Matt Gelb with the latest on a trio of Phillies relievers:
Mike Adams is on the DL with multiple tears in his right shoulder. Jeremy Horst has a strained left elbow. Michael Stutes has right biceps tendinitis. The Phillies are going to have to start and finish the second half of the season with a hodgepodge bullpen. The crazy thing is it might actually work as there is very little discernible difference Luis Garcia, Jake Diekman, and Phillippe Aumont and the aforementioned trio. Such is often the case when bullpens end up playing musical chairs.
David Schoenfield wrote about how closers are overrated recently, and this stuck with me:
Look at the major league save leaders from 2011: Jose Valverde, Kimbrel, John Axford, J.J. Putz, Rivera, Heath Bell, Drew Storen, Joel Hanrahan, Francisco Cordero, Brandon League, Juan Carlos Oviedo, Perez, Brian Wilson, Carlos Marmol, Jordan Walden, Neftali Feliz, Ryan Madson, Jonathan Papelbon, Sergio Santos.
That’s 19 closers who all saved at least 30 games. Only four are still doing the job — the three guys Buster mentioned, plus Papelbon, who switched teams (or five if you count Bell in Arizona, although his hold on the role is tenuous). Joe Nathan missed part of 2011 with an injury, so count him as well if you want, although he too has changed teams. By the way, most of those 19 guys were pretty good in 2011; 14 had an ERA under 3.00.
Lots of old guys in that list, and lots of injuries. The reason why many say relief pitchers are volatile is because they pitch so few innings relative to starters that you can’t trust their results in any given season. Additionally, compared to starters, relievers tend to have a more risky repertoire than starters since they throw harder and can more often and more consecutively throw max-effort pitches. Studies on injuries are mostly inconclusive, but Jose Ortiz of USA Today found at least some link between relief pitcher velocity and injury predisposition. Bullpens also tend to be comprised mostly of older pitchers that couldn’t cut it in the rotation for one reason or another. Generally speaking, young players wind up in the bullpen either because they are prodigies (Craig Kimbrel) or because the team has exhausted most of its other options (Joe Savery).
With the Phillies seemingly positioned as buyers in the final two weeks leading up to the July 31 deadline, recognizing the frailty of a bullpen is important. The recent news on Horst, Adams, and Stutes might make GM Ruben Amaro even more hesitant to trade closer Jonathan Papelbon, even though he is clearly declining. The Phillies received news on their bullpen at the same time the Red Sox learned that reliever Andrew Bailey is likely headed to season-ended shoulder surgery. The Red Sox had expressed some interest in bringing back Papelbon as recently as two weeks ago.
It seems counter-intuitive to trade away the most reliable member of your bullpen, especially after getting news that three of your other relievers are gone for the season, but the Phillies would be relying on the depth of their bullpen no matter the case. Papelbon throwing another 30 innings, maybe a third of which would be in legitimate high-leverage situations, doesn’t change the team’s fate.