Because of a youth-laden rotation, fans are expecting five healthy studs to eventually blossom into a postseason-caliber unit for the Philadelphia Phillies with Vince Velasquez at the front. But will the increased pressure affect them, or will the lack of a veteran presence stunt their growth? Of course, the offseason moves by general manager Matt Klentak will answer these questions.
The Winner’s Circle:
Sometimes, one extra is a spare you hopefully will never need, or it can be one too many under certain circumstances, especially when it involves people numerically.
When a franchise has success, the other 29 clubs take notice and some replicate the approach. Recently, for instance, Kansas City’s pen became the model for winning by shutting down the opposition in the final three innings, while Houston’s blueprint was a roster loaded with inexpensive, controllable youngsters for a wide-open window of playoff opportunities. But while the Cubs and Astros spent years rebuilding, the Phils did not patch their active 25 until hitting rock bottom. They traded Cole Hamels, Ken Giles and others to acquire talent including as-yet-eyeballed prospects: catcher Jorge Alfaro, outfielder Nick Williams and right-hander Ben Lively, which they added to shortstop J.P. Crawford, center fielder Roman Quinn and receiver Andrew Knapp.
According to Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com, president Andy MacPhail is a pitching guy and his six-word philosophy is one of his famous quotes.
“Buy the bats, grow the arms.”
Behind the front-office door, MacPhail and Klentak discuss possible outcomes regarding Jeremy Hellickson. Previously, their asking price at the trade deadline was, at least, a top-five organizational prospect. But as their conversation reveals, they could possibly receive a compensatory pick in the 2017 MLB Draft if Hellickson signs elsewhere after receiving an estimated QO (qualifying offer) of $16.7 million, which is more than double his current contract of $7 million. That stated, agent Scott Boras famously wants top dollar for his clients, is willing to wait, and knows Hellickson will be among the best starters in the free-agent pool.
Will a GM be willing to give up his first MLB Draft selection and pay Hellickson $30 million for three years? If so, it would mean an additional $13.3 million for two more campaigns and the fourth spot in a contender’s rotation. However, a two-season deal at $20 million would not be worth it for the hurler. But while some writers believe Hellickson should turn down the QO, the thinking here is other general managers will sign a pitcher for one summer without a Rule 4 pick attached and gravitate toward part of the $5.6 million remaining for Hellickson’s final two months of ’17. In other words, they’ll consider his 2011 award for rookie of the year, four so-so campaigns and his current season.
Even though Opening Day is months away, the competition for the game-one start is cloudy. Currently, questions exist regarding Aaron Nola‘s health and ability, while Velasquez struggles before his shutdown. But don’t forget, Hellickson will be the obvious choice if the Phils make him a qualifying offer, and he accepts it.
Six Arms and Five Balls:
Revitalizing his career, Hellickson has been relishing his role as the head of the five-man staff, and it appears the responsibility to lead by example has resulted in his best major league summer. But when the higher-ups consider the alternatives to Velasquez and Nola, those execs will make a QO to Hellickson. In other words, both sides will have risks: management’s gamble of $16.7 million and the pitcher’s crapshoot to miss out on a three-year contract or have a failed free-agency bid leading to a reduced agreement. Yes, re-signing has complications but one word adds more doubt to the equation. Boras.
Before he struggled due to mechanical issues, rushed his curveball, and strained his elbow during his final outing, Nola had been the expected starter to open 2017. Following, however, six consecutive poor outings, the right-hander had a scoreless two-hit performance for six innings after 16 days off. And, now, the only known is he’ll pitch one of first three contests next April if he’s healthy and effective in spring training.
When the curtain opens on ’17, Velasquez may fire the first pitch for the red pinstripes if he convinces the decision-makers he is ready. In other words, the flamethrower is a starter with 95-mph smoke and today’s GMs view these fireballers as future aces. So, will next spring show the thinking on Velasquez? Well, last March a starting slot was his to lose: The crossed-up signals between Klentak, manager Pete Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure had the competition between Velasquez and Adam Morgan ending the morning of Velasquez’s outing and the day before Morgan’s. They each had a final scheduled start and no clear winner prior to the announced decision.
In the fourth slot, Jerad Eickhoff again has secured the opportunity to pitch every fifth day. The broadcasting crew refer to him as a bulldog and the description is accurate: He is tenacious and fights his way through stressful frames. And while Nola and Velasquez have shown extended periods of excellence and/or flashes of brilliance, Eickhoff has been the most consistent member of the starting staff. Dependable and durable.
Barring Hellickson’s departure, a swap, ineffectiveness, a bad spring and/or an injury, the rotation has four arms not including Zach Eflin and Jake Thompson. Apparently, the reason Eflin was available was balky knees: He’s had this condition since he was 11 years old. But the grind and pressure of big league competition stopped him cold. And even though he was at the point of teams exploiting his weaknesses, he had three consecutive clunkers. Was it the three-hit shutout, a complete game in Pittsburgh, taking a toll of his knees just before those final three disasters? Or did the league catch up with him?
In the bullpen, McClure is cautioning Thompson not to rush his delivery. Relax, Jake. Keep the ball down. Yes, Thompson has struggled in his outings so far, but this pattern had also appeared in Double-A and Triple-A.
- 1. Texas Double-A: 6-6 with a 4.72 ERA for 87 2/3 frames.
- 2. Phillies Double-A: 5-1 with a 1.80 ERA for 45 innings.
- 1. Triple-A: 3-5 with a 4.23 ERA for 55 1/3 frames during April and May.
- 2. Triple-A: 8-0 with a 1.21 ERA for 74 1/3 innings during June and July.
- 1. NL: 1-3 with an 9.78 ERA for 19 1/3 frames.
In the above numbers, Thompson had difficulty until he figured things out. Then, he dominated and earned his promotion. But before he advanced to the next level, he headed each rotation. The stud.
On a baseball site, fans from his previous organizations reacted to Thompson’s promotion. All we got was Joakim Soria. He’s gone and Detroit needs young stars. Hamels is great and I love him. But? However, Thompson’s success was the result of changing from a four-seam fastball to a two-seam heater with sink at the urging of Phillies’ coaches.
In the current scheme of things, Thompson is the odd man out but Eflin could lose the bottom rung in March. And if the six hurlers are healthy and effective in camp, Klentak will have a good problem but one starter won’t be happy. However, it goes even deeper because Thompson’s route to the Show was an unusual one.
Thompson’s first four starts:
- Double-A for 2015: 2-2 with a 5.12 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP for 19 1/3 innings.
- Triple-A for 2016: 1-3 with a 6.16 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP for 19 frames.
- NL for 2016: 1-3 with a 9.78 ERA and a 1.81 WHIP for 19 1/3 innings.
To sum up, Thompson overcomes initial debacles with a vengeance and is probably one good start away from reversing his direction. In other words, the dominate Thompson will take the mound at some point next summer because he’s fighting for more than the fifth starter’s role. He’s a wild card.
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Storyline and Red Alert are not sabermetrics articles, 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.
Current statistics are through August 27.
- 5. MLB: 4 Gms., 19 1/3 Inn., 1-3, a 9.78 ERA, a 7.34 FIP, a 5.89 xFIP, a 5.91 SIERA, a -0.4 WAR and a 1.81 WHIP.
- 4. Triple-A: 11 Gms., 74 1/3 Inn., 8-0 and a 1.21 ERA.
- 3. Triple-A: 10 Gms., 55 1/3 Inn., 3-5 and a 4.23 ERA.
- 2. Double-A: 7 Gms., 45 Inn., 5-1 and a 1.80 ERA.
- 1. Double-A: 17 Gms., 87 2/3 Inn., 6-6 and a 4.72 ERA.
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