Bastardo Should be in Phils’ Future Plans

Todd Zolecki posted a report on the Phillies’ 2013 bullpen wishes, including quotes from Charlie Manuel and Ruben Amaro. I was surprised to read that Jake Diekman, Jeremy Horst, and/or a free agent lefty reliever “could bump [Antonio Bastardo] out” of the ‘pen, but was then relieved to read this from Amaro:

“I think [Bastardo is] part of our club. Obviously he’s going to have to continue to prove himself, but I believe he’s going to be part of our club. […] I think he’s a much better pitcher than he’s shown.”

Bastardo has had a rough 2012, but has certainly shown a lot of promise as well. His 36 percent strikeout rate is sixth-best among all qualified relievers, trailing only Craig Kimbrel (50%), Aroldis Chapman (45%), Kenley Jansen (39%), Ernesto Frieri (39%), and Jason Grilli (37%). Each pitcher has a sub-3.00 ERA. Bastardo also excels at inducing weak contact as his infield fly ball rate, at 17 percent, is the 11th-highest among qualified relievers.

That isn’t to say Bastardo doesn’t have any obvious flaws. His 12 percent walk rate is among the 20 highest. Of the 16 pitchers with a higher walk rate, only four have a sub-3.00 ERA. Additionally, as his infield fly rate might allow you to infer, Bastardo is very ground ball-averse. His 51 percent fly ball rate is the fourth-highest among all relievers, trailing only Louis Coleman (58%), Tyler Clippard (57%), and Joel Peralta (52%). Lots of fly balls along with a home run problem (13.5 percent of Bastardo’s fly balls allowed were home runs) and you have a bloated ERA.

However, Bastardo hadn’t been a homer-prone pitcher in his previous 100 innings, indicating that his 2012 woes are either a fluke or a fixable problem. Either way, Bastardo will spend the five months between October and February to tie up the proverbial loose ends and go into 2013 smarter and stronger. The Phillies would be unwise to give up on Bastardo, who turns 27 years old today and is averaging 14 strikeouts for every nine innings pitched. The list of relievers who have posted such a season before the age of 28 (dating back to 1990) is small, but populated with names you’ve come to know and respect:

Player SO/9 IP Year Age Tm
Craig Kimbrel 16.48 57.1 2012 24 ATL
Kenley Jansen 16.10 53.2 2011 23 LAD
Carlos Marmol 15.99 77.2 2010 27 CHC
Aroldis Chapman 15.83 67.2 2012 24 CIN
Eric Gagne 14.98 82.1 2003 27 LAD
Billy Wagner 14.95 74.2 1999 27 HOU
Brad Lidge 14.93 94.2 2004 27 HOU
Craig Kimbrel 14.84 77.0 2011 23 ATL
Armando Benitez 14.77 78.0 1999 26 NYM
Billy Wagner 14.55 60.0 1998 26 HOU
Ernesto Frieri 14.42 58.2 2012 26 TOT
Billy Wagner 14.38 66.1 1997 25 HOU
Byung-Hyun Kim 14.14 70.2 2000 21 ARI
Antonio Bastardo 14.07 47.1 2012 26 PHI
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/20/2012.

Describing his wishes for next year’s bullpen, Zolecki quotes Manuel as saying, “I think we need at least one good piece. And when I talk about pieces, I mean someone that’s very, very good. First-class good.” Bastardo is no Billy Wagner, but his mediocre season shouldn’t compel the Phillies — currently committing $125 million to seven players in 2013 — to frivolously spend money on relief pitching in the off-season. With a 3.16 xFIP and 2.48 SIERA, Bastardo can be a dominant late-innings reliever just as he is now, and he  has the potential to be one of the game’s most-feared lefties if he continues to get better with age. With Horst and Phillippe Aumont behind him, the Phillies will be just fine in the bullpen.

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