In Final 51 Games, Bullpen Must Focus on Limiting Walks

The Phillies were gut-punched yet again yesterday when they learned that reliever Antonio Bastardo would serve a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. The Phillies enter tonight’s series opener against the Cubs carrying the National League’s worst bullpen ERA at 4.29, just a shade ahead of the Cubs at 4.21. Losing Bastardo, one of the two legitimately good throwers in the bullpen, means the Phillies will have to depend on the likes of Justin De Fratus and Jake Diekman to get the job done in high-leverage spots.

There are quite a few flaws in the bullpen. For instance, the bullpen as a whole has compiled baseball’s sixth-worst strikeout rate at an even 20 percent. They have allowed the second-highest percentage of inherited runners to score in the National League, at 38 percent. The biggest issue, by far, has been the propensity to issue walks. As a group, they have walked 10.5 percent of batters, the highest rate among all 30 bullpens in baseball.

As you can see in the following chart, the only relievers not at fault are Jonathan Papelbon and Raul Valdes.

Unless GM Ruben Amaro plans to sign a handful of veteran free agent relievers during the off-season, we will see many of these faces again in the 2014 ‘pen. De Fratus, Diekman, Garcia, et. al. should focus primarily on consistently throwing strikes, even if it comes at the cost of missing bats, getting BABIP unlucky, or serving up a handful of home runs. Relievers pitch in some of the most important situations in a game, and it is unacceptable to have six of seven guys walking batters at the league average rate or worse.

The corps of young Phillies relievers need to utilize the rest of the 2013 season to iron out mechanical kinks and get over mental hurdles, then they can worry about the other stuff like missing bats and adding new pitches.