Phillies’ Bullpen Strengthened with Contreras

Between Brad Lidge‘s dream 2008,¬†nightmare ’09, and resurgent ’10 seasons and Ryan Madson‘s rise to prominence, 38-year-old reliever Jose Contreras did not receive any recognition for an impressive turnout during the regular season. The starter-turned-reliever finished with a 3.34 ERA and 3.19 SIERA, averaging just over a strikeout per inning.

Impressively, Contreras struck out 14 batters before issuing his first walk of the season on May 8. He also filled in admirably as the closer when Lidge succumbed to elbow injuries and Madson broke his toe kicking a metal folding chair. In five appearances between May 10 and 28, he converted three of three save chances while striking out seven and walking only one batter.

Contreras hit a speed bump in the middle of the season, allowing three or more runs in three of 11 appearances between June 19 and July 15. From that point forward, however, Contreras allowed a run in only five of 31 appearances, putting up a 2.33 ERA, striking out 24 and walking seven in 27 innings.

Contreras became the third Phillies reliever since 1970 with at least a 9.0 K/9 and at most a 2.6 BB/9, joining Billy Wagner and Ryan Madson, both accomplishing the feat twice in consecutive seasons.

Player SO/9 BB/9 G Year Tm IP ERA+
Billy Wagner 10.99 1.12 45 2004 PHI 48.1 187
Ryan Madson 10.87 2.21 55 2010 PHI 53.0 159
Billy Wagner 10.08 2.32 75 2005 PHI 77.2 293
Ryan Madson 9.08 2.56 79 2009 PHI 77.1 131
Jose Contreras 9.05 2.54 67 2010 PHI 56.2 121
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/19/2010.

In a FanGraphs article posted on May 26, Dave Allen noted that Contreras had gone back to using two different arm slots, suggesting that the lower arm angle made his pitches harder for right-handed batters to pick up. It seemed to work as Contreras held them to a .271 wOBA, placing in the 82nd percentile among all Major League pitchers.

Although known for his mid-90’s fastball, it was Contreras’ soft pitches that were particularly tough for right-handers to hit. The following heat map, courtesy Baseball Analytics, shows the isolated power (ISO) of soft pitches thrown by Contreras to right-handed hitters in 2010, constituting 121 of 208 (58%) batters faced.

Right-handers compiled a .173 wOBA against Contreras’ soft stuff, placing his slop in the 97th percentile. They hit his fastballs much better (.333 wOBA), as one may expect.

Contreras had less success against lefties as his .339 wOBA allowed fell to the 55th percentile, very slightly above average. However, Contreras’ potential for dominance against right-handers and average performance against lefties still makes him a valuable asset — certainly worth the $5.5 million the Phillies invested over the next two seasons.