The bullpen has become a strength for the 2018 Phillies
To put it lightly, the Philadelphia Phillies bullpen was one of the worst in baseball at the start of the season. Between Tommy Hunter, Hector Neris, and Adam Morgan there are plenty of bad memories from April and May this year. Despite the young team playing well early on, it seemed the bullpen was going to be their Achilles heel.
— MLB &NHL News Now (@MLB_News247) June 19, 2018
Most notably, Neris was a thorn in the side of the Phillies early this season. His best pitch has always been his splitter, that is what made him so dangerous in the past. Fans forget Neris was once very effective, having 21 consecutive saves for the Phillies. However, this year he just couldn’t get the same tumbling action on his splitter which led to his best pitch hanging over the middle of the plate.
In 30 innings pitched this year, Neris posted a 6.90 ERA with three blown saves and 11 home runs. In comparison, last year he only gave up nine home runs over 74.2 innings pitched. He was demoted to Lehigh Valley on June 30th after the Phillies bullpen as a whole was ranked 29th in the big leagues.
By mid-July, however, the bullpen jumped all the way to number one in baseball, with a 1.77 ERA.
No clear closer
Neris was once the Phillies’ designated closer, and since being sent down to AAA, the club has yet to name another closer by definition. Manager Gabe Kapler has made it clear he will use whichever pitcher puts the team in the best position to win the game, and that he doesn’t necessarily need to give someone the title of closer. However, it would seem Seranthony Dominguez has been the clear front-runner to take over that role.
— CloserNews Team (@closernews) August 1, 2018
Dominguez, the hard-throwing righty out of the Dominican Republic, has had some struggles this year as well, but as long as the team learns how to properly utilize him he will be fine. He is 23 years old and has arguably one of the best fastballs in the majors. He has shown that he pitches better after having rest, posting a 0.81 ERA when he has a day of rest, and a whopping ERA of 9.82 with no days rest.
Worth the money?
In December of last year, the Phillies signed Hunter to a two-year deal worth $18 million. He posted a 2.61 ERA last season with the Tampa Bay Rays. On June 30th, the same day Neris was sent down to AAA, Hunter had an ERA of 5.04. It seemed Matt Klentak and the Phillies organization may have overpaid for the 32-year-old reliever.
Since the end of June, his ERA has been a solid 2.05. He has a strikeout percentage of 13.3% in 18 innings pitched. His cutter has been more effective over the last month, which was his out-pitch last year. Whatever adjustment Hunter has made to his approach seems to be making him effective.
Couple Phillies bullpen notes
Victor Arano: 2.09 ERA in 40 appearances; 15 of last 17 scoreless
Tommy Hunter: season-high scoreless innings streak, 2.50 ERA since July 1 … also always willing to take the ball, which has value w/ Neshek restrictions. 7 back-to-backs for Hunter
— Corey Seidman (@CSeidmanNBCS) August 7, 2018
Since adding Austin Davis, Pat Neshek, and Aaron Loup, the Phillies bullpen actually looks like one of the stronger units in baseball. If someone would have said that at the beginning of the season, you would have thought they were crazy. Queue Kapler’s interview in January where he said just that.
Davis has had a pretty strong debut for the Phils, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. In 21.1 innings this year, Davis has a 3.74 ERA and has only given up one home run. Given it was a 14th inning walk-off on August 6th from Arizona’s David Peralta.
Neshek has some impressive career stats. He has a 2.68 ERA in 458 innings pitched, with his ERA in 2018 sitting at 0.73. However, the biggest issue with Neshek has been his flexibility; he has been very vocal about not wanting to pitch in the ninth inning.
Pat Neshek has thrown 74% of his pitches for strikes this season, the most in the majors. He's been so good since returning.
11.1 IP, 1 R, 1 BB, 9 K
— Ben Harris (@byBenHarris) August 5, 2018
So far in 2018, though, he has two saves already. Neshek has said maybe he is making an adjustment in being more open to pitching whenever the team needs him. Over the last two months of the regular season, the Phillies are going to need him to throw in big-time situations as he has been their most effective reliever.
Loup has yet to get it going for Philadelphia, unfortunately. He’s given up two runs on just two hits in 0.1 innings pitched. His first outing came to an end after he hit the only batter he faced. The Phillies have confidence that the veteran LHP will play a vital role in the Phils making the postseason.
While I chose to cover the relievers who struggled this year early on and are now finding success, it is worth mentioning that Edubray Ramos, Luis Garcia, and Victor Arano have all been consistent studs for the Phillies this year.
In fact, Ramos’ ERA comes in at 1.91, and Arano’s is 2.06. Even at 3.77, Garcia has still been very effective so far in 2018. He is averaging 9.87 Ks per nine innings and has only given up two home runs all year. All three relievers have over 30 innings pitched and will continue to be regulars coming out of the bullpen.
Phillies bullpen seeking a strong finish
In May, the Phillies bullpen was ranked 19th in the MLB with a 4.05 ERA. In June, as I previously mentioned, they posted an ERA of 5.79, which was good for 29th in the MLB. Currently, for the year, the unit is the 13th best, with an ERA of 3.85, per covers.com.
Behind one of the best starting rotations in the majors, the pen has turned out to be one of the stronger units in the league as well. Good pitching will always win games, and the Phillies have proven that this year as they sit a game and a half in first place on August 8th.
Phillies bullpen Since June 30th
— Jeff Skversky 6abc (@JeffSkversky) July 22, 2018
All statistics in this article via baseball-reference.com, covers.com
featured photo credit: Ian D’Andrea via Flickr
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