Phillies Pitchers Will Need To Stay Grounded in 2017

Jul 21, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola (27) throws a pitch during the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 21, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola (27) throws a pitch during the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2017 Phillies pitchers will need to rely on pitching to contact for more ground balls in order to be successful.

Let’s get right to it because Phillies Opening Day is upon us!

Starters: Huge spotlight on Aaron Nola. We all had visions of Greg Maddux 2.0 due to Nola’s perplexing pitch movement and pinpoint control in 2015. However, elbow issues in 2016 landed him on the shelf and reminded us all that this isn’t Playstation. His Spring was more about locking down location while remaining pain free. Set the stats aside and call this an obvious wait-and-see.

Vince Velasquez looked dominant this Spring holding batters to a .171 batting average while cracking a 1.07 WHIP. He also K-0’d 25 in 19 innings. While strikeouts are great an’ all, he needs to be pitch count efficient by throwing a little more to contact. You all remember Velasquez had to be shut down in early September last year. Hopefully, the fierce competitor in Velasquez will learn to acquiesce to the demands of the marathon that is the MLB season. Less K’s, more ground balls because strikeouts are fascist.

Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz each had similar Spring sessions refining their regular season repertoire. Sure, maybe a little too often their pitches were up in the zone and as a result, were tagged more than we’d like to see. However, I chalk it up to both merely establishing a rhythm as seasoned veterans preparing to start their engines. The same was seen with Jerad Eickhoff as he enters his second full season in the majors.

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Jeremy Hellickson was a solid pitcher on a very young and Ace-less Phillies staff in 2016. He registered a 12-10 record, a 3.71 ERA, 145 strikeouts against 45 walks and respectable 1.150 WHIP. This made him a highly sought-after asset at the trade deadline targeted as any contender’s number three starter.

Phillies GM Matt Klentak stood his ground and was wise to raise the premium on the return for Hellickson. His veteran presence would be necessary as several young arms would audition for the Phillies in 2016. However, I’d be surprised if Jeremy Hellickson does not fill out a change of address form in 2017.

Buchholz would like to forget about the first half of 2016 and focus on what he delivered in the latter portion of his campaign. The Phillies are looking at this the same way and see his performance last year as a tale of two seasons. Batters blasted 17 HR with a .273 BaBIP against Buchholz through the first 309 ABs of the season.

He was able to drop that to only four bombs and a .253 BaBIP in their remaining 211 trips to the plate. Opposing hitters who were reaching base at a .348 clip reduced drastically to a .289 OBP the rest of the way. His WHIP was also a clear indicator of how two-faced his season split was falling from 1.488 to 1.108.

Jerad Eickhoff was easily the best of the young Phillies hopefuls to toe the rubber in 2016. Forget about his win/loss of 11-14, as it was not an accurate indicator of his performance. Eickhoff fanned 167 against 42 walks with a 3.65 ERA and a 1.160 WHIP in his first full MLB season.

Plenty to be pleased with here as he looks to be a perennial workhorse in 2017 and beyond. If he can deliver and even improve upon numbers like this as a number two or three starter, the phuture will look bright in Philadelphia over the next few seasons.

Relief: Veteran acquisitions Pat Nesheck (36) and Joaquin Benoit (39) will stabilize the remaining relievers who sport an average age of 26 years old. Rounding out the relief corps are Edubray Ramos, Joely Rodriguez (L), Adam Morgan (L), Hector Neris and closer Jeanmar Gomez. Nesheck and Benoit will be expected to be vocal out in the bullpen which struggled in 2016.

Prescription: Keep the ball down, the walks to a minimum and the egos in check. Citizens Bank Park is not at all a pitcher’s playground. Pitch location will need to be near precise to keep the ball on the ground. The team is thin on power arms, so they will need to be crafty on the hill.

Prediction: The Phillies pitching staff is still a little too green and will endure their fair share of lumps along the way. Hellickson, Buchholz, Benoit or Jeanmar Gomez may generate some trade interest mid-season. This will leave the door open down in Lehigh for starters Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin, as well as for reliever Luis Garcia, should he be able to perfect his splitter.

Vince Velasquez could be a star, but his attitude needs to listen to his inner Bhodi. With less of this and more of this, he could have a chance for an early breakout season as a sophomore.

Aaron Nola will merit plenty of microscopic attention with every pitch he throws early on. From what we know, he’s fairly unflappable and will handle it like a champ. He’s pain free and his velocity was up this Spring. There’s no reason he can’t rebound from a disappointing season last year. If he does, look for Nola to be painting the corners.

The bullpen will face plenty of challenges. The Phillies bullpen finished 13th out of 15 NL teams in relief with a 5.05 ERA in 2016. In order to improve upon this, inducing ground balls will once again be the key to keeping things kosher. There’s not an power arm among them with the switch to turn the lights out, so the defense must be ready.

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Catchers Cameron Rupp and Andrew Knapp each have capable arms to keep baserunners at bay. The infield defense is now a year older with shortstop and Gold Glove candidate Freddy Galvis as the anchor. With this defense behind them, the ‘pen should be confident to pitch to contact, but not this kind of contact.