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May 01, 2023

Phillies starting pitcher confidence meter: Who can you trust?

Before the 2023 Phillies season began there was a lot of optimism and buzz around the team's starting rotation.

Returning were three excellent starters with postseason experience, along with a high-priced free agent and a handful of the best pitching prospects in baseball all gunning for a spot at a role in the big leagues.

Weeks later, a few injuries (including one to top farm pitcher Andrew Painter) and subpar performances have the staff looking mundane and frustrating. 

Who do you trust, right now, on the Phillies staff? Here's how we would quantify it, after six trips through the rotation this spring:

Zack Wheeler: 8/10

The perennial Cy Young candidate has had four good starts and two bad ones, but the one-time innings eater has yet to make it into a seventh inning yet which is unusual for him. Part of that is because he has not economized his pitches — his two most recent starts, six frames each, saw him throw 104 and 111 pitches respectively. He has been in the 90-plus pitch range every game this season and he has 41 strikeouts over that span (including 11 against the Rockies).

The Phillies are 4-2 in his starts and one of those losses saw him allow just two runs. He is dealing, his stuff is impressive and he is missing bats at an impressive rate. He's clearly the ace of the staff right now.

Aaron Nola: 7/10

Nola would definitely have been much lower in these rankings if not for his performance in Houston this weekend. A World Series rematch, away from home and against a team that roughed him up a bit in the Fall Classic, Nola brought it, going eight innings and allowing just three hits and one run. It doesn't get much more confidence inspiring than that.

He's actually quietly thrown together three consecutive quality starts — with the Phillies winning all three after he began the year very slowly and frustratingly back in April. 

Ranger Suarez: 7/10

Suarez hasn't played yet — which is partially why we're high on him. The Phillies staff besides Nola and Wheeler has been suspect, save for Matt Strahm, who is reportedly being moved back to the bullpen when Suarez returns (more on that in a second).

And so we're going to go into Suarez' season giving him the benefit of the doubt. He was a versatile and reliable lefty starter for the pennant-winning Phillies last year, going 10-7 with a 3.65 ERA during the regular season. He then posted a 1.23 ERA in five appearances (three starts) in the postseason. He should emerge as a solid No. 3 when he's back in South Philly later this month.

Matt Strahm: 6/10

Despite the starters we'll mention just below struggling — Phillies manager Rob Thomson wants to put Strahm back into the bullpen when Suarez is back. 

“He’s really pitched well, but I think he’s a big piece coming out of the bullpen because you can use him in so many different ways and he’s resilient,” Thomson said (via Sports Illustrated). “He bounces back. He’s got kind of a rubber arm. It gives you the ability to pitch guys every other day, which really gives your bullpen some rest. I think he’s best fit for the bullpen, but he’s done a fantastic job as a starter.”

In his six starts, Strahm has a 2.31 ERA and has been a really solid makeshift starter. He doesn't go deep into games but he also doesn't take the Phillies out of them. It'll be interesting to see if his days as a starter are indeed finished this season.

Bailey Falter: 4/10

The Phillies are 1-5 in Falter's starts and he has just one quality outing — a seven inning, three run affair against the White Sox that was a loss anyway. Falter hasn't really done well keeping the Phillies in games as his 5.01 ERA suggests. 

It doesn't appear his spot in the rotation is in any imminent danger, even though he was the main reason the Phils were unable to pull off a sweep of the World Series champion Astros last weekend.

Taijuan Walker: 4/10

Philly's shiny new acquisition this offseason, Walker has been fine — nothing special — pretty much a generic fifth starter so far in five opportunities. He has a pair of quality starts mixed in with a trio of games that saw him not make it through five innings.

His walk and home run ratios are troubling but it's a small sample size. Add that to his mega $72 million deal that has him with the Phillies until 2026 and you can bet he'll be out there every fifth day this season. 

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