The State of the Bullpen
The Phillies bullpen looks a lot different than it did entering last season. It’s clear that the front office made improving the bullpen in the short term a major priority for the offseason, as it made a series of deals for relievers without many years of control. Let’s run down the Phillies news look ‘pen, with the assumption that they’ll carry seven relievers.
The Sure Things
Jeanmar Gomez – The Phillies closer from last season proved that his tightrope walk from April to August was a mirage with an absolutely dreadful September. In the end, his paltry 15.8% K% has been overshadowed by the 37 saves which showed to some that he’s “got what it takes to man the 9th inning effectively.” According to Pete Mackanin, Gomez will enter the season as the Phillies closer, but if there was a pool on when he’d be replaced, my money would be before the end of May.
Hector Neris – The top arm from the Phillies ‘pen last year returns with the splitter so filthy, it has a cloud of dust following it around, Pig-Pen style. With a K% almost double that of Gomez (the result of a true out pitch), I had assumed Neris would enter the season as the closer. That’s not the case, but there is a very good chance he’ll be making hitters miserable in the 9th inning before too long.
Joaquin Benoit – You can read the piece I wrote on Benoit when the Phillies signed him here. The short version is he’s effective but old. It’s difficult to imagine him continuing to post ERAs below 3.00 into his forties. The good thing is the Phillies only signed him for one year, and as a career set-up man, he certainly won’t chafe at the idea of pitching in 7th and 8th innings all season, should Pete Mackanin opt to use him there.
Pat Neshek – Fresh off the USA’s first World Baseball Classic championship, Neshek, the former Astro, brings leadership, a funky delivery, skill, and a hyperactive mound presence to a Phillies bullpen that, along with Neris and Benoit, should be able to hold leads for the young rotation. He’ll be rejoining the Phillies after throwing a scoreless 8th inning against Puerto Rico in the WBC finals. He was acquired from the Astros for a PTBNL or cash and, like Benoit, will be a free agent at season’s end.
Side note about Phillies bullpen and the WBC: JC “3-2 count” Romero turned in a vintage performance in the WBC finals. He came in for one batter, got ahead 1-2, then allowed Brandon Crawford to force the count full. In his career, Romero has seen 457 PAs with a full count out of 2943 batters faced, or 15.5%. I’m not sure how that compares to other relievers, but to me, Romero will always be a compulsive nibbler when ahead in the count.
Adam Morgan – Coming off two, uhh…, not good seasons as a starter, Morgan has converted to relieving and is looking to make the roster as a lefty in a very righty-leaning bullpen. Morgan has pitched well in spring training, with a 2.19 ERA over 12.1 innings with a 9-2 K-BB ratio. Chances: 40%
Edubray Ramos – The righty flashed some talent last year with a strikeout per inning over 40 innings in his first taste of MLB action. Following that up with a strong spring (6-2 K-BB in 6.1 innings), Ramos will very likely make the roster come April. Chances: 90%
Joely Rodriguez – Rodriguez struggles with his control and doesn’t strike out enough hitters to compensate. After walking 10.3% of the 39 batters he faced in the majors last year, Rodriguez has allowed 3 home runs in 8 innings this spring. Nonetheless, Rodriguez is a favorite to make the roster due to his left-handedness, while the only other lefty with a serious chance to make the team is the also-mediocre Morgan. Chances: 65%
Pat Venditte – Definitely the most intriguing pitcher in camp, Vendetta inspires interest not because of his raw stuff but because he’s a switch pitcher. He pitched in the WBC for Italy, and frankly, I want him on the team strictly because of his ambidexterousness regardless of his 6.15 FIP in 2016. Chances: not high enough
Sean Burnett – Burnett has an outside chance to make the roster due to his left-handedness and his opt out clause that allows him to enter free agency if he’s not on the 25-man roster by the final week of the spring. Even so, the journeyman is not very good and likely will not make the team over the higher upside Morgan and Rodriguez. Chances: 5%
Luis Garcia – Garcia has strikeout and walk rates similar to Joely Rodriguez, but he’s five years older and a righty. Despite his mediocre career numbers entering his age-30 season, there are still rumblings that Garcia could make the roster. Apparently Hector Neris taught Garcia the black magic that allows his splitter to be so effective, and Garcia has been practicing on his own. That being said, his inclusion on the roster would give the Phillies just one lefty, so don’t count on it. Chances: 25%
A lot can happen between Opening Day, but I think the most likely bullpen looks like this:
7th/8th Inning Guys: Neris, Benoit, and Neshek
Middle relief: Rodriguez, Morgan, and Ramos