Questions about the Phillies Starting Rotation as Spring Training begins in Clearwater, Florida
Over the past month, the Philadelphia Phillies made some late pitching rotation moves ahead of Spring Training. They signed Matt Moore, Chase Anderson, and Ivan Nova to provide some competition for the four and five spots in the rotation. Moore and Anderson are on minor-league contracts and all indications suggest that the Phillies believe they will be part of the Opening Day pitching staff that includes Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin in the top three spots.
As Spring Training starts today, the other two spots are currently held by Spencer Howard and Vincent Velasquez. One of the main questions this Spring will be around the final two spots of the pitching rotation, and if the Phillies will actually opt for a six-man rotation instead of a traditional five man rotation.
Moore previously played in the MLB for the Tampa Bay Rays, San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers, and Detroit Tigers. Most recently, Moore has pitched in Japan for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and performed well.
Most notably, On November 24, 2020 in Game 3 of the 2020 Japan Series, Moore pitched seven no-hit innings with five strikeouts. He ended the season with a 2.65 ERA.
In his Major League Baseball experience, Moore was an All-Star in 2013, a season in which he went 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA over 27 starts and 150 1/3 innings. Moore last pitched in the MLB in 2019 with the Tigers, but suffered season-ending knee surgery early on in the season.
Anderson became a free agent this offseason after the Blue Jays declined his $9.5 million option for 2021, instead opting to buy him out for $500,000. Anderson really struggled in the shortened 2020 season posting a 7.22 ERA in just 33 innings.
Before his nightmare 2020 season, Anderson had been a productive pitcher in each of the previous six seasons with Milwaukee and Arizona. In every one of those six seasons he produced positive Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and pitched over 110 innings. His best season came in 2017 when he went 12-4 with a 2.74 ERA over 141 innings for the Brewers.
If Anderson is able to revert back to his mean in 2021, he could easily slide into the #4 rotation spot ahead of Spencer Howard, Vince Velasquez or the recently acquired Matt Moore.
Nova struggled in the shortened 2020 season posting an 8.53 ERA in 19 innings over four starts for the Detroit Tigers.
Prior to the 2020 season, Nova, like Moore and Anderson, found success and was a classing innings-eater during the latter half of his 11-year MLB career. Over the last four full seasons, after returning to the mound from Tommy John Surgery, he averaged 30 starts and 174 innings. He posted a 4.31 ERA which is slightly above average for an MLB starter at 4.39.
The Phillies top prospect 24-year old Spencer Howard had an underwhelming MLB debut last season. In six starts, he pitched just over 24 innings, allowing 30 hits, six home runs, and 16 earned runs. He finished the year on the injury list with an ERA of 5.92. Howard struck out 23 and walked 10. He struggled pitching deep into games and watched his fastball velocity plummet as the games went on. This year, Howard is finally healthy and had an offseason to prepare after a 2020 season that was anything but normal.
Howard has reached 100 innings only once in his pro career and it’s likely that the Phillies will be cautious building his workload after two straight seasons with injuries. Joe Girardi has already begun floating around the idea of using. a six-man rotation, which might be Howard’s only shot at making the big league club to start the season. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Phillies decide to send Howard to the minors where he can get a normal workload rather than throwing him in as the sixth pitcher or sliding him into the bullpen.
We are entering another Phillies baseball season where Vince Velasquez is currently fighting for a spot to make the Opening Day rotation. Velasquez will get a look in camp as a starter but could easily end up in the bullpen or traded. Velasquez has continuously struggled to pitch deep into ballgames, so the bullpen might make the most sense given the other pitchers fighting for a spot in the starting rotation. Having Velasquez as a long-inning reliever if a starting pitcher struggles might be the best option in 2021.
Of course, the best way to earn a spot in the starting rotation is to pitch well over the next six weeks down in Clearwater, Florida. If today was Opening Day, I would have to predict that the starting rotation would be Nola, Wheeler, Eflin, Moore, Anderson, with Velasquez in the bullpen, Howard starting the year off in the minor leagues, and Ivan Nova being the odd man out.