Middle Relief Remains An Issue for the Phillies

Tasked with keeping Wednesday night’s game close, the Phillies bullpen turned a 6-3 deficit into a 10-3 deficit which eventually turned into a 14-5 loss. It’s a story you’ve heard plenty of times already. Mario Hollands allowed an RBI single; Jeff Manship served up a grand slam to Marcell Ozuna; Luis Garcia, who hadn’t pitched since May 8, allowed three hits and walked four in an absurdly ugly inning of relief to put the game entirely out of reach.

Here are the updated gory stats for the bullpen:

  • ERA: 4.86 (4th-highest in baseball)
  • Strikeout rate: 22.3% (16th-lowest)
  • Walk rate: 10.5% (11th-highest)
  • BABIP: .289 (18th-highest)
  • Ground ball rate: 40.3% (25th-highest)
  • Fly ball rate: 40.1% (3rd-highest)
  • HR/FB rate: 12.8% (2nd-highest)

The problem doesn’t come from the back of the bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon may not be striking batters out like he used to, but he only recently had his string of 15 consecutive scoreless innings snapped. Jake Diekman hasn’t allowed a run in May, compiling 14 strikeouts and four walks in 10 2/3 innings in the month. Even Mike Adams hasn’t been bad, despite allowing unearned runs in each of his last two appearances — he has struck out 13 and walked three in 12 innings since coming off of the disabled list.

It’s middle relief that has been completely and utterly unreliable. Let’s set Papelbon, Diekman, and Adams aside and see what the stats look like:

Name ERA G IP TBF H R ER HR BB IBB HBP WP BK SO
Antonio Bastardo 4.58 20 19.7 86 13 10 10 2 12 1 2 1 0 25
Mario Hollands 4.11 17 15.3 63 12 7 7 2 5 0 0 2 0 11
Jeff Manship 7.50 13 12.0 61 15 10 10 1 10 3 0 0 0 7
B.J. Rosenberg 7.11 8 6.3 33 13 6 5 3 3 0 0 0 0 4
Justin De Fratus 7.20 4 5.0 21 5 4 4 2 1 0 0 0 0 2
Luis Garcia 15.75 3 4.0 25 7 9 7 2 5 0 0 1 0 5
Shawn Camp 5.40 3 3.3 15 7 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1
Brad Lincoln 11.57 2 2.3 13 5 3 3 1 0 0 1 0 0 2
Roberto Hernandez 0.00 3 2.0 9 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 3
Total 6.17 73 70.0 326 79 51 48 14 37 4 3 4 0 60

For those keeping score at home, that’s an aggregate 18.4 percent strikeout rate and 11.3 percent walk rate. The National League average for relievers is 22.8 percent for strikeouts and 9.9 percent for walks. Phillies middle relief is also responsible for 14 of the 18 home runs allowed by the bullpen.

Middle relievers, by definition, are not the arms you want in high-leverage situations and are therefore your worst relievers, but the Phillies’ crew is something else altogether. If the starting pitcher is unable to go seven innings, manager Ryne Sandberg is forced to dip into middle relief and it has developed into disaster more often than not. Here’s a list of the exploits of middle relief:

  • April 1 @ Rangers: Diekman allows the tying run in the seventh on an Adrian Beltre double. Mario Hollands walks two in the ninth inning and lets the Rangers walk-off on Beltre’s RBI single.
  • April 8 vs. Brewers: The Phillies were within striking distance, trailing 6-4 after six innings. B.J. Rosenberg allows a run in the seventh on Ben Revere‘s error. Brad Lincoln allows three runs on a home run to Ryan Braun in the eighth to put the game out of reach in a 10-4 loss.
  • April 9 vs. Brewers: The game was tied up at four apiece going into the eighth, but Antonio Bastardo allowed three runs on a walk, a stolen base, a hit batter, and two extra-base hits. Justin De Fratus allowed two more runs in the top of the ninth on a Mark Reynolds home run.
  • April 10 vs. Brewers: The Phillies trailed 3-2 after six innings. Jeff Manship started the seventh and allowed a run on two singles to three batters. Diekman relieved him but allowed an RBI single and a sacrifice fly (both runs charged to Manship) before ending the inning with the Phillies behind 6-2.
  • April 14 vs. Braves: The Phillies trailed 2-1 after seven innings. Rosenberg allowed back-to-back-to-back solo home runs to Evan Gattis, Dan Uggla, and Andrelton Simmons to make it 5-1. The Phillies stormed back and took a 6-5 lead in the bottom of the eighth. Diekman was asked to close out the game to give Papelbon some rest, but served up a grand slam to Uggla in what ended up as a 9-6 loss.
  • April 18 @ Rockies: Jonathan Pettibone gave up eight runs over four innings and the Phillies never realistically had a shot. But the bullpen made sure the team’s chances were as low as possible. Hollands allowed an RBI single in the sixth, Manship an RBI single in the seventh, and Rosenberg a two-run double in the eighth. The Phillies lost 12-1.
  • April 23 @ Dodgers: Trailing 2-1 after six innings, Manship allowed a double to pitcher Zack Greinke, and followed up with a triple to Yasiel Puig in the seventh. In the eighth, Hollands led off with a solo home run to Hanley Ramirez, and Shawn Camp allowed an RBI single to make it 5-2.
  • April 25 @ Diamondbacks: Trailing by one run at 4-3 entering the bottom of the eighth, Diekman gave the D-Backs an insurance run on a solo home run to A.J. Pollock. The Phillies scored once in the bottom of the ninth but ended up losing 5-4.
  • May 2 vs. Nationals: The Phillies led 3-2 going into the top of the eighth. Adams and Diekman teamed up to allow three runs on five hits and the Phillies lost 5-3.
  • May 6 vs. Blue Jays: Tied 5-5 going into the top of the tenth, Bastardo allowed back-to-back singles, then threw a wild pitch with one out to put the winning run at third base. A sacrifice fly by Juan Francisco put the Jays up 6-5 and they went on to win by that score.
  • May 7 @ Blue Jays: Phillies trail 1-0 going into the seventh. Cliff Lee tires and serves up two two-run home runs to make it 5-0. Rather than keep the game reasonably close, Hollands and Camp team up to allow five additional runs. The Jays won 10-0.
  • May 8 @ Blue Jays: A.J. Burnett allows seven runs in six innings. The Phillies scored once in the top of the seventh to make it 7-3. In the bottom half of the inning, Garcia allows a two-run home run to Edwin Encarnacion and a solo homer to Francisco to make it 10-3. Garcia allowed two more runs in the eighth, giving the Jays a 12-3 lead, and they would go on to win 12-6.
  • May 11 @ Mets: Phillies lead 4-1 going into the bottom of the ninth. Papelbon was given the day off. Antonio Bastardo starts the inning, allowing a double, followed by a two-run home run to Daniel Murphy to make it 4-3. He allowed a one-out double before being relieved by Roberto Hernandez. Hernandez allowed a single, pushing the tying run to third base. Juan Lagares pushed the run home on a ground out to shortstop. In the bottom of the 11th with the score knotted at 4-4, Manship loaded the bases with one out, then served a walk-off RBI single to Ruben Tejada.
  • May 21 @ Marlins: Read above

And that’s only the losses. Just to illustrate how much of a problem middle relief has been: Let’s say the bullpen is only 75% as terrible in those 14 games and the Phillies win four games and lose four fewer. They would be 24-19 instead of 20-23, and they would be virtually tied with the Atlanta Braves for first place in the NL East. That’s with their hot-and-cold offense, with below-average defense, with poor base running, and with spotty starting pitching.

It isn’t as if the bullpen has been unlucky, either. Their BABIP is middle of the back, but they’re walking too many batters, not getting enough swings and misses, allowing a startling amount of fly balls, and a relatively high percentage of those fly balls are leaving the yard. This is skill-based failure.

The problem isn’t relegated to a few select contributors — there are nine pitchers listed in the table above. Shuffle one or two or even three of them out if you’d like, but the problem is bigger than that. Because they have had issues properly developing pitchers lately, the Phillies are doomed to a season of terrible middle relief. They have to hope, on a daily basis, that their starters can get through seven innings before handing the ball off to some combination of Diekman, Adams, and Papelbon. They have a saying about that.

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12 comments

  1. Steve

    May 22, 2014 09:00 AM

    awesome use of grumpy old men! i love that saying! so true

  2. crow

    May 22, 2014 09:20 AM

    Bastardo has been having a fascinating season. He has faced almost 4x as many RHBs as LHBs, and you might think that that’s one source of his difficulty. In fact, subtract the LHBs, and he’s having a very good season. He has a 3:1 K/BB ratio and has held RHBs to a .292 OBP. a .309 Slg, and a .268 wOBA. Against LHBs, he’s walked more than he’s struck out, has a .400 OBP, a .714 Slg, and a .448 wOBA.

  3. Francisco (FC)

    May 22, 2014 11:35 AM

    Middle Relief Remains An Issue for the Phillies

    Maybe they should just put a giant bottle of Tums on the mound next time.

  4. Chris S.

    May 22, 2014 11:56 AM

    How could it be any worse if we bring up Aumont, De Fratus, and Giles? They at least have the stuff to get strikeouts and it can’t be worse than Luis Garcia or Manship.

    • Andrew Cleveland Alexander

      May 22, 2014 12:40 PM

      Giles, sure, I think he could help soon–see below. But Aumont has been horrendous in AAA and De Fratus, after seeming like maybe he had turned a corner, has been getting knocked around lately. One name to keep an eye on might be Nefi Ogando. He took Giles’ place as Reading’s closer and has been doing quite nicely. He’s got good stuff (I think Eric wrote a nice blurb about his recently) and he could be in Lehigh Valley soon.

  5. Andrew Cleveland Alexander

    May 22, 2014 12:34 PM

    Help could be on the way. Ethan Martin has only allowed one run in four appearances at LHV. I have to imagine he’ll be up once he’s rebuilt his strength, I’m guessing probably by the end of the month. If Giles keeps pitching the way he’s pitching, he should be up in June. But of course, the way this season is going they’ll probably arrive just as the starting rotation melts down. Scary thought: once they call Buchanan up to replace Lee, they’re basically one injury away from having to call up someone like Greg Smith or Sean O’Sullivan.

    I wonder what Pedro Martinez has been up to lately?

    • hk

      May 22, 2014 01:51 PM

      “…once they call Buchanan up to replace Lee, they’re basically one injury away from having to call up someone like Greg Smith or Sean O’Sullivan.”

      Scarier thought: Buchanan is someone like Greg Smith or Sean O’Sullivan.

  6. Chris S.

    May 22, 2014 03:44 PM

    Looks like we can add another loss on the bullpen to the list. This is just freaking depressing.

  7. amarosucks

    May 22, 2014 03:51 PM

    at this point I hope they lose out. maybe then amaro will finally get canned

    • Andrew Cleveland Alexander

      May 22, 2014 04:17 PM

      If that happens, what will you change your screen name to?

  8. Amarosucks

    May 23, 2014 03:56 AM

    Unfortunately there are a ton of options

    Howardsucks
    Montgomerysucks
    Mccarthyisannoyingashell
    Putfranzkeontv
    Reveresucks
    Thefarmsystemsucks
    Utleyforpresident
    Stoprippingrollins
    Tradeclifflee

    And the favorite

    Amarostillsucks

    Who would have thought that he would be a better player than gm? He needs to go away and never come back. Amaro could be the worst gm in philly sports history, which is really saying something.

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