Phillies 2021 pitching review, plus options to add depth to the starting rotation
The lingering issues of the Phillies’ decade-long playoff drought have fallen on the backs of the pitching staff. Whether that’s injuries to the starting rotation, wasted free agent signings, or a shaky bullpen, the team has never had the rotation needed to be able to lead a team.
Major League Baseball is not a league where you can simply rely on offense to win ball games. The Phillies rotation was a rollercoaster ride, with several different pieces making starts and ultimately failing for the organization in 2021.
The Phillies have options out there, and they have guys that are currently in the organization that could really put this team in playoff contention but the right moves when the lockout ends will dictate how successful the pitching staff can be heading into 2022.
2021 Phillies Free Agent Failures
Matt Moore was signed by the Phillies in early February before last season and was an utter failure in his tenure with the Phillies. Moore was once a top prospect in all of MLB’s rankings and was at one point ranked ahead of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper in prospect ratings. Moore never found his footing with the Phillies last season, and couldn’t even hold a starting spot in the Phillies average early-season rotation.
Moore finished the year with a 2-4 record in 24 games, with a 6.29 ERA. He threw just 73 innings on the whole year, allowing 78 hits, 51 earned runs, and averaged under one strikeout per inning. Moore received a one-year, $3 million contract with the Phillies last February, and although cheap, was a complete waste of money, and a failure in the Phillies free-agent hunt.
Chase Anderson was another bust last year for the Phillies front office. Anderson was signed to a one-year, $4 million contract in the offseason, and threw just 14 games for the Phillies.
Joining the Phillies on $4 million contract as the fifth starter, there were no expectations for Chase Anderson, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that he wasn’t able to last the season.
Anderson didn’t have a horrible start with the Phillies and was giving the team some sort of “consistency” out of the 5th rotation spot for his first five starts. Anderson threw 21.2 innings in those first starts, allowing 13 runs and 21 hits, with a 2.6 run average per game.
The rest of his season is what really started his downfall. He finished the season with a 6.75 ERA, completely falling apart in the bullpen. His only season with the Phillies ended in just 48 innings, after being DFA’d by the team in late August.
2021 Starting Rotation Review
Zack Wheeler threw one of the best seasons in my lifetime by a Phillies pitcher. Wheeler finished his season with a 14-10 record, throwing just a 2.78 ERA in 213.1 innings pitched, a career-high for him. Wheeler tallied 247 strikeouts, 3 complete games, 2 shutouts, a SO/Walk ratio of 5.47, and a career-high 10.4 SO/9.
Wheeler proved to be the workhorse that the Phillies relied on throughout the season.
Zack Wheeler was voted a first-time all-star, finished 19th in MVP voting. He came up just short in the final voting for NL Cy Young. No doubt in my mind that Wheeler was robbed of winning the Cy Young Award, but for the Phillies, he solidified himself as the true ace of this baseball team and will look to continue that dominance in 2022.
Aaron Nola’s 2021 season was a whirlwind. He came into the season with high hopes for another successful year, finishing 2020 with a 3.28 ERA and a 7th place finish in Cy Young voting. Unfortunately, Nola could never find his consistency.
It seemed like every good game Nola pitched, a bad game immediately followed. His SO% dropped a whole four percent on his fastball, opponents hit a .691 OPS against him throughout 2021, and he recorded a WAR of just 2.3.
It’s safe to say the Phillies would have made the playoffs last season if Aaron Nola pitched the way we expected, but he could just never put it together.
Getting Aaron Nola back to his normal self is my biggest need for the 2022 season.
Eflin left the 2020 season with all the confidence in the world after pitching the best season of his career. He tallied a sub-4 ERA for the first time in his career and allowed just 5.4 hits per game in 2020. Eflin had a 10.7 SO/9 ratio in 2020 and it seemed like everything was finally coming together for the Phillies’ third arm.
So what happened?
Injuries. Zach Eflin’s lurking knee injury is what killed his 2021 season. When he was on the mound, he was a fairly successful arm for the team. Eflin finished the year with a 4-7 record in 18 starts, with 105.2 innings pitched, 99 strikeouts, and a WHIP of 1.249. He tallied a 2.1 WAR, which was the highest of his career.
Eflin was due for potentially a big contract this offseason, but after getting his second knee surgery in five years in September, his contract was tendered a contract to remain arbitration-eligible for the 2022 season.
Kyle Gibson was the biggest name acquired at the trade deadline this past season, and the move seemed like an impactful one at first. Gibson had a great start to the season in Texas, posting a 2.87 ERA in 19 games in 113 innings pitched.
But like many other players in recent history, Gibson came to Philly and struggled.
Kyle Gibson finished his 2021 season in Philly with a 5.09 ERA, surrendering 39 earned runs in 69 innings pitched. Compared to his ’21 season with the Rangers, it seemed like he just never could get comfortable in his role. His BA, OBP, SLG, and OPS against percentage all went up from Texas to Philly, but one bright spot was his strikeout percentage, which increased slightly.
Gibson is set to make $9.3M next season and will be a big piece of the back-end of the Phillies starting rotation in 2022.
Ranger Suarez was the biggest bright spot of the Phillies pitching staff throughout the 2021 season. It’s almost unheard of to see a player post a sub-1.5 ERA in over 100 innings pitched, and Suarez did just that. He was the “Swiss Army Knife” of the team this year, being used in the rotation and the bullpen.
Suarez tallied just 16 earned runs allowed in 106 innings pitched, recorded 107 strikeouts, a WHIP of 1.00, a 9.1 SO9 ratio, and 3.24 strikeouts per walk. His strikeout percentage was the highest of his career, sitting at 25.6%. He tallied a 58.2 ground ball percentage and finished the season with a 5.6 WAR.
Suarez proved that he is here to stay for the future, and could potentially sneak his way up to the fourth or even third spot in the rotation, if Eflin isn’t ready to go by Opening Day.
Heading into 2022, a rotation with Wheeler, Nola, Eflin, Gibson, and Suarez is promising, but the Phillies will likely need to add some depth, with Eflin coming off knee surgery.
Minor League Options
Hans Crouse is the first of three names that could potentially see some time in the pitching rotation this upcoming season from the minors. Crouse was acquired at the deadline with Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy and impressed in his time in the Phillies minor league system.
Crouse tallied a 3.28 ERA in 2021 throughout the minors in 20 games, pitching 85 innings and allowing 31 earned runs. He pitched two games in the majors for the Phillies towards the end of the year, throwing an ERA of 5.14 in two starts, giving up four hits and four earned runs.
Crouse pitched well in the Arizona Fall League also, posing a 13.5 SO/9 ratio in 16 innings pitched. He seems like a guy that will be floating up and down throughout the season but will be an arm that can be thrown into the rotation if COVID or injuries find their way to the Phillies’ major league rotation.
Cristian Hernandez impressed everyone who saw him throughout the 2021 season, posing a 3.95 ERA in 15 games started (18 total) with Clearwater. He tallied over 70 innings, 86 strikeouts, a WHIP of 1.288, and an 11.0 SO9 ratio.
Hernandez is a left-hander that saw two games in the pros throughout his career, both coming last season. He pitched a 1.80 ERA in those two starts with the Phillies last season, tallying 5 total innings, allowing just two hits while being used as an opener.
Hernandez will be seeing more time in the majors next season compared to last, but will be another insurance guy that will spend more of his time in the minors in 2022.
Bailey Falter is an arm that you might know as a reliever but is truly a starter at heart. He posted a 1.76 ERA with Lehigh Valley in 2021, starting six of his eight games pitched. Falter was up with the team for a good portion of the year, used as a reliever for just about every game pitched.
His major league campaign in 2021 was a bit of a shaky one, but mainly because he was used in a different role. Falter finished with a 5.61 ERA in 22 MLB games, starting just one of them. He threw 33.2 innings in the majors last season, allowing 34 hits, 21 HRs, and struck out 34 batters.
Falter can be a good pitcher for the future, but the team needs to use him right, and right now, throwing him into the bullpen here and there isn’t the right way to do that.
If the Phillies aren’t confident in their minor league system, which certainly might be the case, they could look at some low-cost free agent options to provide pitching depth heading into 2022.
Low-Cost Free Agent Options
Johnny Cueto has always been a name that has intrigued me as a back-end starter towards the end of his career. He’s coming off a 22 game season with the San Francisco Giants, where he tallied a 4.08 ERA in 114.2 innings pitched. He has always been a guy that can eat innings in the seasons he’s healthy, having over 8 seasons of 150+ innings throughout his career and would be a great end of the rotation arm at a fairly cheap price.
Danny Duffy is another guy that I feel could be a low-cost, high reward look for the Phillies for the 2022 season. Coming off one of the best seasons of his career, the 11-year veteran has hit free agency. Duffy posted a 2.51 ERA this past season, allowing just 17 earned runs in 60+ innings. Duffy posted a 9.6 SO/9 ratio, a 2.1 WAR, and a strikeout percentage of 25.8%.
Keep Danny Duffy in the back of your head for a pitching possibility for Dave Dombrowski in 2022.
The Phillies have options for 2022. They have guys in the system that they can rely on, and they already have a solid core of Wheeler/Nola/Eflin/Suarez. Go out and get one or two cheap arms, and this starting rotation can be a bright spot for the team in the 2022 season.