There’s no doubt about it. The Phillies have a strength going into the 2017 season, and that is their starting rotation. With a 5-man rotation consisting of the huge potentials of Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez, the breakout Mr. Consistency in Jerad Eickhoff, the revamped Jeremy Hellickson, and the experienced Clay Buchholz, the Phillies should find themselves in a good position to win most games thanks to their starting pitching. The thing about this rotation, though, is that there is no bonafide ace. There is no Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale or anyone with the likes of the elite names in the game on this team. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but for the sake of this article, we are going to take a look at who could be considered the “ace” of this Phillies team.
We posted a poll on our Twitter page on Monday, and we asked our followers this question:
Who is the ace of the Phillies heading into this season? Not necessarily who starts Opening Day, but stats and leadership wise…?
When asking this question, like we mentioned, we’re not asking who you think Pete Mackanin will send out there on April 3rd in Cincinatti to be tabbed as the Opening Day starter. We want to know who you think going into this season has the best chance to establish himself as the go-to guy for this club. It’s a combination of things. An ace needs to have leadership. They need to be seen as the man who leads their team inside and outside of the clubhouse. They should also have the statistics to prove it. An ace should be a workhorse who is always pitching in the biggest innings during the biggest games for their club. The ace of the staff often leads the team in most statistics such as wins, innings, strikeouts, and ERA.
So, we went ahead and gave our followers a chance to fill us in on their thoughts for this topic, and here were the results of who Phils Nation has the most faith in to be the ace of this team:
Aaron Nola: 28%
Jeremy Hellickson: 27%
Vince Velasquez: 27%
Jerad Eickhoff: 18%
As you can see here, there isn’t one guy in this rotation that sticks out.
We spoke on this topic amongst our team here at Phillies Nation, and here is what some of us had to say:
I’m going with veteran Jeremy Hellickson, the 29-year old right hander whom the Phillies acquired last offseason. He was the most consistent and efficient amongst an injury-riddled staff, pitching to a 3.71 ERA with 12 wins in 32 starts in 2016. For the 2017 Phils looking to turn the corner he’s the top man, but he would not be an ace on many other clubs. I think the same holds in Philadelphia with the youth movement blossoming. Hellickson is nothing more than a place holder for the next long-term top of the rotation guy. In the clubhouse, J-Hell is an elder statesman who understands his role within the rebuilding club, setting an example to the newcomers as a 7-year MLB vet who has overcome injuries of his own. I expect much of the same from Jeremy this season atop the rotation once again. With the likes of Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez improving their craft, a new ace may be on the cusp soon. Look for Eickhoff to turn heads in a breakout year, Velasquez to work on increasing stamina, and Nola to overcome his injury in a bounce back year. This could be his last run in the City of Brotherly Love after accepting the $17.2 million qualifying offer this winter; Hellickson should see this summer as an audition before looking for another new deal and potentially a new home.
The Phillies ace heading into the season is a two man race between Jeremy Hellickson and Jerad Eickhoff. Besides Clay Buchholz, who joined the team this offseason, Hellickson is the oldest and most experienced member of the rotation. Eickhoff, however, is 26-years-old and has made his case as the most productive starting pitcher on the roster.
An ace is not only the best pitcher on the roster, but he is also a leader in the clubhouse and a player that a manager can rely upon.
As of right now, Jeremy Hellickson is the Phillies ace. The 2011 Rookie of the Year has proven the most at the major league level and will experience the least amount of “growing pains” in 2017. Buchholz would have a case due to his experience as a winner with the Red Sox, but he has a lot to prove after a rocky 2016.
Eickhoff will eventually be in Philadelphia’s ace conversation, but is just too early to put that weight on his shoulders. I believe that he should be the Opening Day starter, but the time is not right to consider him the team’s ace.
Hellickson may not be on the Phillies’ roster for the foreseeable future, but he is the ace of the present and will be a productive member of the team both in the clubhouse and on the mound as the season progresses.
My pick for ace this season is Jerad Eickhoff.
According to baseball reference, his WAR in 2016 was 3.5, up from 1.8 his previous (partial) season. Even though his ERA increased by 1.00 over the year, it’s difficult to predict what his ERA would have been his first year in the MLB (2015) since he only pitched 51 innings. He also had about 2 wins above average compared to the average pitcher based on his number of starts. He had a little bit of a rough time right before/after the All Star Break, but finished the season with a 2.73 ERA in September and a 1.50 ERA in October, so it shows that the more exposure he gets, he actually is stronger towards the end of the season. And finally, of course a large portion of the Phillies struggles is run production, so I think that even though he was 11-14 in 2016, if you would look at those 14 losses, only 4 of them he allowed 6+ runs, so he definitely keeps the team within reach, he just needs the run support to back him up.
Aaron Nola will arise from his slump and will prove to be the ace of a young Phillies rotation. Despite current concerns about some poor spring training starts, his 11.1 innings per home run stat indicate Nola will become a better precision pitcher in the regular season. Though the southpaw is likely a number two or three starter for a contending team, Nola will go a long way towards solidifying his place in the rotation once the Phillies load up and contend in the next 2-3 years. The potential is there, and has been seen in flashes, so it’s only a matter of time before Nola breaks through.
In my personal opinion, I think the ace heading into this season has got to be Jeremy Hellickson. An ace should have some experience, and behind Buchholz, he’s the most experienced of the pitchers in this rotation. His consistent 2016 has him headed towards an Opening Day nod from Pete Mackanin. As the season goes on, though, and the veterans start to move to other teams, as well as the younger guys tacking on more innings to pad their cases, I think Vince Velasquez prevails as the man in this rotation. I raved about him in a couple of my previous articles in which I predicted the leaders in some statistical categories for this upcoming season, as well as some other bold predictions leading into spring training. I think if he can stay on the field and control his outstanding stuff, he will turn it into immediate success. He has shown flashes of being an All-Star for this team for years to come. Here’s to hoping he can put it all together.
Every Wednesday, Phillies Nation will be providing you with feedback and input from a number of our team members, on one topic, on one single article. Stay tuned for next week’s writing!Photo: Brule Laker (Via: Flickr)
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