The Phillies’ upcoming season will be the most fun in a long time. With a great variety of building blocks and veterans, the Phils have a very legitimate shot at making the playoffs (and this is before Manny Machado and Bryce Harper sign), and CBP should be packed every game. With that said, the Phillies have a lot of “iffy” players. These are players who are in between “building blocks” and “bandaids” (short term players). The two that have to have the biggest season in order to prove they are building blocks? Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez.
The Phillies’ rotation is the biggest question mark right now. With Patrick Corbin, Charlie Morton, and J.A. Happ all off the market, there is not a direct and clear way for the Phillies to improve their rotation. As of right now, it seems the Phillies rotation will consist of Aaron Nola, Jake Arietta, Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, and Zach Eflin (although I would rather see Jerrad Eickhoff in there). If the Phillies want to make the playoffs, those two need to have a big role.
Let’s first talk about Vince Velasquez. Vinny was the centerpiece in the Ken Giles trade, one that looks better by the day. Velasquez has shown lots of flashes, throwing shutouts and flirting with multiple no-hitters. His main problem is allowing home runs. Last year was a huge improvement from his 2018 campaign, lowering his HR/9 rate from 1.9 to 1.0. His fastball is undoubtedly his best pitch, and his next big step is introducing a 2nd and 3rd pitch that can be used to compliment his flame-throwing four-seamer.
Velasquez has consistently been hard on himself. On multiple occasions Velasquez was seemed visibly upset when Kapler pulled him from the mound. He is a smart guy and knows his time as a starter is running out, so he knows he needs to take advantage of his opportunities. His other big weakness is durability, as he has dealt with injuries – not to mention how he needs to stay in games longer. If he continues to struggle with staying in games, he will most likely be moved to the bullpen.
Now, let’s talk about the most intriguing Phillie on the roster: Nick Pivetta.
Pivetta was great in the first few months of the season, but then his production fell off a cliff. Pivetta brought a 3.48 ERA into June 1st, but ended up with a disappointing ERA of 4.77.
Pivetta’s stuff, at times, looks un-hittable. He has a quick fastball and when his curveball is on point, he looks like a future stud. I am one of the many Phillies Twitter members who is officially on the “Nick Pivetta breakout 2019” bandwagon. When I see Pivetta, I see a lot of similarities between him and Velasquez. Both have a dominant fastball and improving curveball, but need to develop a 3rd pitch to keep hitters on edge.
Another similarity to Velasquez is the improvement in HR/9 ratio. In 2017, he had a 1.7 HR/9, while in 2018 he lowered it to 1.3. To put that into perspective, Aaron Nola had a 0.7 HR/9 ratio for the 2018 season.
With all this said, I expect both pitchers to have quality seasons. For Velasquez, I would be happy with a 3.85 ERA and around a 0.85 HR/9 ratio. For Pivetta, I have higher expectations: 3.25 ERA and a 0.7 HR/9 ratio.
Believe me when I say this: if Pivetta and Velasquez take steps forward in 2019, your Philadelphia Phillies will be in the playoffs in October.
All stats according to https://www.baseball-reference.com/
Report by Jack Margolin