2016 Phillies Report Card: Hector Neris
Entering the 2016 season, Hector Neris was largely written off as another middling to useless reliever on a team that appeared to be suffering from an epidemic of that sort. Enabling the stereotype were lofty numbers like 4.72 and 1.79, or the respective FIP and HR/9 that Neris pitched to the year prior. The Phillies’ bullpen looked like an impending train wreck, and Neris’ inclusion on the train was mostly seen as inconsequential. Mostly.
An anonymous Phillies’ blogger did not share this sentiment, and in a prescient post on the topic, made a compelling argument that Neris was actually a viable late inning option.
The salient points of that article:
1. Neris had a very high Swinging Strike%
2. His HR/FB rate would likely regress
3. His pitch usage was sub-optimal, and could be fixed
To the last point, the author was not the only one to have this revelation. Manager Pete Mackanin suggested the same during Spring Training, advising Neris to throw his devastating splitter more frequently. Neris obliged, throwing the pitch 52% of the time in 2016, almost double its usage from the year before. Good things happened. Neris’ Swinging Strike% went up even higher. His home run totals dropped precipitously.
There are a number of ways to judge a relief pitcher: K-BB%, FIP, RE24, WAR. By every one of these measures, Neris not only led all Phillies relievers, but bested a large majority of the league. And he made some very good hitters look foolish along the way, flailing at his splitter as it seemingly dropped out of sight.
Perhaps even more encouraging than the results are the fact that, to some degree, all three of the above points remain relevant for the upcoming season. Translation: we may have yet to see the best of Hector Neris.
Grade: an easy “A”