By: Chris Larson
Up until yesterday evening, the Philadelphia Phillies were amid a 4-game winning streak and were rolling. The red hot Arizona Diamondbacks, who currently lead the NL with a 16-6 record, came rolling into town and stopped the Phillies momentum, but that does not take anything away from how successful the team has been thus far.
In fact, some could argue that the Phillies have surprised many of us to this point given that they sit 1 and 1/2 games back from first in the NL East with a 14-8 record, the fact that they have a 7-3 record over their last 10 games, and their +29 run differential, which ranks fifth in all of baseball. All of those things are terrific and what a job Gabe Kapler has done at redeeming himself since that awful first series to kick off the season against the Atlanta Braves.
Amid the Phillies success to this point, have been key guys like, Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery, both of whom make up the future core of the organization, but also the starting rotation which is now headlined by both Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola. During this past offseason as the free agent market continued to lagger, the Phillies saw an opportunity to jump and sign Arrieta, which they did, and thus far it is paying off huge dividends.
Arrieta gets the start for the Phillies tonight against the Arizona Diamondbacks, but to date, Arrieta has a 2.04 ERA over 17.2 IP with 16 strikeouts, a 3.11 FIP, and a 0.5 home runs-per-9 rate. All of that information is based off of three starts, but Jake Arrieta has performed much better has last two starts compared to when he made his Phillies debut. In fact, during his last outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Arrieta tossed 7 strong innings of shutout baseball with 1 hit, 2 walks, and 10 strikeouts. Tonight's start against a strong offensive Arizona Diamondbacks team will be a test, but based on Arrieta's track record, you like the Phillies odds in the matchup and it will be a terrific game regardless.
Turning things over to Aaron Nola, he has also experienced tremendous success so far this season. Through 5 starts, Nola has a 2.30 ERA over 31.1 IP with a .217 BABIP and a left on-base percentage of 80.9%. So far, Nola is throwing his fastball more often (34.8% this year compared to 27.9% of the time last year) and his sinker less often (25.4% of the time last year compared to 16.6% this season). In terms of velocity, Nola is still sitting right where he should be based on his career totals with a low-90's fastball, mid-70's curveball, and low-80's changeup.
If you thought the greatness of the Phillies starting rotation stops there, you are incorrect. There are two other guys that need to be highlighted in this discussion as well: Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez. Behind Aaron Nola, Pivetta has thrown the most innings (28.0) and has a 2.57 ERA over that span with a 1.1 WAR and a strikeouts-per-9 rate of 9.00. As a prospect, Pivetta always received high marks for his fastball and changeup which is also the case at the major league level. Through the past two seasons, here is Pivetta's pitch type chart:
Furthermore, Vince Velasquez is one of those starting pitchers with an unimpressive ERA (4.50 over 26.0 IP), but a tremendous strikeouts-per-9 rate of 10.38 over that span. Velasquez has 7 walks through the 5 games that he has started, which is a bit high, but comparable to someone like Robbie Ray of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Ray has always been known as a strike thrower and had over 200 strikeouts in 2016 as well as last year which could very well be the same situation for Velasquez over an entire season. For instance, during the 2016 season, when Velasquez last threw over 100 innings (131 to be exact), he had a walks-per-9 rate of 3.1 and a strikeouts-per-9 rate of 10.4. In comparison, during 2016, Robbie Ray tossed 174.1 innings, had a walks-per-9 rate of 3.7, and a strikeouts-per-9 rate of 11.3. Granted the sample size for both is different, but you get the gist of it.
From a league wide perspective, the Phillies currently have the 6th best starting rotation ERA (3.18) over 124.1 IP. Over that span, Philadelphia has given up the 5th fewest earned runs in the league (44), are tied with the Angels for 9th in strikeouts (119), and have a .240 Opponent Batting Average Against, good enough for 15th place in the league.
No matter how you slice it, it's still early in the season, but the results that the Philadelphia Phillies have put up so far have been impressive and something that they deserve a lot of credit for especially after the way they started. As they say, pitching wins championships and if the Phillies continue to perform at this level, who knows what they're capable of.