The Phillies’ Other Young Workhorse Starting Pitcher
Last night, Jerad Eickhoff pitched his 30th game of the season, bringing his innings total to 180.1 – the current 2016 team high. That actually still hasn’t matched his previous career high of 184.1 innings pitched across three organizational levels in 2015. He’ll cross that shortly, but even with three presumed turns in the rotation remaining, he’s not going to wildly exceed any previously established mark. He hasn’t hit 200 innings yet, but with multiple 30 start seasons under his belt Eickhoff is, for all intents and purposes, an established workhorse at this point.
Similar can be said about his more veteran rotation-mate Jeremy Hellickson – although some may want to quibble about the use of the term ‘workhorse’ as opposed to ‘innings-eater’, although that’s a different discussion (personally, I think he’s performed a little better than the latter label connotes). With three more starts left, he’s on pace to roughly match his career high of 189 innings set in 2011. However, there is one pitcher, younger than both Eickhoff and Hellickson, that is on pace prove himself as something of a sturdy pitcher this season – Jake Thompson.
Thompson, still only 22, is suitably built like a sturdy starting pitcher, and in his fifth professional season, has already set a new career-high in innings pitched by a modest margin. Already at 174.1 innings pitched over 29 appearances between triple A and the Majors, Thompson also projects to pitch three more times before the end of the season. His current total is already 17.5 percent more innings than his previous high last season (148.2 innings between the regular season and the playoffs), and he looks to potentially end up at a little over the standard 25 percent innings increase for prospects that teams sometimes talk about.
It is currently inconclusive if that kind of progressive loading of innings is actually effective in preventing pitcher injuries, but some teams definitely subscribe to it – it’ll be interesting to see if there’s any kind of limitations to Thompson’s final three starts. By presuming a simplistic estimate of remaining innings based on his average innings per MLB start, an unencumbered Thompson might end up around 190 total innings this season.
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Thompson is only 22, but entered professional baseball out of high school – he now has almost five full seasons of starting pitching under his belt and hasn’t once hit the disabled list. Similarly, while Eickhoff had a thumb injury in Spring Training, he didn’t miss a start this season – he’s also never hit the disabled list in his professional career (as far as I can tell). As is often the refrain for pitchers, the greatest predictor of future injury is past injury, and serious injuries are often thought to afflict young, hard throwing prospects. That neither of these two has experienced a setback in this area is encouraging in an era where consistently healthy starting pitching is becoming increasingly rare.
The Phillies do have their own share of injury worries on the pitching side – they aren’t ending the season without Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, and Vincent Velasquez out of convenience. For that reason, I really don’t think the team would be that upset if Hellickson accepted his eventual qualifying offer. But even if he declines, and uncertainty remains in the rest of the rotation, there’s a decent chance that the team will at least know these two names to pencil in as starting pitchers. However, they then also have to stay good at producing outs, and that’s a completely different concern – but also a topic for a different post.