2014 Phillies Report Card: Antonio Bastardo
We’ve come to know him, at times affectionately and at times derisively, as Tony No-Dad. In my glory days living in South Philly, I called him Tony Fuggin’ Bastid. For the tail end of the Phillies’ dominant years, Antonio Bastardo established himself as Charlie Manuel‘s favorite lefthanded reliever. After four full years in the bullpen, however, Bastardo could be on his way out of town due to an addiction to walks, the emergence of Jake Diekman, an arbitration case pending (after a $2 million salary in 2014), and free agency after 2015.
Bastardo’s generosity with free passes is maddening to watch, and the problem isn’t getting better for the 29-year-old Dominican lefty. Since 2011, his walk rate (BB%) has been 11.6%, 11.6%, 11.7%, and 12.6%. That’s bad. With several other left-handed relievers on the team, it doesn’t make sense for the Phillies to pay Bastardo $30,000 per appearance to walk almost five batters per nine innings. But that’s none of my business.
It’s easy to pick and choose statistics to fit a narrative. Bastardo is good: great K%, low HR/FB%, decent ERA retrodictors. Bastardo is bad: terrible walk rates, fringy WHIP, and a see-saw on the ERA- train.
Among 142 qualified relievers in 2014, Bastardo had the 25th-best K% but the 10th-worst BB%. The top (bottom) 10 in walk rate is generally not the kind of company one wants to keep: A.J. Ramos, Grant Balfour, John Axford, Rex Brothers, Daniel Webb, Alex Torres, Trevor Rosenthal, Jim Johnson, Jordan Walden, and J.P. Howell. That list is riddled with the poster children for Relievers With Control Issues. In particular, Axford, Balfour, and Johnson stand out as raging tire fires. On the bright side, Bastardo tied for second in the group with a lovely 0.7 fWAR.
That just about sums up what you get with Tony No-Dad: lots of strikeouts (about 30%), lots of walks (about 12%), and a ton of frustration. On our deathbeds, we will probably regret spending all this time wondering why he walks so many batters, but at least we will rest easy knowing it wasn’t because of a decrease in fastball velocity. For the last four years, he’s been pretty steady around 93 MPH on the heater.
On a positive note, Bastardo has upped his ground ball rate over the last two years and decreased his line drive rate. He also doesn’t really give up homers – only four in 2014 and just two in 2013. But he seems to turn himself into a one-pitch pitcher as the season slowly fades away into nothingness.
With only one pitch he consistently trusts down the stretch and spotty control overall, Bastardo has become too expensive for his skills. The Phillies reaped the benefits of his cheap, powerful bullpen arm for years while they overpaid veterans like Mike Adams. Now that Bastardo is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility, he has moved over to the dark side of overcompensated, flawed relief pitchers. On a team going nowhere in 2015 that is thankfully blessed with a deep bullpen, Bastardo’s control problems seem to have placed him behind Diekman and may eventually even slot him behind Mario Hollands.
Antonio Bastardo’s 2011-2014 performance reinforces the cliché that relievers are fickle. Maybe the Phillies get 2011/2013 Bastardo next year, and maybe they get 2012/2014 Bastardo. For what will likely be close to $3 or even $4 million, the Phillies will get a high-strikeout reliever who struggles with control and who has never, ever walked fewer than four batters per nine innings.