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Closer Look at the Phillies Starting Rotation (Pick up Charlie Morton)

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The Phillies are off to a hot start, but which pitcher is the legit pickup for your Fantasy team? (Spoiler: It's the one mentioned in the title)

Morton is the one to give a look in Philadelphia
Morton is the one to give a look in Philadelphia
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

As of April 18th, 2 weeks into the season, the Phillies pitching staff is recording the best WAR in the baseball. When I say best, I mean actual number 1. Can you believe this? The Phillies are the 3rd best in K-rate, and the 5th best in FIP. Their ERA is only league average at 3.86, but it's only because they have been one of the unluckiest teams so far as they have been the 5th worst on stranding runners on bases (68.8%).

It just gets even more impressive when we exclusively look at their starters (we all know that the Phillies relievers have been terrible except the guy named Jeanmar Gomez...).

Name

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

ERA

FIP

xFIP

WAR

Vincent Velasquez

15.00

15.00

1.80

0.00

0.00

0.37

1.59

1.0

Jerad Eickhoff

12.00

9.00

1.50

0.00

1.50

1.86

3.37

0.6

Aaron Nola

19.00

10.89

1.42

1.42

5.68

3.21

2.60

0.4

Jeremy Hellickson

14.67

8.59

1.23

1.23

4.30

3.38

3.47

0.3

Charlie Morton

16.33

8.82

4.41

0.55

3.86

3.41

3.27

0.3

Team

77.00

10.52

2.10

0.70

3.27

2.52

2.83

2.6

Carlos Carrasco 2015

183.2

10.58

2.11

0.88

3.63

2.84

2.66

4.8

Look at those beautiful K BB numbers. The five of them together are replicating Carlos Carrasco's number, and if you have five Carrascos in your rotation, your team is in a pretty good shape.

You know where this is going, so I will cut the crap and get to my point. Their numbers are unreal and they will surely regress to some level. The real question is, how much is that "some level?" I will go over then one by one to help you understand what to expect from these pitchers.

Vincent Velasquez

The headline of the week. The Astros probably aren't happy to see how quickly Velasquez turned out to be the next big thing in the baseball. Ken Giles is one of those few relievers who can actually have a meaningful impact on a team, but no reliever can replace an All-Star caliber starter, which looks to be Velasquez's (very near) future.

Before we get too excited about him, we first have to point out the reality that he only had two starts this season so far, and one of them was against the Padres, so 60% of his output is against a Triple A lineup. Let's try to expand the sample size for a better look.

Lev

IP

ERA

WHIP

H/9

HR/9

BB/9

K/9

K/BB

MLB

70.2

3.44

1.132

7.1

0.6

3.1

10.6

3.46

Minors

296.1

3.28

1.134

7.1

0.7

3.1

10.8

3.51

Steamer

112

3.39

1.170

7.2

1.0

3.6

11.3

3.11

During his short stint in MLB, he put up strikingly similar number as his Minors career, which makes our job easier. Steamer took the advantage of it, and projected him right at his career level. Unless Velasquez made some significant improvements in his pitching repertoire over the winter (which is possible, but his Pitch FX doesn't suggest anything meaningful at this point), we have a very fair expectation for him going forward.

So how those numbers fare in our mixed league? According to my Steamer based model (you can read more about my Steamer based ranking here), he is projected to be ranked at 60th among the starting pitchers. Before you express your deep disappointment, I have to remind you that his relatively low ranking is nothing to do with his stats, but with his innings. Phillies GM Matt Klentak recently announced that their phenom pitcher will be under the inning limit this year, and they have all the rights to do so, since Velasquez's lousy injury record was the very reason that the Astros decided to send him away in the first place. So far, he suffered multiple injuries in his right elbow and groin, and he also went through TJ surgery couple years back. The most innings he had pitched in a year was 124.1 back in 2013, and he was only able to pitch for 63.2 and 88.2 innings in each of his last two seasons.

The Phillies aren't going anywhere, and they will try anything to keep their future superstar healthy. While it would be very hard to resist the temptation to keep him in your roster, you could be better off in the end if you can get a currently struggling ace in return, such as Matt Harvey, Corey Kluber, or Chris Archer to name a few. You can also consider some boring (and more realistic) names like Francisco Liriano, Wei-Yin Chen, or Jeff Samardzija and ask for some plus alpha on top, and I believe one of your league mates would be willing to make that deal. Or, you can always keep him and have a lot of fun while he is on the mound, and I have no problem with that.

Rest of the season Steamer projection

SP Rank

IP

W

ERA

WHIP

SO

Vincent Velasquez

60

112

6

3.39

1.17

133

Jerad Eickhoff

He doesn't have the gaudy profile as Velasquez does. The right hander is former 15th round pick and throws 91 mph fastball. He is projected to be an average middle of the rotation guy, and he is already a 25-year-old sophomore.

His numbers since he joined the Phillies rotation last year has been very impressive, as he boasts 2.71 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 in 63 IP. While it's very tough to be confident about his ERA since his career Minors ERA is 4.14 and MLB xFIP is 3.56 (he will start to allow more HRs sooner or later), we can be more optimistic about his K potential. He may not be able to overpower the hitters, but his both breaking balls are very good enough to whiff many bats. Because of his reliance on breaking pitches, however, he won't be able to keep his low BB rate (2.14 BB/9), and he would need to improve his changeup to be able to handle the lefties better (wOBA .345 vs L, .197 vs R).

I don't think he is a must own player in a 12-team mixed league right now, but you might be able to use him based on match-up. If anybody in your league believes that he is a top 50 SP, I would try to move him for anything, but it won't be easy to find a suitor due to Eickhoff's lack of entertainment elements.

Rest of the season Steamer projection

SP Rank

IP

W

ERA

WHIP

SO

Jerad Eickhoff

80

134

7

3.77

1.24

123

Aaron Nola

He is probably the most valuable starter among the Phillies rotation at this point. He was the one of the buzziest sleeper picks coming into this year's draft, so you should be familiar with him already. He was the talk around the league after his first two starts, but the hype calmed down little bit as he got hammered by the Nationals with 7 earned runs in just 5 innings.

His ERA is currently sitting at very ugly 5.68, but his K/9 is still very impressive 10.9. He only walked 3 hitters so far this season, so his control is just as good as advertised. He has been homered in all three games this season, but there is no indication that this would be a trend going forward. His Fly Ball % is 33.3%, which is just about the league average, so once his abnormal 15.4% HR/FB ratio regresses, his ERA will settle down (his Minors HR/9 is very healthy 0.8 compared to his current ML number, 1.3).

If his owner is panicking about Bryce Harper (and Max Scherzer who batted in 2 runs) destroying Nola, I would make some offers with more established names like James Shields, Tyson Ross, Justin Verlander, or Adam Wainwright and see if he wants to take it. It would be a win-win trade since he gets the peace of mind and you get a better pitcher.

Rest of the season Steamer projection

SP Rank

IP

W

ERA

WHIP

SO

Aaron Nola

33

167

9

3.6

1.17

158

Jeremy Hellickson

I'm actually little too late to write about him. Any potential hype that could have built around him pretty much evaporated after his rough outing against the Nationals. He has been around the league long enough that not many people were fooled after his two stellar starts anyway.

He was the Aaron Nola of 5 years ago. It's kind of laughable at this point, but people used to call him the next Greg Maddux. He was a number 6 BA ranked prospect before 2011 season (Number 1 and 2 were Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. Aroldis Chapman was ranked 7th, one below Hellickson), and he went on to win RoY that year as he put up 10 wins with sweet 2.95 ERA. Even that year, however, his FIP was 4.44, and his numbers started to slide to match his sabermetrics since then. His career 3.95 ERA and 6.7 K/9 tell us enough about him, and he is already 29 years old. I hope you didn't buy his strong starts and roster him for his last game. Stay away from him unless you are desperate.

Rest of the season Steamer projection

SP Rank

IP

W

ERA

WHIP

SO

Jeremy Hellickson

103

143

7

4.16

1.26

120

Charlie Morton

Last but not least. I will make your time worth with this guy right here.

The 32-year-old veteran right hander has never been under a Fantasy spotlight in his career, but he actually could be a sneaky add to your team this season. The very first thing comes into the sight is his much improved velocity. His career fastball averages 91.6 mph, but he is clocking 94 mph this season out of nowhere. When he was asked about it, his comment was very interesting: "I just went out there and tried to throw the ball hard one game. I wound up throwing it harder." Well, okay Charlie.

Whether you believe his words or not, the important thing is that he is producing numbers. A career 6.33 K/9 and 4.53 ERA guy is putting up solid 8.82 K/9 and 3.86 ERA in his last three starts (3.41 FIP), and Steamer rewarded him with 8.12 K/9 and 3.72 ERA projection. Even before he was equipped with his much sharpened fastball, he induced groundballs better than anybody in the business. His 57.3% GB% was 5th highest last year among the pitchers with more than 120 IP (just behind Brett Anderson, Dallas Keuchel, Tyson Ross, and Jamie Garcia, and ahead of Felix Hernandez, Jake Arrieta, and Tim Hudson), and he even improved this year as he put up 62.5% GB% and 3.57 GB/FB. Last year, only 4 pitchers were able to get higher than 55% GB% and 8.0 K/9 at the same time: Dallas Keuchel, Tyson Ross, Felix Hernandez, and Jake Arrieta. Wouldn't you pick one of these guys up if they were available in your waiver wire?

If I were you, I would think later and go ahead pick him up first and see what happens. If he can maintain his velocity, he is about to do something amazing this year. He is a real deal, so don't hesitate.

Rest of the season Steamer projection

SP Rank

IP

W

ERA

WHIP

SO

Charlie Morton

95

119

6

3.72

1.28

108