|Zach Eflin hopes to be long term member of Phils rotation|
Fingers have mostly been pointed at an offense that is now 12th of the 15 National League clubs in both OPS and Runs scored.
There have also been numerous critics of the constant lineup and positional juggling by rookie manager Gabe Kapler, including from yours truly.
One area where the Phillies have generally received solid performances on a consistent basis has been the front of their starting pitching rotation.
Aaron Nola has broken out to legitimate ace status. He is currently 8-2 with a 2.27 ERA, a minuscule 0.934 WHIP, and a fantastic 90/22 K:BB ratio. He has yielded just 63 hits over 91 innings across 14 starts.
Having turned just 25 years old earlier this month and not eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season, Nola should be counted on as a key cog moving forward.
Veteran free agent signee Jake Arrieta has been less consistent than Nola, but has still been generally effective. Even after a poor outing last night, the 32-year old is 5-5 with a 3.33 ERA, and has allowed fewer hits than innings pitched. He'll be fine.
It is the back end of that Phillies starting rotation the brings the most open questions. Is Vince Velasquez actually a starting pitcher long term, and not better utilized out of the bullpen?
Are either or both of Nick Pivetta and Zach Eflin starting pitchers who can be counted on for the long term as the Phillies build toward true contention?
Velasquez, who came to the Phillies as part of the Ken Giles trade with Houston, is the most interesting. He clearly has dominating stuff at times, as he demonstrated in his most recent outing on Thursday afternoon when he surrendered just one hit to the Colorado Rockies over 6.2 innings.
But the problem with Velasquez, who turned 26 years of age earlier this month, has never been pure stuff. He has shown that kind of dominance before.
The problem is that the talented right-hander never carries it forward with any consistency, usually following up a great game or two with another three or four less-than-satisfactory efforts.
Pivetta, who arrived from Washington in a trade for Jonathan Papelbon, is a 25-year old right-hander. He is just 4-6 this season with a slightly elevated 4.25 ERA.
However, Pivetta also has a strong 81/21 K:BB mark, and has surrendered just 68 hits over 72 innings across 14 starts.
Pivetta cannot be a free agent until after the 2021 season, so the Phillies theoretically have a long time to measure his results and his future role.
At 24 years of age, Eflin is the youngest of this mostly young group. He came to the Phillies as part of the Jimmy Rollins deal a few years back.
This season, Eflin is 3-2 with a 3.63 ERA and a 1.185 WHIP, both solid marks. He has a 40/10 K:BB ratio, and has allowed 37 hits over 39.2 innings pitched.
Eflin had a horrendous three-start stretch from mid-late May. Across those starts he was ripped for a dozen earned runs and 19 hits in 13.1 innings, losing two of the three. But aside from that he has performed well.
The only other pitcher to make a start for the 2018 Phillies was Ben Lively. The right-hander is currently battling back from an injury. While Lively is a nice pitcher who competes well many nights, I believe that he is a depth starter best suited to AAA and emergency fill-in status on a contender.
In examining the Phillies youthful rotation, it is clear that they have one answer: Nola. The other three young arms in Velasquez, Pivetta, and Eflin remain question marks.
The Phillies clearly need the veteran presence of Arrieta near the front of their rotation going forward. His contract is guaranteed through next season, after which he can opt out of a $20 million deal for the 2020 season.
However, the Phillies can void that opt-out by exercising $20 million team options for the 2021 and 2022 seasons, when Arrieta would be 35 and 36 years of age.
My thinking, which I expressed recently as part of a piece on what I believe to be the misuse of young reliever Seranthony Dominguez, is that Velasquez should be moved to the bullpen. I feel that he could be a strong setup man, with Dominguez as the Closer.
I also feel that the Phillies need to go out and get another proven, veteran starting pitcher to slot into the #3 role in their rotation behind Nola and Arrieta.
There are a number of starting pitchers who fit the bill, and who could become available over the next month and a half leading up to the MLB non-waiver trade deadline
Frequently mentioned names include Chris Archer of Tampa Bay, Michael Fulmer of Detroit, Patrick Corbin of Arizona, and even our old friend Cole Hamels, still with the Texas Rangers. Even someone like Madison Bumgarner could become available if the San Francisco Giants should fade.
The Phillies are also one of the teams frequently mentioned as being suitors for one or the other (or both) of the biggest upcoming free agent bats. Manny Machado of Baltimore and Bryce Harper of Washington lead what will be robust free agent class in the coming off-season, and the Phillies are flush with cash.
Would the Phils pull the trigger to obtain Machado this summer? If so, what kind of prospect package would it take to land the Orioles shortstop, and how would paying that price affect their ability to go after a starting pitcher?
Signing a proven veteran and shifting Velasquez to the pen would allow Pivetta and Eflin to slide back to the 4-5 slots in the Phillies rotation.
The Phillies do have other pitchers in their system who could still emerge as long term starting pitching options. Jake Thompson is still just 24 years of age. It's possible that the righty obtained as part of the Hamels deal with Texas could still put it together at some point.
In the minor leagues, the Phillies are flush with pitching talent. Righties Sixto Sanchez (19) and Adonis Medina (21) are their top prospects, but are each likely a couple years away.
22-year old righty Enyel De Los Santos has been lighting it up with the AAA Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. If the club isn't able to make any moves for a veteran, and there are injuries to the big league rotation at some point, he could find himself up with the Phillies this year.
Bringing in another veteran arm strengthens the Phillies rotation, both at the front and all the way though. Moving Velasquez to the pen strengthens the Phillies bullpen. That would be my plan if I were a member of the Phillies management team.
Hoping to remain in contention for now while planning to contend into the future, I expect that management team to be busy in the coming weeks. Their decisions regarding the pitchers mentioned here will have direct impact on the team's short and long term success.