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May 25, 2023

Phillies starting pitcher confidence meter: Do you trust anyone on the staff?

There have been some solid performances recently, but no one on the Phillies' staff has been able to string together consistently good starts.

Pro sports are about all confidence, for the players playing and for the fans rooting.

But the Phillies have very little to be confident about when they have their pitchers on the mound.

Their starters, through 49 games, have a combined 4.98 ERA. That stat ranks 23rd in the majors out of 30 teams and is probably the biggest reason why the Phils are still below .500.

Some of this is bad luck. Their .310 batting average on balls in play allowed is the sixth highest in baseball, meaning that often it's just a well-placed ball that has hurt the Phillies. But their overall opposing batting average of .255 (19th best) is bad and for whatever reason, no one on the staff can string consistently good starts together.

There is no starter in the rotation right now with an ERA below 4.00, but there have been some solid performances recently. How much do you — or should you — trust each of the Phillies' starting pitchers? And perhaps more importantly, is there any kind of answer as to who should be the fifth starter right now?

Aaron Nola, 7/10

It's somewhat surprising to see Nola here ahead of Wheeler, and if you look at their entire body of work this season, Wheeler is probably the better pitcher. But right now, Nola is in a better place. He's gone at least six innings in every start but two this season (8/10) and has been an innings eater and strikeout machine — boasting 10 in his most recent start, a seven-inning, two-run win against the Cubs. 

The Phillies also, for whatever reason, have supported Nola pretty well to the tune of 6.31 runs per game. He really is the only pitcher who looks like he is going to win every time he takes the mound.

Zack Wheeler, 6/10

The Phillies have lost three of the last four games started by Wheeler, who leads the staff with a 4.11 ERA. In those three losses, he allowed four or more runs each time. It should be noted that he's only gotten 4.32 runs of support per start, however, and he has pitched well enough for a better offense to win. But the Phils' offense has not been very good of late. In May, across four starts, Wheeler has allowed 12 runs. He has gotten 11 runs of support in those games.

Taijuan Walker, 5/10

Walker has been wildly inconsistent. The Phillies won his May 12th start after he posted a quality outing with six innings and just three runs allowed. Five games later, he was pummeled for four runs and didn't make it out of the first inning. 

In his most recent outing, he went 5.1 innings without allowing a run. He is trending in the right direction, but he's still not a player who has proven he can be relied on to give Philly a winning effort every five days.

Ranger Suárez, 3/10

Since returning to the rotation (potentially too soon) from a spring injury, Suárez has started three games. In them, he's lasted exactly 11 combined innings and allowed 12 combined runs on 17 hits and five walks (a 2.00 WHIP). 

The general thinking is that since he had no spring training, Suárez will find his footing sometime soon. For now, he's got a solid 3-of-10 rating on our confidence meter.

The other options, 1/10

Here's a table breaking down the Phillies' attempts to field a fifth starting pitcher:

Bailey Falter70-6, 5.75 ERA
Matt Strahm72-3, 3.90 ERA
Cris Sánchez10-0, 6.23 ERA

Strahm is in the bullpen now and the Phillies like him there, even though it's probably the simplest way to solve their issue. Waiver wire acquisition Dylan Covey pitched five really solid innings in his first stint with the Phillies earlier this week, and if they go with a bullpen game approach in the short term, he may start it.

The Phils are very likely to take their time and shop for a pitcher in July before the trade deadline. Until then, here's a look at how their best minor-league options are faring:

Michael Plassmeyer9 (AAA)1-3, 6.59 ERA
Cris Sánchez7 (AAA)1-2, 5.97 ERA
Mick Abel
7 (AA)
2-2, 4.50 ERA
Griff McGarry3 (AA)0-0, 1.04 ERA
Nick Nelson3 (AA)0-0, 1.38 ERA

Those five represent the most likely call-ups, with currently injured top prospect Andrew Painter the sixth (once he resumes pitching in live games again). 

Nelson is a career reliever who pitched in 47 major-league games last season. He is probably the most likely option to be the next man up, as he is starting games in Reading right now and getting stretched out. The Phils could also take a swing and call up their third-best pitching prospect McGarry, who is 24 and could be ready for a leap to the majors.

Regardless, their options at the five spot right now are a measly 1 out of 10. 

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