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The Phillies’ Optimal Rotation

Ranger Suarez, key member of the Phillies' optimal rotation

After taking a trip down the lineup card, we now turn our attention to what would make up the Phillies’ optimal rotation. Entering the 2023 season with a perennial Cy Young contender, one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball, and a pitcher that had his breakout season in 2022, just how should they be ordered? Add to that a veteran with a career ERA+ of 105, and a 19-year-old that is quickly on the rise, and you have yourself a solid if not spectacular pitching rotation.  Let’s dive a little deeper into each of the options and determine just what the Phillies’ optimal rotation would look like.

The Phillies’ Optimal Rotation

The Ace

The Philadelphia Phillies should enter the 2023 season with the same man that has been fronting their rotation since 2020, Zack Wheeler. Wheeler will be turning 33 in May but has shown no signs of slowing down of late. He did miss a month’s worth of starts due to injury in 2022, but he still pitched to an ERA of 2.82 over 26 starts and 153 innings. In his three seasons with the Phillies, he has made 69 starts, pitched 437.1 innings, and carries a 2.82 ERA in that time to go along with a 149 ERA+. Wheeler has found his groove while donning the red pinstripes, and until he has shown otherwise, he is the clear candidate to be the ace in the Phillies’ optimal rotation.

Number Two

This is the only man currently in the rotation to give Wheeler a run for his money, Aaron Nola. Nola has been the workhorse of the Philadelphia Phillies since his debut on July 21st, 2015. In his eight years in the Majors, he has made 30+ starts four times and pitched 200+ innings three times. He carries a career ERA of 3.60, but a career FIP of 3.28 as he has pitched in front of some mediocre defenses in his career.

In 2022, Nola pitched 205 innings across 32 starts and carried a 3.25 ERA with 235 strikeouts, a 2.58 FIP, and a 125 ERA+. He also led the National League in BB/9 with 1.3 and led baseball in K/BB with 8.1. 2022 was the second time in Nola’s career that he has finished top-5 in Cy Young voting, and with 2023 being his contract year, expect big things from him in the two hole of the Phillies’ optimal rotation.

Number Three In The Phillies’ Optimal Rotation

We now move from a man that has shown his worth throughout his career, to a man that finally got that opportunity in 2022 and proved that he belongs, Ranger Suarez. The lefty of the rotation, Suarez has spent the majority of his career as a swingman or long-relief option. That changed in 2022 when for the first time in his career, all of his appearances for the season were starting appearances. Suarez made 29 starts and pitched to a 3.65 ERA across 155.1 innings. He is a groundball pitcher, and the addition of Trea Turner, which subsequently moves Bryson Stott to second base, will pay dividends for him in 2023.

Suarez had his coming out party in the 2022 postseason where he made five appearances and carried a 1.23 ERA across 14.2 innings. That also includes two appearances against the World Series Champion Houston Astros, in which he pitched 5.2 innings, allowing no runs on four hits and one walk while striking out five. If Ranger can come anywhere close to the levels he pitched at in the postseason, the Phillies will have the best top-3 of the rotation in all of baseball, hands down.

Number Four

Taijuan Walker will be donning the red pinstripes for the first time in 2023 after signing with the Phillies in free agency this off-season. Now on his fifth team in what will be his 11th season, Walker has experience facing the National League East as his past two seasons were spent with the New York Mets. The downside to Taijuan Walker has been his consistency. Walker has never made 30 or more starts in a single season and has only qualified for the ERA title once.

Walker has also been a quintessential example of a player outperforming their ability in a contract year. Having had three contract years to date, Walker has made 41 starts and pitched 211.2 innings with an ERA of 3.28 which has skewed his career ERA to a below-4 value of 3.89. If Taijuan can give the Phillies 150 innings and an ERA close to 4.00, he will be a solid addition to the back of the Phillies’ optimal rotation, albeit an overpaid one.

Number Five

This brings us to the bottom of the rotation. The Phillies have more than enough options already on the roster to man this spot, but the best available option has yet to throw a single pitch in Major League Baseball. Drafted 13th overall in the 2021 MLB Draft, Andrew Painter will be turning 20 on April 10th. So far in his professional career, he has made 26 starts and pitched to a 1.48 ERA with 167 strikeouts across 109.2 innings. Painter has quickly risen through the minor leagues, having thrown the last five starts of his 2022 season in AA, and has not shown any signs of slowing down.

This entry does come with a caveat. Painter should make at least five starts in AAA, before jumping to the Majors. He has definitely shown nothing less than being ready for the Big Leagues, but he will still be just 20 years old and there is no need to rush his development. Five starts in AAA should have him more acclimated to better hitting, then he can be turned loose on the Big Leagues, with an innings limit of course, to show the world what he can do. Should he produce anywhere close to expectations, he will be the best five-hole pitcher in the sport, and this time next season we will be talking about him being even higher up in the Phillies’ optimal rotation.

Main photo:
Embed from Getty Images

Players mentioned:

Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suarez, Trea Turner, Bryson Stott, Taijuan Walker, Andrew Painter


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