Hector Neris: Building the Next Bullpen
Heading into the 2017 season, we here at Crashburn Alley strive to update you on a specific storyline regarding many of the returning staples from last season’s roster. Today is relief pitcher Hector Neris.
The Phillies had a bad bullpen in 2016. The trade of Ken Giles left them with newly signed David Hernandez as the only competent looking reliever in the bullpen. After a disastrous first week of the season the Phillies found two relievers to cobble a bullpen around. One of those relievers is closer incumbent Jeanmar Gomez, but his upcoming free agency makes him less relevant to the Phillies’ future. What is more interesting was the emergence of Hector Neris and his splitter from middle relief obscurity.
During the 2015 season, Neris proved himself to be a competent pitcher, riding his splitter and solid command to a good strikeout rate and near league average ERA. In 2016, he increased his splitter usage and turned into a real weapon for the Phillies. Neris like much of the Phillies’ bullpen had a disastrous September, but for the first 5 months of the season he post a 2.11 ERA over 68.1 innings with 19 walks to 86 strikeouts. His full season workload was among the major league leaders (5th in innings pitched and 4th in games), but it was not a career high for Neris, who is unconcerned about his workload.
It wasn’t just the splitter that made Neris’s season interesting. His fastball velocity continued to increase all year and was up over a mile per hour from his 2015 season and by the end of the season his velocity was over 2 miles per hour faster than his 2015 average.
He also mostly scrapped his slider, throwing just 30 of them all season, down from the 85 he threw the year before in half the innings. Neris is trying to bring the pitch back in 2017 as another look to keep hitters off of his splitter and fastball. However, he will need to have a much better version than previous seasons where it was a clear weakness to his game (he had just one swing and miss on it in 2016). Regardless of the reemergence of his slider, the key improvement from 2015 to 2016 for Neris will be keeping the baseball in the ballpark as he saw his home run rate nearly cut in half between the two seasons
Neris will almost certainly be the best reliever in the Phillies revamped bullpen this season. However, it seems like he will be in a set up role to start the season instead of closing. That may not be the status quo for the entire season, and Neris could establish himself in the role not long into the season. Neris lacks the electric stuff of the elite relievers in the game, but with his improvement in velocity he is no soft tosser either. The Phillies still have 5 years of control over Neris going forward, which will lead to calls for the Phillies to trade him for more prospects. However, if Neris can establish himself as a solid 8th/9th inning option he has more value to the Phillies long term, as they may need a serviceable bullpen as soon as the 2018 season.
There may be many unknowns this season for the Phillies, but seeing some awkward swings like these is one thing we know we will see.