The Bullpen Youth Movement

Despite being led by 31-year-old veteran Jonathan Papelbon, the Phillies’ bullpen featured a plethora of fresh, young arms in 2012:

The bullpen was unarguably the Phillies’ Achilles heel throughout the season. For a while, they were among the bottom quartile in the National League going by bullpen ERA. A great September (2.05 ERA) has them closer to the league average and gave us a glimpse into what the future may hold.

Relievers are notoriously volatile from one year to another which is why many Saberists suggest spending as little money as possible on the bullpen. Outside of the always-reliable Papelbon, the Phillies used a very Saber-friendly bullpen as most of the above are young, under team control for a long time, and have the ability to miss bats at a frequent rate. Now that the young relievers have some Major League seasoning, Amaro shouldn’t change a thing. Charlie Manuel recently said about the bullpen:

I think we have some real good pieces there. But 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. That’s what it takes to be a first-class team.

There will be quite a few decent relievers available, such as Mike Adams or Jeremy Affeldt, just to name a couple starting in the A’s. But would the Phillies be significantly better off paying Adams $5 million to set up for Papelbon than paying Aumont $500,000 to do the same job? Would several million for Affeldt leave the Phillies in a better place as opposed to utilizing Bastardo at $750,000? It was only two years ago that Affeldt finished with a 4.14 ERA and it was only last year that Bastardo finished with a 2.64 ERA. With relievers, you are guaranteed nothing, no matter how much money you toss around.

For 2013, the Phillies should grab Papelbon, Bastardo, Aumont, and Horst, then open up the final three spots to spring training competition. It’s the best of all possible worlds.

As you can see, the Phillies have a number of tough decisions to make between the end of the post-season and the end of spring training. It will be the most arduous time of Amaro’s career as GM of the Phillies, the author of an aging, expensive, injury-prone roster. Adept handling of the risks and rewards of the upcoming off-season will leave the Phillies ready to reclaim their throne atop the NL East; stepping on the various traps that lay beneath the surface will effectively end the Phillies’ reign as a superpower.

Check out past and future offseason coverage with the “offseason” category.

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32 comments

  1. JM

    October 16, 2012 08:09 AM

    Bring back Madsen. He is reliable, knows how to pitch in CBP, and can step in for Papelbon when he has the night off. Everything Charlie wants, and leadership the bullpen needs…IF he has recovered from his injuries….

  2. JM

    October 16, 2012 08:10 AM

    BTW…I’m talking one year, just to mentor the youngsters, then his stock will be back up and he can go close for someone else…

  3. Phillie697

    October 16, 2012 09:26 AM

    If only I can get Charlie to keep his mouth shut… Come to think of it, keep his mouth shut DURING games might even result in an extra win or two for us over the course of a whole season.

  4. nik

    October 16, 2012 10:14 AM

    Phillie697 with the usual anti-management drivel. I agree with Charlie, having a guy that can get both lefties and righties out and has setup experience is an important piece. How many different guys did we use in the setup role and how many games were blown in the 8th. Madson would be most welcome indeed.

  5. R Squared

    October 16, 2012 10:27 AM

    I also think the steadying (and relatively inexpensive) presence of Raul Valdes is worth having back in 2013, assuming he is fully healthy.

  6. Micah

    October 16, 2012 10:45 AM

    I cannot figure out why so many folks think Madson is an option here. It’s almost as if they think he should be grateful to the Phillies for how everything played out last year. That was supposed to be his 1 year audition for a long term deal. Instead he has to try again a year older, coming off an injury, for maybe 20% of what he got last year…that doesn’t seem like an ideal situation. I don’t think he handles it by resigning with the team that contributed to him being in this current predicament, especially when long term financial stability was within reach until Amaro switched to Papelbon at the last minute. Expecting Madson to resign with us is such a sterotypical Philly fan with their head stuck in clouds idea.

    The point is, Charlie wants something that may not really even exist. Even guys that we tend to think as reliable or “first class” relievers change from year to year (as Bill pointed out). Adams in Texas in 2012 looks significantly different than Adams in San Diego in 2011. Lindblom was supposed to be that solid late inning reliever, yet he trended down, even further than he did between 2011 and 2012 in L.A.

    The most prudent move is to see what you have coming out of spring training. If a bunch of these kids show improvement (all signs point to De Fratus and Aumont becoming reliable pieces in 2013 and major difference makers in 2014) then you don’t need to spend 2-3% of your payroll on something you can take care of in house. If you can’t make the bridge to Papelbon smoothly, then you look elsewhere. There’s no need for Amaro to put guys like Adams or Affeldt high on his shopping list or to clear his schedule for press conferences on the first day of Free Agent signings.

  7. nik

    October 16, 2012 10:47 AM

    The team is not responsible for Madson not getting a long term deal. After all he was a free agent. Also it has already been reported that RAJ and Madson have patched things up. And its just not smart to exclude a potential good situation because someone got a little butthurt a year ago.

  8. KH

    October 16, 2012 11:36 AM

    I don’t understand why some people like Aumont so much. The guy has really not pitched consistenly well for an extended period of time(several months straight or more) He is big and has good stuff but that doesn’t mean he is going to be good. I’m not saying I would spend a lot of money on a setup guy but there is no way in the world I would open next season with Aumont as the 8th inning guy.

  9. Phillie697

    October 16, 2012 12:17 PM

    @KH,

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting that Aumont becomes THE 8th inning guy; with that ugly walk rate, I don’t think I’d make him THE guy of anything. But he does have a boatload of potential, especially if his K rate rises to something similar to his minor league levels. Also, extremely SSS aside, in 14.2 innings he induced 74.4% (!!!!!!!) GBs. If he gets his K rate up a bit, reduces his BB rate, and maintain anywhere close to that kind of GB %, he might be THE 8th inning guy soon enough.

  10. Dan K.

    October 16, 2012 12:37 PM

    Give Horst a spot over JDF right out of ST? I don’t think I agree with that.

    @nik, Bastardo meets all of your qualifications (gets both lefties and righties out, has set up experience), but that didn’t help him this year, did it?

    @697, if Aumont does all of those things he’ll be THE best reliever in baseball, haha. I think his K rate will go up and BB rate go down at the same exact time. And when (if) that happens, I’m not sure there will be many balls in play for him to post a GB%.

  11. nik

    October 16, 2012 01:33 PM

    Charlie got burned with Bastardo, its why he’s pushing for someone with a longer track record of success and a higher pedigree than a guy like Qualls. Whether it was health, mechanics or confidence Bastardo seemed lost during some stretches of last year. I like him much better as a 7th inning guy.

  12. EricL

    October 16, 2012 02:05 PM

    nik, Bastardo’s BABIP was 127 points higher this season than it was last. That, along with his career-high HR/FB rate, explains a good portion of his perceived troubles. Bastardo’s 2012 FIP was nearly identical to his 2011 FIP, so the results you’re seeing aren’t necessarily indicative of him pitching worse.

  13. Ryan

    October 16, 2012 02:07 PM

    Often times, relievers bounce back after off years as they get less usage/healthier. I think that Bastardo is a good candidate for this effect. It was very encouraging to see him start to pitch well towards the end of the 2012 season. Remember how his bad end to 2011 after overuse foreshadowed his crappy 2012. I’m hoping that the same is true in reverse from 2012 to 2013. Bastardo was a lock-down 8th inning guy for 90% of 2011.

    I’m also hopeful that Stutes can contribute. There oughta be enough good, young arms to fill out an above average to dominant bullpen next season. Signing someone like Madson, Adams, or Affeldt is just as risky if not riskier than being patient with our young arms who all have at least some degree of major league experience–or are now veterans in the case of Bastardo.

  14. hk

    October 16, 2012 02:31 PM

    The biggest part of this issue is learning the opportunity cost of spending ~$5M on a set up man. Last year, I argued that the opportunity cost of rushing into the market to sign Papelbon for $12.5M per year was – in addition to the lost draft pick – settling for the likes of Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix for $3.75M and 500 PA’s. If they are intent upon staying under the luxury tax – I know that they said they could go over it in 2013 – is giving $5M to Mike Adams to pitch 50 innings going to cause them to get a lesser player or players at another position(s)?

  15. Josh G

    October 16, 2012 02:52 PM

    The 2013 priority list should be

    1. OF1
    2. 3B
    3. OF2
    4. reliever upgrade in FA

    If we get the other parts settled and have 5M left over, I don’t think anyone is willing to argue that Madson, Adams, et al (preferably Madson because of the 1 year deal he would likely seek) wouldn’t be a welcome addition over the young guys. In order to properly manage the budget we should get center field and our platoon partners figured out first.

  16. joecatz

    October 16, 2012 05:09 PM

    Look, I agree with everything you say here Bill, so I preface with that.

    However, As long as Charlie is managing this team, not spending money on a “set up guy” who he trusts is a mistake, if only for what it does to the workload of the starters. No way in hell Ruben goes into ST without a reliable veteran option.

    I actually think he tried to give him that guy last year, by taking the Rays approach, and going after Willis, Qualls, and to an wextent, hoping contreras was healthy.

    But thats almost 5mm in darts against a wall. Me, I’d rather see them take the 5mm that won’t break that bank, and give Charlie Affeldt or Adams.

  17. EricL

    October 16, 2012 05:21 PM

    I think a very good setup guy mitigates Charlie’s inefficient bullpen use. That was the best thing about Madson; for years he inadvertently forced Charlie to use his best reliever in some of the highest-leverage situations, just because he didn’t have a “closing mentality” or whatever the crap.

    As an aside, how much of A-Rod’s contract would NYY have to eat before he became an interesting short-term option for 3B?

  18. Frank Reynolds

    October 16, 2012 08:51 PM

    I like some of the kids but I am still not sure that I trust them. The team did not do as well as we all had hoped or expected. For me the bull pen was the area I felt was most detrimental to the team. I agree with some others that Charlie do not manage the pen well but it got to the point that I stopped blaming him. For a good amount of the first half I thought they would blow a lead or give up runs no matter who was pitching. I am really hoping they can fix that in 2013. I would love to have a great pen. Adams would be nice but I fear he would be too expensive. But if I was in RAJ’s position I would get Adams.

  19. Nik

    October 16, 2012 08:57 PM

    EricL: Only if they take Howard back as well.

  20. hk

    October 16, 2012 09:14 PM

    My concern with Adams is that from his age 33 season to his age 34 season, his K/9 dropped from 9.04 to 7.74 and his BB/9 increased from 1.71 to 2.92. If he declines further in his age 35 season, he won’t be worth $5M.

  21. Eric Longenhagen

    October 16, 2012 09:23 PM

    Mike Adams? The guy with thoracic outlet syndrome? No thanks. Not unless I get to see the medicals before I offer a contract.

  22. Josh G

    October 16, 2012 09:58 PM

    @EricL

    Assuming a win is worth 4.5MM, A-Rod would be worth between 10 and 18 mil / year based on his performance over the last 3 (injured) years. Let’s be conservative, even in the short team, and A-Rod would be fair at around 12 or 13 mil. However, I really don’t want to pay him more than 10.

  23. LTG

    October 17, 2012 08:34 AM

    thoracic outlet syndrome?

    Buying too many clearance-priced dinosaurs?

  24. hk

    October 17, 2012 09:26 AM

    Josh G,

    I’m not sure it’s appropriate – even when being conservative – to assume that ARod’s WAR from his age 35 to age 37 seasons will be the same during his age 38 to age 42 seasons. This is especially so when you consider that he’s missed 100 games over the past 2 seasons and that he’s DH’d in another 48 games in an effort to rest his aging body.

  25. EricL

    October 17, 2012 09:46 AM

    I’m thinking they wouldn’t need him much after his age 39 season (maybe even 38?), and may be able to fill the position from within the system after that, at which point he could be shipped back to a team with a DH position or a more pressing need.

    It’s obviously not going to happen, but it does seem like his days in Yankee pinstripes are numbered.

  26. hk

    October 17, 2012 03:03 PM

    EricL,

    That’s too risky. Even if you give up nothing and get him for 5 / $50M with the Yanks picking up the rest, if he continues to decline, you might be stuck with him for the final 4 years and $40M.

  27. Hog

    October 18, 2012 02:37 AM

    Don’t worry Mike Stutes will be back, all problems solved

  28. LTG

    October 18, 2012 09:27 AM

    HAH!

  29. BobSmith77

    October 18, 2012 06:20 PM

    Herndon is out until mid-summer recovering from TJ surgery. Stutes didn’t even throw off the mound after shoulder surgery this year in a simulated game conditions & is a question mark in the spring.

    That realistically leaves a list of De Fratus, Lindblom, Diekman, Rosenberg, Savery, and Schwimmer to fill those 3 spots.

    Diekman had horrible command issues this year and got hammered by RHB. Rosenberg got hit hard, doesn’t have a MLB-caliber offspeed pitch, and got hit hard. Savery is a depth guy. Schwimer hasn’t shown he can be anything more than a marginal middle reliever in 2 MLB stints.

    I guess that means De Fratus, Lindblom, and possibly Diekman make it.

    Doesn’t leave much organizational depth and 1-2 injuries in spring training sinks this bullpen yet again.

    Amaro does need to sign 1-2 veteran relievers to round out the pen contrary to what Bill posted. Certain Amaro will do that. The real question is do the Phils need to spend $4-5M on a setup caliber reliever like Betancourt or Belisle if they become available. Mixed on that depending upon what they do to fill more pressing needs at 3B and CF.

  30. jauer

    October 19, 2012 12:54 AM

    Phillie697 brings more insight than anyone on this site, except for maybe Baer. Idk why we tolerate nik’s nonsense.

    “The team is not responsible for Madson not getting a long term deal. After all he was a free agent. Also it has already been reported that RAJ and Madson have patched things up. And its just not smart to exclude a potential good situation because someone got a little butthurt a year ago.”

    If that is more than gibberish, then I need to take a refresher course.

  31. Phillie697

    October 19, 2012 11:22 AM

    I agree with BB. Let nik say whatever he feels is appropriate; I’m a big boy, I can handle it :)

    That said, jauer, thanks for the compliment. Much appreciated.

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