Philadelphia Phillies: Rotation Puzzle Unpacked

Philadelphia Phillies

Hellickson Will Probably Be Wearing Another Uniform in August. Photo by Bill Streicher – USA TODAY Sports.

Realizing the reasons for adding an experienced starter is important to understanding the thinking of general manager Matt Klentak of the Philadelphia Phillies for 2017 and beyond.

On Your Starting Mark:  

Once the competition begins, victory is only a respite before the next challenge on the horizon.

Whittling down the situation to a manageable size is the best way to separate reality from misperception. And ruling out financial commitment is the first cut: Jeremy Hellickson at $17.2 million and Clay Buchholz at $13.5 million for a total of $30.7 million. In other words, barring dreadful performances or a lengthy disabled list stint, Klentak has two veterans atop the rotation like last April. What will they share? The pressure. Meanwhile, Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez will gain the necessary experience to inherit those roles in August.


“I had to will my way through that game. Sometimes, it takes more than talent or more than a 95-mile-an-hour fastball. You have to will it.” – Roger W. Clemens

Prior to the trading deadline last July, Klentak began negotiating with the Boston Red Sox regarding Buchholz; the GM told Dave Dombrowski, president of baseball operations, that the Phillies would absorb the entire contract. But Dombrowski also insisted on a quality MiLB player, which Klentak rejected. So, the calls continued into the offseason because the Phils refused to part with any valuable minor leaguer and informed Boston their only interest was a salary dump. Finally, when Dombrowski and Klentak agreed, the reason was that the Red Sox had uncertainty regarding any forthcoming offers for the hurler.

While baseball like other entertainment industries is a fantastic escape for fans, this business isn’t a romanticized adventure. Franchises don’t owe anyone an opportunity and players are under no illusions. In fact, while management points out their expectations to the youngsters, they also provide direction for improvement.

When Players Join a New Team, They Relish Having an Excellent First Season, and Fans Would Welcome That from Buchholz. Photo by Tommy Gilligan – USA TODAY Sports.

Even though stretch-drive deals happen in July, the new CBA (collective bargaining agreement) has changed the compensation for signed free agents who turned down a QO (qualifying offer). In other words, the Philadelphia Phillies will receive much less for Buchholz and no draft pick for Hellickson, which means moving them before August.

With the possible availability of two rotation slots in the second half, hurlers know their performance will decide promotions. Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, Alec Asher, Ben Lively, Mark Appel, Adam Morgan and Nick Pivetta will begin the MiLB season on even footing, like teams on Opening Day. However, some have earned more consideration after their time in the majors: They will only have the advantage in a tie.


  • Buchholz’s last starts: 7 Gms., 34 1/3 Inn., 2-1 and a 2.36 ERA after his first start back in the rotation.
  • Eflin: 7 Gms., 47 2/3 Inn., 3-2 and a 2.08 ERA after his first MLB start and before his three injury-related outings.
  • Thompson’s last outings: 6 Gms., 34 1/3 Inn., 2-3 and a 3.41 ERA.
  • Asher: 5 Gms., 27 2/3 Inn., 2-1 and a 2.28 ERA.
  • Morgan’s second stint: 8 Gms., 42 Inn., 1-3 with a 3.86 ERA before his last appearance.

Triple-A Highlights:

  • Appel: 4 Gms., 22 Inn., 3-0 and a 1.64 ERA before his injury-related appearances.
  • Piveta: 5 Gms., 24 2/3 Inn., 1-2 and a 2.55 ERA.

Eflin Signals He’ll Be Back. Photo by Eric Hartline – USA TODAY Sports.


“Team speed for Christ’s sake. You got bleeping’ bleep bleep little fleas on the bleeping’ bases getting picked off, trying to steal, getting thrown out, taking runs away from you. You get some big bleep bleepers that can hit the bleeping ball out of ballpark and you can’t make any bleep bleeping mistakes.” – Earl S. Weaver   

Before camp even begins, pitching coach Bob McClure and skipper Pete Mackanin discuss their expectations for March and April. Mackanin expresses optimism regarding Eflin after the starter worked through pain last year and had success despite his problematic knees. But McClure vocalizes that time with the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs will allow Eflin to reestablish himself with reduced pressure. But who will get the call-up early on if the five-man staff has an unexpected opening? Eflin.

On the other hand, if no needs arise on the parent club during the first three months, past performance will only be a tiebreaker. Translation: All seven arms are in the mix if the ability and results are there. Starters, rock your windup!

Fans Haven’t Seen the Last of Thompson. Photo by Anthony Gruppuso – USA TODAY Sports.

The Numerical Bible:

This review is not a sabermetrics article, which means no heavy statistical analysis. But because some readers rely on stats, this is only a reference: no reason to articulate the importance of these numbers.

These numbers do not include any postseason activity. * He had 21 starts.


  • Hellickson, 29.5: 23 Gms., 189 Inn., 12-10, a 3.71 ERA, a 3.98 FIP, a 3.99 xFIP, a 4.15 SIERA, a 3.2 fWAR and a 1.15 WHIP.
  • *Buchholz, 32.5: 37 Gms., 139 1/3 Inn., 8-10, a 4.78 ERA, a 5.06 FIP, a 5.32 xFIP, a 5.09 SIERA, a 0.5 fWAR and a 1.33 WHIP.
  • Eickhoff, 26.5: 33 Gms., 197 1/3 Inn., 11-14, a 3.65 ERA, a 4.19 FIP, a 4.15 xFIP, a 4.05 SIERA, a 2.9 fWAR and a 1.16 WHIP.
  • Nola, 23.5: 20 Gms., 111 Inn., 6-9, a 4.78 ERA, a 3.08 FIP, a 3.08 xFIP, a 3.29 SIERA, a 2.8 fWAR and a 1.31 WHIP.
  • Velasquez, 24.5: 24 Gms., 131 Inn., 8-6, a 4.12 ERA, a 3.96 FIP, a 3.67 xFIP, a 3.62 SIERA, a 2.2 fWAR and a 1.33 WHIP.
  • Eflin, 22.5: 11 Gms., 63 1/3 Inn., 3-5, a 5.54 ERA, a 5.48 FIP, a 5.36 xFIP, a 5.41 SIERA, a 0.1 fWAR and a 1.33 WHIP.
  • Thompson, almost 23: 10 Gms., 53 2/3 Inn., 3-6, a 5.70 ERA, a 6.17 FIP, a 5.64 xFIP, a 5.68 SIERA, a -0.4 fWAR and a 1.51 WHIP.
  • Asher, 25: 5 Gms., 27 2/3 Inn., 2-1, a 2.28 ERA, a 3.33 FIP, a 5.08 xFIP, a 5.12 SIERA, a 0.6 fWAR and a 0.94 WHIP.
  • *Morgan, almost 27: 23 Gms., 113 1/3 Inn., 2-11, a 6.04 ERA, a 4.98 FIP, a 4.42 xFIP, a 4.33 SIERA, a 0.6 WAR and a 1.50 WHIP.

Triple-A Pitching:

  • Lively, almost 25: 19 Gms., 117 2/3 Inn., 11-5, a 3.06 ERA, a 3.51 FIP and a 0.93 WHIP.
  • Appel, 25.5: 8 Gms., 38 1/3 Inn., 3-3, a 4.46 ERA, a 4.06 FIP and a 1.57 WHIP.
  • Piveta, 25: 5 Gms., 24 2/3 Inn., 1-2, a 2.55 ERA, a 3.49 FIP and a 1.22 WHIP.

Double-A Pitching:

  • Piveta, 25: 22 Gms., 124 Inn., 11-6, a 3.41 ERA, a 3.75 FIP and a 1.20 WHIP.

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