’ll go over relievers, and Friday we’ll sum up the 2016 club.

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Overall: In the first two months, the rotation was a strength of the team as it tallied a 3.79 ERA in April and a 3.92 ERA in May. From there, however, the wheels fell off and the starting staff finished with a 4.41 ERA, good for 18th in the bigs. Report card grades are in for what was a young staff.

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hellicksonJeremy Hellickson – B+

As the lone experienced vet on the staff (after Charlie Morton‘s early injury), Hellickson was as solid as could be. The 29-year-old led the team in wins with 12 and nipped at the heels of Jerad Eickhoff for the team leader in ERA, coming in at 3.71. I wrote an extended piece on Hellickson before the season ended on why the Phils should bring him back. To reiterate a bit, Hellickson is a “pitcher,” not a “thrower,” as some would describe fellow starter Vince Velasquez. He doesn’t blow guys away with a 95 MPH fastball. He locates and changes speeds with a nasty changeup to put hitters away. Hellickson’s veteran presence was exactly what this type of team needed. Taking everything into account, it earned Hellickson a B+. Hellickson could test the free agent waters if he decides to decline a possible Phillies qualifying offer.

Aaron Nola – C-

If we graded the rotation after the month of May, Aaron Nola would have received an A. At that point, it was him and Velasquez as the unquestioned aces of the staff. Every night for the first two months of the season, they pitched like it. Through the first two months, Nola had an ERA of 2.93 while allowing 54 hits in 72 innings. Nola also struck out 76 batters in those 72 innings of work. Once the calendar turned to June, however, Nola was a different pitcher. His June ERA soared to 10.42, and he allowed 40 hits and 22 earned runs in just 19 innings. July wasn’t much better as Nola posted a 6.42 ERA. Nola hit rock bottom in August, when was shelved for the season with a strained right elbow. A sigh of relief came over the Delaware Valley when surgery was not needed.

We thought Nola would build upon a solid rookie campaign, but he seemed to take one step forward and two steps back. It was painful to watch Nola get his head beat in night in and night out. Nola looked as if he lost all confidence.

Charlie Morton – INC

Remember Charlie Morton? He started the third game of the year in Cincinnati, getting rocked for for six runs in 3.2 innings. Morton rebounded in his next two starts to toss two quality outings against the Padres and Nationals. The 32-year-old went 12.2 innings, allowing just one earned run and striking out 13. Morton would then tear his hamstring in the first inning of his next start, halting his season. As Morton was pitching well before his injury, it remains to be seen what will happen. The Phillies and Morton have a mutual option for next season. If all goes well with the hamstring, Morton could be another veteran addition to the club.

Jerad Eickhoff – A

For the 2016 season, Jerad Eickhoff could’ve been dubbed “Mr. Consistent.” The right-hander made 33 starts for the club and tallied 197.1 innings, tied for eighth in the NL. Eickhoff captured the team ERA title at 3.65 and was one one win shy of tying Hellickson for the lead in wins. Eickhoff finished the year 11-14, but many of those losses were a result to poor run support as he received the second fewest in the league (3.58 runs per game). ESPN has a stat called “tough losses,” and Eickhoff led the league in that category with seven. Out of Eickhoff’s 33 starts this season, he allowed three earned runs or fewer 27 times. Model of consistency. One could make a strong argument that Eickhoff should be on the mound in Cincinnati on opening day 2017.

Vince Velasquez – B

Velasquez’s coming out party was on April 14, in his second start as a Phillie. “Vinny from Philly” twirled a complete-game, three-hit, 16-strikeout shutout of the Padres. Though the Padres are not a juggernaut offensively, to strike out 16 major league batters in one game is remarkable. It shows that when Velasquez is on, he’s one of the most dominant pitchers in the league. He has all of the tools – the name, the swag, the makeup and the stuff – to be one of the best pitchers in the league. A fastball that can reach 97-98 MPH and a deadly slider to go along with that is something every major league team would want.

Though Velasquez has “the stuff,” there are still a couple of things he struggles with. First, he has to stay healthy. This year and in years prior in the Astros organization, the 24-year-old has seen numerous stints on the disabled list. Second, Velasquez works a lot of deep counts. The right-hander went more than six innings just three times in 2016.

Velasquez’s best stretch of the season came right after returning from the DL in late June. In those next seven starts, Velasquez compiled a 3-1 record with a 2.85 ERA. After a few duds after that stretch, the California native finished the season on high note against the Mets and Braves, tossing 12 innings while allowing three earned runs before he was shut down in early September. Overall, Velasquez showed lots of promise with an incredibly high ceiling.

Adam Morgan – F

Morgan was 2-11 with a 6.04 ERA. He was bad, knocked around much of the season and becoming no more than a spot starter for an injury. With the amount of talented young arms the Phils have, Morgan figures to be in triple-A next season.

Zach Eflin – B

Eflin was welcomed to the big leagues, alright. At the hands of Blue Jays – who are heading to the ALCS – Eflin probably had one of the worst debuts ever. He went 2.2 innings, surrendered nine hits (three home runs) and eight earned runs. How would Eflin respond in his next seven starts? Just by tossing six quality starts – including two complete games (one shutout) – en route to a 2.08 ERA.

That was most impressive to me about the 6’6″ right-hander: he wasn’t rattled and in complete command thereafter. Eflin, however, was roughed up in this final three outings before landing on the shelf with knee issues and a stress fracture in his foot. Eflin’s chronic knee issues are concerning along with his pitching style, to a lesser extent. The Florida native struck out just 31 batters in 63.1 innings. If he pitches to the potential of those seven starts after his debut, we’ll have no problem with those numbers.

Jake Thompson – C+

Thompson’s big-league debut was much anticipated as he was the best pitcher on both the IronPigs and in all of triple-A. As Eflin was, Thompson was greeted rudely in his debut, but by the Padres. And it took a bit longer for Thompson to find his footing; the 22-year-old’s first taste of success came in his fifth outing against the Nationals. Thompson threw seven gutsy innings to record his first quality start in the majors. To me, it was a signature moment emphatically stating, “I belong here.” Thompson also has the makeup to be a solid big-league pitcher. His control has been an issue, walking 28 batters in 53.2 innings and at least two batters in eight of his 10 starts. Though the right-hander showed some promise, his first taste of the big leagues was not a complete success.

Alec Asher – B

What a difference a year makes. This time last year, Asher finished up his September call-up campaign 0-6 with a 9.31 ERA. But this time around, Asher finished 2-1 with a 2.28 ERA in five starts. Asher was much more effective this time up and the turnaround from his 2015 experience contributed to his B.

It will be interesting to see how the starting staff will play out next year. One thing is for sure: spring training should be as competitive as it’s been in a long time as seven (and possibly up to nine) will be eyeing big-league jobs for 2017.

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Tomorrow, we grade relief pitching.

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