Analysis

2017 Phillies player reviews: The pitchers

Back in March we previewed the 2017 season by making predictions for 60 players on the organizational depth chart, whether they were starting the year in Philadelphia or somewhere else in the system.

Now we’re looking back, both at their performances and at our predictions.

First, the pitchers.

STARTING PITCHER

(Or, it’s Nola and …)

MAJOR LEAGUES

Aaron Nola

March 2017: This season is all about staying healthy for Nola after missing half of last season due to an elbow injury. If Nola stays healthy without any setbacks, this year should be seen as a success for the young righty. Prediction: 29 GS / 8-7 / 3.75 ERA / 164 K / 38 BB / 3.0 WAR

October 2017: Although he didn’t stay healthy all season, it was a huge success for Nola. What felt like a bold prediction turned out to be on the conservative side. Perhaps most surprising is he seemed to have turned himself into a strikeout pitcher, with nearly 10 strikeouts per game. Results: 27 GS / 12-11 / 3.54 ERA / 184 K / 49 BB / 4.5 WAR

– Kirsten Swanson

Jerad Eickhoff

March 2017: Eickhoff already has proven he can be a somewhat valuable part of the Phillies’ future. But if he can get over his sixth-inning issues, perhaps he can vault himself into the top of the rotation. Prediction: 35 GS / 14-12 / 3.80 ERA / 175 K / 40 BB / 1.8 WAR

October 2017: Not a good season for Eickhoff. He got hurt and missed a third of the year, and he wasn’t very effective when he was pitching. This opens up all kinds of questions on whether he’ll be part of the Phillies long-term. This was supposed to be a year he took the next step, and he did – it was just in the wrong direction. Results: 24 GS / 4-8 / 4.71 ERA / 118 K / 53 BB / 0.7 WAR

– Michael Sadowski

Vince Velasquez

March 2017: Vinny from Philly could be the most exciting or the most frustrating Phillie to watch in 2017. His potential is off the charts, but he was average in 2016 (with a 100 ERA+ and 1.33 WHIP despite striking out 10.4 batters per nine innings) and struggled to pitch efficiently and last into the late innings. He did have one stellar 16-strikeout game that showcased the pitcher he might eventually become, and fans hope to see more of that in the year ahead. He is reportedly working on improving his curveball, and a deeper repertoire may allow him to keep batters off balance enough to let him go on the attack and gain the efficiency he needs. Prediction: 26 GS / 9-10 / 3.90 ERA / 165 K / 50 BB / 2.0 WAR

October 2017: With flashes of brilliance marred by inefficiency and imperfection in 2016, Velasquez was looked at as a possible 2017 breakout. If nothing else, it was his chance to build on his earlier body of work in the majors. Sadly, it was a worse season in most respects, as many of his numbers went the wrong direction and he was hampered by injuries, making only 15 starts. There a few players who take struggling to heart more than Velasquez, who still has a shot at turning things around next season. Results: 15 GS / 2-7 / 5.13 ERA / 68 K / 34 BB / 0.4 WAR

– Daniel Walsh

Nick Pivetta

March 2017: After a strong showing for Canada in the World Baseball Classic, Pivetta will start the season as part of the IronPigs’ rotation. If he continues to pitch well, he’ll get some innings in Philadelphia by the end of the season. Prediction: 3 GS / 1-1 / 3.98 ERA / 9 K / 4 BB / 0.9 WAR

October 2017: Boy, I had high hopes for this rotation if I thought Pivetta would only get three starts. Just when you wanted to give up on him, however, he went out and threw six scoreless innings. Results: 26 GS / 8-10 / 6.02 ERA / 140 K / 57 BB / -0.3 WAR

– Kirsten Swanson

GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

Jeremy Hellickson

March 2017: Hellickson will get the ball on opening day for the second-consecutive season. The veteran’s fastball-changeup-curveball trio kept hitters off balance all season, contributing to his 3.71 ERA. Hellickson’s tenure as a Phillie could be cut short because of a trade in July. Prediction: 22 GS / 9-10 / 3.93 ERA / 144 SO / 51 BB / 2.0 WAR

October 2017: It was almost certain Hellickson would be traded this offseason after General Manager Matt Klentak failed to trade the right-hander in 2016, when his value was high. After a sparkling 1.80 ERA in April, the wheels fell off for the veteran. His ERA skyrocketed to 4.73 by the time he was traded, and the return was minimal. Jeremy Hellickson isn’t Cy Young, and we all knew that, but he didn’t pitch as well as we hoped. Results: 20 GS / 6-5 / 4.73 ERA / 65 K / 30 BB / 1.1 WAR

– Corey Sharp

Clay Buchholz

March 2017: I’m bullish on Buchholz this season. Getting away from Fenway and out of the AL East is worth at least half run of ERA. If they can get this kind of production from Buchholz, it could mean the difference between 15 games back at the All-Star Break and on the outskirts of the Wild Card hunt. [Read more about Clay Buchholz here.Prediction: 30 GS / 13-7 / 3.45 ERA / 180 K / 45 BB / 2.7 WAR

October 2017: Hoh. Lee. Crap. Why am I allowed to write about baseball? Charlie Morton, and now Buchholz. Who will be the 2018 reclamation project that doesn’t make it past the first week? Results: 2 GS / 0-1 / 12.27 ERA / 5 K / 3 BB / -0.4 WAR

– Michael Sadowski

ON THE FRINGE

Ben Lively

March 2017: Although Lively is slated to start the season in Lehigh Valley, he‘ll be one of the first pitchers to be called up if one of the Phils’ pitchers is sidelined or struggles. In the meantime, Lively will look to continue his 2016 success that earned him the Paul Owens Award. His predicted line is tricky, as he can be recalled either as a starter or relief pitcher. Let’s assume he’ll be a starter. Prediction: 8 GS / 4-2 / 3.30 ERA / 43 K /12 BB / 2.1 WAR

October 2017: Prediction was right in that he was one of the first pitchers to be called up, even earlier than originally thought. Nine of his 14 starts were considered quality but his ERA ballooned due to a few rough outings. Overall, a strong debut. Results: 15 GS / 4-7 / 4.26 ERA / 52 K / 24 BB / 1.2 WAR

– Kirsten Swanson

Mark Leiter Jr.

March 2017: N/A

October 2017: Appearing from the minors to slot into the bullpen, Leiter Jr. dazzled with strikeout stuff that never seemed to be apparent from scouting reports. That, plus his versatility, kept him in the majors as the year progressed, and while he wasn’t stunning, he provided stability. He’s a decent long man. Results: 11 GS / 3-6 / 4.96 ERA / 84 K / 31 BB / -0.1 WAR

– Tim Malcolm

Jake Thompson

March 2017: Thompson, who won the International League’s Most Valuable Pitcher award in 2016, had a rough go in his first exposure to the big leagues last year, but it’s worth pointing out that he did improve after his first handful of starts – despite a 7.86 ERA in August, he pitched to a 3.62 ERA in September. He would have entered the conversation as a possible fifth starter for the Phillies if Buchholz had not been acquired, but fans should not be surprised to see him again in 2017, especially if he continues to dominate triple-A hitters. Prediction: 10 GS / 3-5 / 4.35 ERA / 40 K / 23 BB / 0.5 WAR

October 2017: Once seen as one of the Phillies’ best pitching prospects, Thompson might have lost some of his sheen after a middling 2017. His 5.25 ERA in triple-A and 3.88 ERA in the majors don’t paint him as a clunker by any stretch, however, and he remains a possibility for the 2018 rotation. Results: 8 GS / 3-2 / 3.88 ERA / 35 K / 22 BB / 0.4 WAR

– Daniel Walsh

Zach Eflin

March 2017: Basically the same thing as Alec Asher. He’ll get some opportunities and he’ll have to take advantage of them. Prediction: 10 GS / 2-5 / 4.90 ERA / 25 K / 15 BB / -0.7 WAR

October 2017: He was humming along through his first three starts – good, not great – then got completely tarred in three starts before landing on the DL. He came back and showed very little before going back to the DL. Longshot to be around in 2018. Results: 11 GS / 1-5 / 6.16 ERA / 35 K / 12 BB

– Michael Sadowski

Mark Appel

March 2017: It behooves the Phillies, no matter how Appel pitches in Lehigh Valley in 2017, to get him a couple September starts to see if he can make some kind of impact. I’ll continue lobbying for Appel to move to the bullpen as a closer. Prediction: 2 GS / 0-0 / 4.25 ERA / 14 K / 8 BB / 0.2 WAR

October 2017: He never got any time with the Phillies, got hurt and ended his season pitching two innings in the Gulf Coast League. I’m 99.9999 percent sure the Mark Appel experiment is over.

– Michael Sadowski

NEXT IN LINE

Thomas Eshelman

March 2017: Eshelman may be best served to consider a move to the bullpen as a swingman when he likely repeats double-A Reading in 2017.

October 2017: One of the lone organizational starting pitching success stories of 2017, Eshelman topped everyone’s expectations and put himself in the mix for a 2018 rotation spot.

– Michael Sadowski

Franklyn Kilome

March 2017: Kilome is a highly touted right-handed pitcher who stands 6’6, 175 pounds. He’s 21 years old and pitched last season at single-A Lakewood to a 3.85 ERA. In 114.2 innings, he struck out 130 batters but walked 50. It will be a while before we see Kilome.

October 2017: Kilome is rated as one of the top pitching prospects in the Phillies’ system and in his short stint in Reading, he had a 3.64 ERA in five starts. A learning curve is be to expected, but the young righty is on the major league track as expected.

– Corey Sharp

DEEPER DOWN

Sixto Sanchez

March 2017: Anyone looking to ride the “I heard of that guy before he was a stud prospect” train for Sixto Sanchez might already be too late. The righty starter allowed just three earned runs in 54 innings in 2016 and, at age 18, has started turning heads in the organization. In the year ahead, he should be challenged by a promotion and better opponents, but his easy delivery and mid-to-high 90s fastball provide a strong foundation. Continued development of his secondary pitches wouldn’t hurt.

October 2017: The world caught Sixto fever early in the season, when he continued his previous dominance with a hot start at Lakewood, which was a new level of the minors for him. He was then promoted to Clearwater, where he was a full five years younger than the average league age. His Florida Coast League stats don’t have the luster of his 0.50 ERA from 2016, but it would be foolish to think of him as anything short of an elite pitching prospect.

– Daniel Walsh

Adonis Medina

March 2017: Medina is just one of the dozens of young promising pitchers the Phils have in the lower levels. He pitched well (2.92 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 34 K/24 BB) in Williamsport last season and will likely begin the season with the Lakewood Blue Claws. Right now, the Phils have the flexibility to sit back and see how he develops.

October 2017: Medina did indeed pitch a full season for Lakewood, where he finished with a 3.01 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and a whopping 113K/39 BB. His strikeout rate more than doubled thanks to his newly added slider.

– Kirsten Swanson

>>> DEPTH ASSESSMENT >>>

March 2017: So there’s depth, and plenty of it. But the big question now is: Who will rise above the crop? Nola’s health and Velasquez’s control issues are hurdles, and Eickhoff hasn’t yet proven himself a top-line starter. Beyond that, plenty of questions surround the likes of Thompson, Eflin, Lively and Appel. A bunch of Eickhoffs may be fine, but at some point, if a star isn’t born, then Matt Klentak and Co. will head out to find that ace. Or two. Look for the ship to be steady in 2017, but there may be some rocking in 2018.

October 2017: Nola is a top-line starter, probably a No. 2 on most days, and the Phillies should think about locking him up to a long-term deal this winter. Velasquez and Eickhoff can’t be counted on anymore as potential top-line starters, so now the goal is to find one or two in the offseason. My preference: Get one bonafide No. 2 to pair with Nola, take a small risk with a clear 3/4 with top-line potential and give Velasquez and Eickhoff one more extended chance. Pivetta and Thompson, along with Eshelman, should be on notice in Lehigh Valley. Lively and Leiter are good depth. Eflin is simply a lottery ticket. By the end of 2018 let’s hope there’s Nola, two more proven starters, one up-and-comer and a fifth spot ready for that final puzzle piece.

Or maybe Kilome is that final puzzle piece.

Or maybe it’s Sixto.

– Tim Malcolm

RELIEF PITCHER

(Or, we figured it out?)

MAJOR LEAGUES

Hector Neris

March 2017: Neris was no doubt one of the few bright spots for the Phils’ bullpen last year, and with Pete Mackanin set on Jeanmar Gomez as the closer, Neris will once again be the set-up man. If Gomez struggles, however, Neris is a viable solution granted he pitches as well as last year. Prediction: 4-3 / 2.75 ERA / 101 K / 28 BB / 7 SV / 1.1 WAR

October 2017: Neris became the closer just one week into the season, so my prediction of seven saves shows I obviously had more confidence in Gomez than I should have had. Despite Neris’ flair for dramatics, he was a key piece in the Phils’ improved bullpen in the second half. Results: 4-5 / 3.01 ERA / 86 K / 26 BB / 26 SV / 2.0 WAR

– Kirsten Swanson

Luis Garcia

March 2017: N/A

October 2017: This is Luis Garcia’s fifth year with the team, which has included many trips to and from Lehigh Valley. But finally the right-hander put together a sustained period of success. Relievers that throw close to 100 mph with a biting slider don’t grow on trees, and maybe he’s figured it out. The strikeout numbers are a bit concerning with someone of Garcia’s stuff, but the 30-year-old figures to be a late-inning reliever next season. A pleasant surprise for all. Results: 2-5 / 2.65 ERA / 60 K / 26 BB / 2.0 WAR

– Corey Sharp

Edubray Ramos

March 2017: Edubray Ramos, who will begin the year in relative obscurity, will aim to cement himself as a mainstay of the Phillies bullpen. With a fastball that tops 95 mph and a tolerable 3.83 ERA in his debut season, he can become a useful bridge to the late innings— a role especially important on a team whose rotation struggled to go deep into games in 2016. Prediction: 2-4 / 3.60 ERA / 60 K / 18 BB / 1 SV / 0.7 WAR

October 2017: Looking at Ramos’ season line doesn’t tell the story of his second half, in which he’s earned a 2.70 ERA and batters tallied a .257 wOBA against him. The first half was rockier than expected, but he nonetheless ends the season exactly where he was expected to: as a likely piece of the pen going forward. Results: 2-7 / 4.21 ERA / 75 K / 28 BB / 0 SV / 0.5 WAR

– Daniel Walsh

Adam Morgan

March 2017: Morgan’s best shot to have significant playing time in the big leagues –  barring significant injuries to the starting rotation – is as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen. Prediction: 1-2 / 3.74 ERA / 19 K / 7 BB / 1 SV / 1.1 WAR

October 2017: Pretty much nailed the whole lefty specialist prediction. After a forgetful first half, Morgan was practically lights out coming out of the bullpen. Since August 1, he had just a 1.69 ERA and hitters batted just .168 against him. Results: 3-3 / 4.12 ERA / 63 K / 18 BB / 0.6 WAR

– Kirsten Swanson

GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

Jeanmar Gomez

March 2017: Gomez took the bull by the horn in mid-April and closed for the Phils most of the year, before a September implosion inflated his ERA to 4.85. Pete Mackanin said back in February that Gomez ‘deserves’ to close, but in reality, that shouldn’t happen. Gomez is best suited as a middle reliever, and a good one at that. Prediction: 3-3 / 3.32 ERA / 51 K / 19 BB / 4 SV / 1.1 WAR

October 2017: Anyone who follows baseball knows Gomez wouldn’t make it through another season as the closer through smoke and mirrors. What we didn’t know is how he completely bottomed out following his removal from the role. I expected Gomez to be a solid middle reliever, as he was in 2015. That clearly wasn’t the case, as the Phillies DFA’d the reliever on June 20. Results: 3-2 / 7.25 ERA / 21 K / 7 BB / -0.7 WAR

– Corey Sharp

Joaquin Benoit 

March 2017: At some point, Jeanmar Gomez is going to lose his closer job, a closer by committee will emerge and Hector Neris ultimately will win the job, but not before Benoit impresses. Just not as much as Neris. Prediction: 2-4 / 3.25 ERA / 80 K / 20 BB / 6 SV / 1.8 WAR

October 2017: Well, I kind of had the right idea. Benoit pitched himself right out of his closing opportunity, giving Neris the chance to grab the baton and run with it. Benoit was pretty much as advertised, with a bigger mouth than we expected. Results: 1-4 / 4.07 ERA / 43 K / 16 BB / 2 SV / 0.6 WAR

– Michael Sadowski

Pat Neshek

March 2017: Neshek was brought in over the offseason to help stabilize what was a very shaky bullpen in 2016. He’ll look to continue what has been a successful career, and if the Phils find themselves out of the race by July, he can be a valuable trade piece. Prediction: 2-3 / 2.98 ERA / 46 K / 12  BB / 1 SV / 0.8 WAR

October 2017: I hoped Neshek was going to help stabilize the bullpen but he was even better than imagined. He walked just five batters and gave up just five runs in 43 games, making him the lone Phils all-star and the first trade bait to go. Results: 3-2 / 1.12 ERA / 45 K / 5 BB / 2.1 WAR

– Kirsten Swanson

Joely Rodriguez

March 2017: Despite playing in high-A ball as recently as last season, Joely Rodriguez is a near lock for the major-league bullpen due to a lack of lefty relief depth in the organization. The 25-year-old allowed three earned runs and walked four in 9.2 innings with the Phillies last year, striking out seven. It’s difficult to project from a small body of work, but Rodriguez throws hard and could be utilized as a LOOGY some of the time, maximizing his platoon advantage. Prediction: 1-3 / 4.00 ERA / 40 K / 25 BB / 0 SV / 0.2 WAR

October 2017: Despite success in his brief time in the majors in 2016, Rodriguez was a big question mark in 2017, having been only a year removed from high-A ball. He wasn’t used predominantly against lefties, as expected, but in the end it wouldn’t have mattered: he performed horribly against batters from both sides of the plate and was ultimately dumped. Results: 1-2 / 6.33 ERA / 18 K / 15 BB / -0.1 WAR

ON THE FRINGE

Hoby Milner

March 2017: N/A

October 2017: Luckily the Phillies got him back from the Indians, because Milner was a solid LOOGY during his audition in 2017, though the walk rate is a tad high. He’ll definitely compete for a spot in the 2018 bullpen. Results: 0-0 / 2.01 ERA / 22 K / 16 BB / 0.6 WAR

– Tim Malcolm

Victor Arano

March 2017: I can’t say with any kind of certainty that Arano will be in Philadelphia this year. He shouldn’t be. But he just seems like he’s got something that will push him quickly through the system and challenge for the closer spot in 2018. Prediction: 0-2 / 4.10 ERA / 14 K / 2 BB / 1 SV / 0.7 WAR

October 2017: He won’t get that closer spot in 2018, but it’s been good to see Arano pitch pretty well in his late-season call-up. He’ll be part of the 2018 bullpen in some way. Results: 1-0 / 1.69 ERA / 13 K / 4 BB / 0 SV / 0.4 WAR

– Michael Sadowski

Ricardo Pinto

March 2017: The Phillies may be looking to transition Pinto into a relief pitcher this season to see if it helps him be more effective. He was a 7-6 with a 4.10 ERA in 156 innings in Reading last season.

October 2017: Pinto did transition into a relief pitcher, and while his ERA is abysmal due to a rough August, he did have a couple of solid months in July and September. His spring will depend on where he starts the 2018 season. Results: 1-2 / 7.89 ERA / 25 K / 17 BB / -0.3 WAR

– Kirsten Swanson

Jesen Therrien

March 2017: N/A

October 2017: Vaulting from Reading to Lehigh Valley to Philadelphia, Therrien found himself on the wrong end of some bad innings. He’s still young (24), so maybe there’s still room to grow. Results: 0-0 / 8.35 ERA / 10 K / 7 BB / -0.4 WAR

– Tim Malcolm

Yacksel Rios

March 2017: N/A

October 2017: Like Therrien, Rios moved quickly from Reading to Lehigh Valley to Philly, but unlike Therrien, Rios showed some superb strikeout stuff in his audition. He’s a dark horse to make the 2018 bullpen out of Clearwater. Results: 1-0 / 4.41 ERA / 17 K / 9 BB / 0.1 WAR

– Tim Malcolm

NEXT IN LINE

Alberto Tirado

March 2017: Tirado spent time as both a starter and a reliever in 2016, as was the case for him in 2014 and 2013. He throws hard enough that he’ll probably be compared to Ken Giles and Phillippe Aumont; whether those comparisons are meaningful remains to be seen. For now, he’s a thrower who struck out 102 batters in 64.2 innings across A and A+ ball last season, but he’ll have to graduate from thrower to pitcher at some point to repeat that success at higher levels.

October 2017: Tirado spent most of the season as a starter for the Clearwater Threshers, a level he had played at before, and was later used as a reliever in Reading. His walk rate remained high at both levels, and he didn’t strike out batters at the rate he had in years prior. Increased control remains vital to his future big league hopes.

– Daniel Walsh

>>> DEPTH ASSESSMENT >>>

March 2017: This isn’t last year’s grab-bag bullpen – it’s a better group, that’s for sure. Right now it’s nice that the Phils have an improved bullpen on paper, but the real test will be if any of the prospects (or a starter like Appel or Velasquez) can establish himself as an elite reliever. The real action will be in the minors this year.

October 2017: Once the dust settled on the veterans, the real action was in the minors, and I’d have to imagine that Milner, Arano, Pinto, Therrien and Rios will all be in the mix for at least one bullpen spot out of spring. I’m not sold on them, however, because I need slightly bigger samples here. That’s also why as much as I’d like to move Neris (he has value), the Phillies need a proven arm to stabilize that group. Him, Garcia and Morgan are the closest things to locks. One or two of those above youngsters should be there, too. We’ll see how Klentak works the rest of it – a more prominent acquisition may be in order this offseason.

– Tim Malcolm

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. denzen

    October 3, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    Never can quite figure pitching out. I think you all did a pretty good job. I know last year we were all pretty excited about Vinny from Philly, except he just can’t seem to stay healthy. This year Nick Pivetta has shown the same flashes, and stayed healthy. I am looking forward to see what he can do going forward.

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