Tag Archives: Don Carman

Phillies suffering through a southpaw starting pitching drought

There was a time not all that long ago when the Philadelphia Phillies starting pitching rotation included outstanding southpaws among the group. And looking back through history, the team has nearly always presented a lefty option.

As recently as 2014, the season began with both Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee still in that starting rotation. The two left-handers had been teammates at that point for the better part of four of the previous five seasons.

When Lee first joined the Phillies in a 2009 trade from Cleveland he stepped into a starting pitching rotation that already included both Hamels and veteran Jamie Moyer.

Hamels was first called up to the big-leagues by the Phillies as a 22-year-old rookie in May 2006. The Phillies had no lefty options in their rotation as that season opened. Before it was over they would have three.

In the middle of the 2005 season, Randy Wolf, who had been a member of the team’s starting pitching group for the prior six years, suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. He would miss the entire second half of that 2005 season and the first four months in 2006.

Wolf returned to join Hamels in the Phillies rotation on July 30, 2006. Less than three weeks later, Moyer arrived in a trade from Seattle. The three would finish out that year together before Wolf moved on to the Dodgers via free agency.

Wolf had been promoted to the big-leagues back in 1999, joining the rotation for good in June. In the prior two seasons, Matt Beech had been the lone left-handed Phillies starting pitcher.

Back further into the 90’s, the club had seen Sid Fernandez, Mike Mimbs, David West, and a late-career Fernando Valenzuela take regular turns at one point or another. And in the early part of the decade, the duo of Terry Mulholland and Danny Jackson helped the 1993 team win a National League pennent.

Mulholland had joined the team in a 1989 trade from San Francisco which also brought southpaw Dennis Cook. Those two joined Bruce Ruffin and Don Carman, giving the Phillies four left-handed starting options.

Carman could trace his own career beginnings back to the final effective years in the career of not only the greatest left-handed starter, but also the greatest Phillies pitcher of all-time, Steve Carlton.

During the early 2000’s, Wolf would be joined in the Phillies pitching rotation at various times by other left-handed starters, including Omar Daal, Bruce Chen, and Eric Milton. After Wolf was lost to the elbow surgery, Eude Brito was called up and made five starts as a left-hander.

Some of these southpaws were among the greatest pitchers to ever pull on a Phillies uniform. Some were effective starters for short periods. Others were journeymen filling a rotation spot for just a short period.

But one thing that Phillies teams had in their pitching arsenal for decades was a legitimate left-handed starter. Even before Carlton’s arrival, the last place 1971 Phillies had veterans Woodie Fryman and Chris Short and young Ken Reynolds, all lefties, pitching out of the rotation.

The pipeline, if you will, of left-handed starters has dried up down at Citizens Bank Park since the departure of Hamels. The next-man-up was supposed to be Adam Morgan, but he was never able to secure a long-term role and has now settled in as a reliever.

After Morgan finished up the 2016 season still as a member of the rotation, the Phillies had no left-handers take a regular turn for most of the next two-and-a-half years.

Trying to keep his team in the playoff hunt last season, general manager Matt Klentak signed 30-year-old Drew Smyly in late July and a week later swung a trade for 36-year-old veteran Jason Vargas. That gave the Phillies a pair of southpaws in their rotation down the stretch. But both were short-term additions, and neither will be back for the 2020 season.

As the Phillies get set to open the Grapefruit League season down in Florida this coming weekend there are once again no legitimate starting pitching options for the rotation.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t lefty arms around camp, even a couple who could fill a rotation slot briefly at some point. The bullpen has a variety of left-handed options for new manager Joe Girardi, including Morgan, Jose Alvarez, and Francisco Liriano.

Liriano has made 300 starts in MLB over 14 seasons and could potentially be used as a spot or emergency starter. The only other two left-handers currently in camp who appear to have any chance to take the mound as a starting pitcher in the big-leagues at some point would appear to be Cole Irvin and Ranger Suarez.

Irvin is now 26-years-old. He went 2-1 with a 5.83 ERA over 16 games, just three of those as a starter during his first taste of MLB play a year ago. However, Irvin has made 41 starts at Triple-A Lehigh Valley over the past two seasons. The Phillies are likely to keep him stretched out there again to begin 2020.

Suarez made three starts when first called up in 2018. He was used exclusively out of the bullpen in 37 games with the Phillies last season. Suarez made 28 starts over the last two seasons between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Down in the minor leagues the Phillies currently have only two left-handers who appear to have even a possibility of one day taking the mound as a starting pitcher. Those would be Erik Miller, chosen in the fourth round of the MLB Draft last June, and Ethan Lindow, who was the organization’s Pitcher of the Year last season. Both are a couple of years away, and neither can be considered a true top prospect at this point.

Is it important to have a left-hander in the starting rotation? Does it matter? That is a legitimate question. If the Phillies had five legitimate, effective, right-handers in their rotation at any point over the last half-dozen years it might not be an issue.

Showing opposing hitters the change of pace that a left-hander offers, neutralizing top left-handed hitters for the first two or three turns through the batting order. These are just a couple of ways a southpaw would help.

For my money, I would prefer to always have a right-left starting pitching mix that included two of one and three of the other. My preferred rotation would alternate lefties and righties against each opponent.

It would be nice if the Phillies could at least develop one truly legitimate starting left-hander. That, or trade for one who could be an effective member of their rotation for a few years. Right now, that arm does not appear to be on the 2020 roster.

 

MORE RECENT PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES CONTENT:

Philadelphia Phillies December 2019 mailbag

Embed from Getty Images

No one in baseball is more under the spotlight this off-season than Phillies general manager Matt Klentak.

 

Back on Christmas Eve Eve, I asked my social media followers to shoot me out any questions that they might have on the Phillies.

As you might expect, the majority of those ended up in reference to moves the club has made and might still make during this current off-season.

Following are a representative sampling, along with my responses, presented in a question (Q) and answer (A) format.

 

Q: Sean Fitzpatrick (@SeanFit91141350 on Twitter) asks “I’m questioning the configuration of the infield as it stands now. I dont see either Segura or Kingery as a legit third base option, and which one plays second? Do we bring in an outside option?

A: As we sit here in the week between Christmas and New Year’s the Phillies 2020 infield configuration appears that it will feature Rhys Hoskins at first base, Jean Segura at second, Didi Gregorius at shortstop, and Scott Kingery at third base. Kingery is likely keeping the spot warm until top prospect Alec Bohm is ready, at which point Kingery would return to a super-utility role. That assumes he is not needed at another position due to injury.

Q: Robin Heller (@flower_auntie on Twitter) says “I am wondering about who will play third base and how they will address the holes in the rotation!

A: As for third base, see the above answer – though there remain rumors that the Phillies could consider a trade for Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. The starting rotation is currently projected to be made up of Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, and Vince Velasquez.

It doesn’t appear as though GM Matt Klentak feels that there are “holes in the rotation” – though you and I would disagree with him. Arrieta needs to prove that he can stay healthy and produce past May. Eflin and Velasquez have been consistently inconsistent.

Wheeler was a great signing. But we went into this off-season believing that the Phillies needed two new starting pitchers of the type who had proven to be winners at the big-league level. There is still plenty of time to bring in another arm via free agency or trade.

Among free agents remaining, perhaps Klentak would consider taking a shot on Alex Wood, if the 28-year-old southpaw keeps hanging out on the market and his price is reasonable. The Phillies have also been linked to Arizona lefty Robbie Ray.

Q: Dan McElhaugh on Facebook asks “You (Phillies) need to address the bullpen and get another starter. What are you doing about it?

A: I addressed the starting pitchers above. However, you also have to consider that top pitching prospect Spencer Howard is close to big-league ready and will likely impact the rotation at some point in 2020. He is probably going to start at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, and assuming health and success there we should see him by the second half of the season, at the latest.

The bullpen is a tough question. There actually are the makings of a decent group here. But much of that depends on them being healthier than last year’s group. Right-handers include Hector Neris, Seranthony Dominguez, Victor Arano, Edgar Garcia, Trevor Kelley, Robert Stock and possibly even Nick Pivetta or prospect Adonis Medina.

Among lefties the club currently has Adam Morgan, Jose Alvarez, Austin Davis, and Cristopher Sanchez. You could even see minor league starters Cole Irvin, Ranger Suarez, and JoJo Romero slide into a pen role.

There are a number of veteran relievers remaining on the free agent market including Daniel Hudson, Will Harris, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Francisco Liriano, and Fernando Rodney. Any of them would help upgrade the bullpen. Klentak may be waiting to see if any can eventually come dirt cheap.

Q: JBFazz1213 (@JBFazz1213 on Twitter) stated “Very Disappointing if the Phillies don’t sign Dellin Betances because of the Luxury Tax.

A: As we now know, the Phillies indeed did not sign Betances, who received a one-year deal at $10.5 million guaranteed from the division-rival New York Mets which can rise to $13 million based on incentives. He also received two player option years, though if he proves himself healthy it is likely that Betances re-sets his value and returns to the free agent market next fall.

Having previously pitched his entire career in the Big Apple with the Yankees, he has a number of ties to New York. Likely of most importance were that the doctors who treated his shoulder injury and his Achilles injuries are located there. Those injuries, especially the September Achilles, are likely most of the reason that the Phillies and any number of other ball clubs in need of bullpen help were not involved.

Q: Wally Potter on Facebook asks “Why does the Phillies farm system have a bad history of producing quality starting pitching ? More specific within the last 40 years.”

A: Back in July of 2019, Dan Roche of NBC Sports Philadelphia did a nice piece on this very subject. In that piece, Roche listed the top 10 homegrown Phillies pitchers over the last four decades as ranked by Baseball-Reference WAR value.

Those ten arms belong to, in order, Cole Hamels, Aaron Nola, Kevin Gross, Randy Wolf, Brett Myers, Ryan Madson, Don Carman, Kyle Kendrick, Hector Neris, and Ricky Bottalico.

It’s not a bad list, but there is a major and obvious flaw. Nola and Neris are “now” arms on the current roster. Hamels, Myers, Madson, and Kendrick were all pitchers with the 2008 World Series champions and were with the club for a number of years around that magical season.

What you are left with are Gross, Carman, and Ricky Bo as the only pitchers developed out of the Phillies farm system from the late-1970’s through the mid-2000’s who had any real impact on the ball club.

Roche estimates that the Phillies have drafted upwards of 1,000 pitchers over the last 40 years and stated “Even by blind luck, a team should be able to do better than the Phillies have.

The answer to the “why” is difficult to explain. That poor history comes under various regimes led by eight different general managers and a number of higher executives.

Perhaps that poor homegrown pitching record is beginning to change. If you make the history just of the last dozen years or so, you get seven of the above 10 names. You also get arms such as current top pitching prospect Spencer Howard and former top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, the centerpiece of the J.T. Realmuto deal.

Q: d dask (@DocD19 on Twitter) wanted me to “Ask Matt Klentak if he is allergic to southpaws?

A: I am not sure regarding the topic of Klentak’s allergies. But I get it. Madison Bumgarner, Cole Hamels, Dallas Keuchel, and Hyun-Jin Ryu were all available as free agents this time around. Any would have been a perfect fit for the Phillies rotation – especially our old hero Hamels on a one-year deal. The exact reasons why the GM didn’t get any of those arms to Philly is perplexing, to say the least.

Q: DDNAGS (@DDNAGS1 on Twitter) opined “They will not win with the current roster. Ask Matt Klentak when he is going to get off his big ass and make a couple trades? We don’t need all these scrubs he always signs.

A: Well, that’s simply wrong. Klentak signed Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen last off-season. He signed Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius this off-season. They had a .500 roster prior to the recent moves and on paper appear to be improved. So, it would seem that, given health, they are already good enough to “win with the current roster.
Now, if you are talking about winning enough to reach the playoffs, maybe even contend for a division crown, and beyond that, a world championship, I get it.
It is my contention that the Phillies need a more proven center fielder, a left-handed veteran starting pitcher, another veteran bullpen arm with a successful track record, and another bench bat with pop from the right side similar to what Jay Bruce brings from the left. Let’s see what the GM does between now and the start of the season.

Q: PhilliesCurveballMachine (@phillies_the on Twitter) asks “Will a “culture change” in the clubhouse under the new coaching staff really make a difference in the team’s intensity/ focus/ “hustle” this season? And will this translate into wins? Why/how?

A: When you talk about a “culture change” inside the Phillies clubhouse, you specifically mention the change of managers from Gabe Kapler to Joe Girardi. Honestly, we’re not going to know how the club responds. But I expect that a proven winner with a championship pedigree will be more influential and regarded more positively than a rookie with a cheerleader personality.

There is another major change inside the clubhouse, with a pair of starting players gone in Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco. This year should find Realmuto, McCutchen, and Harper stepping into even more vocal leadership roles. I don’t know about you, but that prospect elicits more confidence from me.

I am expecting that Girardi will simply not tolerate any lack of hustle. He is not only going to be willing to make an example out of any player, but also have the confidence and support from management to bench anyone for any reason.

This comes from the popularity of his hiring, the unpopularity of the general manager, the fact that Girardi is just beginning what should be at least a three-year run in the dugout, and his own confidence based on his experiences as a championship-winning player and manager.

Now, will this change in style and substance result in more victories? I think it will have some effect. However, the team has to stay mostly healthy, especially where its biggest stars are concerned, and needs to receive actual improved performance from a few players. Any more positive attitude needs to be backed by positive performances.

Q: Andrew (@Andrew201711 on Twitter) asks “With the roster as it stands , I don’t see the Phils doing any better than third place …. your thoughts ?

A: For me the big thing right now is that factor of health. If the roster as currently assembled remains healthy, they can contend for a postseason berth. If they stay healthy, get improved performances from a few players such as Adam Haseley, Hoskins, and Arrieta, and if Klentak can make a couple of big in-season moves, they can win the division.

All of that said, the Braves are two-time defending NL East champions with a talented young core. The Nationals are defending World Series champions. Both teams have solid overall rosters. The Mets have improved their already tough pitching staff in both talent and depth this off-season. All three of those teams finished above the Phillies in the 2019 standings.

It is way too early for me to make any predictions. A lot can still change on not only the Phillies roster, but that of their division rivals. But right now you can make a legitimate argument for the club finishing anywhere from first to fourth in the National League East Division in the 2020 season.

That’s it for the mailbag this time around. I’ll open it up once again as spring training gets underway in February. Between now and then, you can always hit me up on social media: @philliesbell on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.