Phillies: Re-examining the Three Failing Amigos and a Friend

Although reports indicate a battle between Velasquez and Pivetta for the bottom rung, lefty Suarez could be a surprise candidate. Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images.
Although reports indicate a battle between Velasquez and Pivetta for the bottom rung, lefty Suarez could be a surprise candidate. Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images. /
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The Philadelphia Phillies have decided to fill the back end of their rotation with two pitchers from among three known quantities and a buddy of theirs.

The Philadelphia Phillies, about halfway through Spring Training competition, have not tipped their hand about their final starting rotation, and this is so despite deep concerns among their fans. Their Three Failing Amigos and a Friend, as they should be known now, have been competing for two spots in the rotation, and none of them has been particularly impressive.

Except in interviews.

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Vince “Vinny Velo” Velasquez has expressed interest, five years into his MLB career, in “the art of pitching,” as opposed to “throwing.”

Great. However, on the day Velasquez discussed that art, he threw 63 pitches to 14 batters, basically ruining for the moment his spring bid to nail down a starter’s job. Only 30 of those pitches were strikes.

As 14-year-old girls text sometimes, *Sigh*.

Or maybe that’s dated already.

“It is unclear exactly how the Phillies view the competition for the No. 5 starter role,” wrote MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki on Mar. 8. Well, really, who could argue with that? But before we consider that situation, should Zolecki have actually written “the nos. four and five starter roles”?

This is because one of Amigo Brotherhood, Zach Eflin, was thought to have the no. four spot sewn up, but hasn’t exactly lit the early practice world on fire, at least temporarily confirming Phillies fans’ fears that management had stupidly ignored starting pitching this past off-season.

In all, the four pitchers thought to be reaching for the last two starting slots on the Phillies have done this (after play Mar. 10):

·         Zach Eflin – 0-0 in 2 G, 2 GS; 7.36 ERA, 2.18 WHIP for 3.2 IP

·         Vince Velasquez – 0-1 in 3 G, 2 GS; 4.70 ERA, 1.57 WHIP for 7.2 IP

·         Nick Pivetta – 0-1 in 3 G, 3 GS; 8.22 ERA, 1.83 WHIP for 7.2 IP

·         Ranger Suarez – 1-1 in 3 G, 3 GS; 2.25 ERA, 1.38 WHIP for 8 IP.

In other words, all four of these starter-wannabes are doing about what they’ve done for their entire careers to date although Eflin has had a notably weak start.

Only Suarez’s WHIP figure is actually lower than his career number (1.429). Only Suarez’s ERA is acceptable at this point.

Yes, pitchers are “working on things” in Spring Training, and this is a small sample. Standing against those rationalizations for mediocre numbers are the minor leaguers they’re working against half the time.

OK, Suarez may maintain his pace or even improve, and one of the other three may genuinely separate himself from the other two competitors.

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But what happens if that doesn’t occur? What if the above numbers stay roughly the same, maybe even with sensibly expected, slight decreases in ERA as more innings are pitched in the two-plus weeks before Opening Day?

Do the Phillies look elsewhere, at pitchers released by other clubs? Do they look for a trade or two without giving up key minor-league pieces (Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard)? Or do they once again award starter roles to two marginal MLB talents?

And how would that decision be made?

Presumably, the Phillies analytics department is represented in Florida, and that means somebody will be able to tell manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Bryan Price which of the four pitchers above has the worst average launch angle surrendered, all their hard-hit ball rates, and so forth.

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However, don’t bet against this coming down to two eye tests for each of the Phillies four competitors – former catcher Girardi’s and Price’s. One can hope they see something in the next couple starts by a couple of them.