A Too Early Look at the 25-Man Roster: Seventh Reliever
With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Clearwater on February 13th–one short week from now–it is certainly early to look forward to which 25 players will emerge from Spring Training as members of the Phillies Opening Day roster. Two weeks ago, we looked at the locks to break camp with the Major League club. Last week, we began looking at the actual roster battles that could emerge over the next two months. We’ll conclude that series this week.
This being the last spot in the bullpen of a team likely to finish with more losses than wins, what you’re about to read may not strike you as a piece about major league baseball players. Having already worked yourself up with talk of such luminaries as Joely Rodriguez, Daniel Nava, and Chris Coghlan, the drop-off here may feel stark. I’m only being slightly sarcastic.
Let’s start with the players already on the 40-man roster, since it seems unlikely that the Phillies would DFA someone off an already crowded 40-man roster to fill the last spot in a bullpen. Those two players are Adam Morgan and Luis Garcia.
You may recall that Adam Morgan just missed out on our lefty specialist spot last week, mostly because he hasn’t been a reliever much in his professional career. Both of those attributes–lefty and non-reliever–it turns out, could be good here. With Joely Rodriguez currently the only left-handed pitcher on our theoretical Opening Day roster, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to add another or at least use handedness as a tie-breaker in a roster battle. Second, as we saw from Brett Oberholtzer‘s ineffectiveness last year, a reliever who can go multiple innings without the game blowing up in his face can be important, especially with Vince Velasquez occasionally struggling to pitch deep and looming injury concerns with Aaron Nola and Clay Buchholz.
Now, just yesterday, we sent Luis Garcia off the 40-man in favor of a fifth outfielder named Chris Coghlan, but let’s pretend for a moment that we can find that spot elsewhere–maybe Alec Asher or Jesmuel Valentin. Garcia has been in the majors before–for 127.1 innings, in fact–and the Phillies clearly hold him in some esteem by keeping him around this long.
We’ll also explore three other candidates not currently on the 40-man roster. Looking for another left-handed reliever, we’ll revisit the cases of Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos that we dismissed in favor of Joely Rodriguez last week and look for the first time at Dalier Hinojosa, a pitcher who you may remember as a candidate for the Phillies closer role less than one year ago.
2016 Stats and Projections
Wow! That list sure is underwhelming. The only pitchers with ERAs under 6.00 both threw fewer than 15 innings in the major leagues last season, which makes it difficult to be confident in those results. None of the strikeout rates are over 20% and the only above-average ground ball rates come in samples of fewer than 16 innings. Do we really have to have one of these guys on our team?
Well, yes. And, you might feel a little more comfortable about it when we look at some projections.
This looks a little better for our early front-runner. Recall that Brett Oberholtzer had a 4.83 ERA (5.67 FIP) in 50.1 innings with the Phillies last season before he was DFA’d in August. Morgan figures to be an improvement on that. If anything has been a theme of this Phillies offseason, it has been improving incrementally over the major negatives in 2016. Morgan over Oberholtzer is that.
The projections above show the line of a more-or-less league-average starting pitcher, which, when you’re talking about a long-reliever or emergency starter, is a pretty good piece to have. He has the added benefits of being left-handed and a spot on the 40-man roster. Nothing here suggests that we should remove Morgan from his front-runner status.
Our other 40-man candidate shows a but less consistency in his projections. Steamer sees him as a positive asset out of the bullpen, with a passable strikeout percentage and an above-average ground ball rate that add up to a tolerable ERA. PECOTA doesn’t see the same pitcher. They see mostly the same thing, except for home runs (1.24 per nine) becoming his undoing. That’s not out of line with Garcia’s track record. It needs to be restated: With both Garcia and Morgan already on the 40-man roster, both of them would have to falter in Spring Training for any of the remaining candidates to have a shot.
We discussed in the lefty reliever roster battle preview how much uncertainty surrounds Ramos and Burnett with varying issues related to age, injury, and declining stuff. Especially for Burnett, who has little in the way of a major league track record in recent seasons–the primary data upon which these projections are built–there’s wild uncertainty over how effective he will be. With Ramos and his plummeting velocity, the projections are a bit more certain in the sense that there is agreement that he won’t be good, won’t get strikeouts, and won’t make up for it with ground balls. Again, they both have long records of success in the major leagues, so, like Andrew Bailey last year, either could show up in Clearwater ready to bounce back and earn a spot on the team. While that is something to look out for, it’s not something one would be wise to bet on.
Lastly, lets turn to Hinojosa, who, one year ago, was very much in the mix to not only break camp with the major league team, but to be their closer. After a promising start to the season, as evidenced by his 2016 season stats above, he went on the disabled list with a bone bruise in his throwing hand and never made it back to the major leagues. At the conclusion of the season, the Phillies removed Hinojosa from the 40-man roster to clear spots to protect players from the Rule 5 draft. That alone speaks to the esteem in which the organization holds him, i.e., not high.
But, this is a pitcher who, in two seasons with the Phillies, has shown that he can be effective. In 34 major league innings, he has a 3.17 ERA to go along with 7.7 strikeouts per nine and a 2.64 K:BB ratio. If he weren’t right-handed, limited to one or two innings per outing, and a non-roster invite, Hinojosa would be as good a candidate as any to make the team out of camp. Unfortunately, all three of those things are true of him, so he is very much an outsider.
Unless Hinojosa, Burnett, or Ramos seriously force the issue with a lights-out Spring Training, this is a battle between the two pitchers currently on the 40-man: Adam Morgan and Luis Garcia. Of those two, Morgan has the edge for at least two reasons. First, he’s a left-handed pitcher on a team that, as it stands, has only one left-handed pitcher on the roster in Joely Rodriguez. Second, as a starter, he is an option for the occasions where the starter struggles or leaves the game early with an injury. The Phillies, with multiple pitchers of questionable durability, could use that.
Lastly, for the sake of internal consistency in this series, it should be noted that we already gave Luis Garcia’s spot on the 40-man roster away to Chris Coghlan. Of course, that spot could be found elsewhere–we already mentioned Alec Asher and Jesmuel Valentin as candidates–but it seems unlikely that giving up on either of them is worth whatever slight upgrade Garcia may be over these other guys.
In short, then, Adam Morgan will make the team as their seventh reliever, as Pete Mackanin has suggested he may. He checks a lot of the boxes the Phillies need in that role–left-handed, can go multiple innings, can make a spot start when needed–and certainly represents an improvement over what they had there last year.