Wheeler “a little behind” for Opening Day with shoulder soreness, and more on the Phillies starting rotation
Back in February, Baseball Prospectus released their annual PECOTA rankings for Major League Baseball’s starting rotations, ranking the Philadelphia Phillies rotation as one of the best in the league.
For those unfamiliar, Baseball Prospectus runs a massive simulation that is regarded as one of the most accurate predictors in the industry, and the rankings turned a lot of heads given the fact the Phillies were ranked so high. The PECOTA rankings projected that the combination of Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, Ranger Suarez, and Kyle Gibson would be worth 2.0 WARP per starter.
Only the New York Mets starters had a higher average (2.4) in the National League East and both were among the leagues best.
Here were the projections:
- Zach Wheeler 183.2 IP – 3.00 ERA
- Aaron Nola for 166 IP-2.89 ERA
- Ranger Suarez 132 IP-3.46 ERA
- Zach Eflin 106.1 IP-3.57 ERA
- Kyle Gibson 151.1 IP-4.46 ERA
Regardless of how much faith you put into analytics, it’s not hard to see that the Phillies starting rotation would be one of the stronger parts of the team heading into the 2022 season. That of course, all depends on the health of the rotation.
Zach Eflin returning from surgery. a bounce back season from Aaron Nola, and Ranger Suarez picking up where he left off last season could be the boost the Phillies need to end the leagues longest playoff drought.
Yesterday, we heard from Dave Dombrowski in Clearwater, who provided some updates on the rotation and how things were shaping up with Spring Training starting on Friday and Opening Day less than a month away on April 7th. Here’s where we currently stand.
Phillies Starting Rotation
Zack Wheeler led Major League Baseball in innings last season and finished second on NL Cy Young voting. He had one of the best seasons from a Phillies pitcher in recent memory during the 2021 season.
Wheeler finished with a 14-10 record and a 2.78 ERA over 213.1 innings pitched. He struck out 247 batters, tallying a 1.01 WHIP and a 10.4 SO/9 ratio. With Aaron Nola struggling last season, Wheeler was the backbone of the Phillies pitching staff, cementing himself as the true ace in the starting rotation.
Wheeler was dealing with shoulder soreness when he started throwing again back in December. As a cautionary measure, he shut down his typical offseason routine and ultimately, that has put him behind schedule for Opening Day.
Wheeler has yet to throw off a bullpen mound but reportedly could do so as early as Monday.
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.
Aaron Nola’s down-year was a big reason that the Phillies missed the playoffs. A healthy Aaron Nola, paired up with Zack Wheeler is a scary 1-2 punch.
With Wheeler’s return potentially delayed, expect Nola to be the team’s Opening Day starter.
A lurking knee injury is killed Zach Eflin’s 2021 season. 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 shut down in September and had surgery shortly after. At the time, it was said that he wouldn’t make the start of the season and that his return could be pushed back to late April, or even May. After the Dombrowski/Girardi press conference this morning, it seems like Eflin could potentially come back earlier than expected.
Dave Dombrowski said Zach Eflin has been throwing off of a mound and could be ready to start the season.
Ranger Suarez was a 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 while serving as a “Swiss Army Knife” for the Phillies, appearing in both the starting rotation and 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.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like Ranger Suarez will be ready for Opening Day, but the good news is that his absense is not injury related. Suarez will be arriving in Clearwater late, due to a delay in obtaining his work visa. Obtaining a visa is a common difficulty for major leaguers, and this year’s 99-day lockout made it even harder.
Once Suarez is ready to go and with the team, he’s ready to return to his 2021 self and dominate. But the question is, how long will it take for him to be ready?
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.
However the free-agent pitching woes for the Phillies continued, as Gibson struggled once he got to Philadelphia.
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 this upcoming season and will be a key piece to the back-end of the Phillies rotation.
Again, if the Phillies can get a healthy starting rotation heading into the 2022 season, it’s expected to be a strong unit. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. When asked about other pitching options yesterday, Dombrowski stated that he was confident in a few players that are already in the Phillies organization to step up while the rest of the rotation ramps up pitching to get ready for the season.
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.
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. Crouse won’t be up with the team on Opening Day but can be a guy you can call up if in desperate need of an arm.
A few other names to keep an eye on would be Cristopher Sánchez, Nick Nelson, Francisco Morales, James McArthur and Scott Moss. These guys will likely start in the minors but some names you might see on the major league level if the MLB expands active rosters given the shortened Spring Training and preparation for the 2022 season.