Gomez’s Struggles Hide Bullpen Rebuild Success

Two years in a row the Phillies have started the year in Cincinnati, and two years in a row they have left with bullpen questions. In 2016, the team shifted from David Hernandez to Dalier Hinojosa to Jeanmar Gomez as closer by April 9. This year, the Phillies are considering moving Jeanmar Gomez out of the closer’s role, but the similarities end there between the two teams. The difference is that the 2016 Phillies were throwing a bunch of things at the wall and hoping for something to work out, and the 2017 Phillies will be moving one of their shutdown setup men to work the final inning of the game.

This offseason, Matt Klentak made it a goal to upgrade the Phillies bullpen. The Phillies projected to return Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, Edubray Ramos, and Joely Rodriguez from a bullpen that was one of the worst in baseball last year, leaving three open spots. To accomplish that goal, he acquired Pat Neshek for nothing and gave Joaquin Benoit a 1 year contract. The results have been immediate. So far this season, Benoit and Neshek have combined with Neris and Ramos to give the Phillies a great group of middle relief. So far the quartet has pitched 12.2 innings, allowed 0 runs, 8 hits, 4 walks, and struck out 14. Meanwhile Rodriguez, Adam Morgan, and Gomez have given up 11 runs in 7.2 innings.

Adam Morgan is clearly the long reliever for Pete Mackanin in the mop up role that Brett Oberholtzer occupied last year. Joely Rodriguez is going to see work against lefties, and his struggles are the most concerning non-Gomez pitching development. However, neither of them is slated for high leverage innings, and so while their struggles are unpleasant, they are not damning.

With Sunday’s blowup, Jeanmar Gomez has cost the Phillies one game and has nearly cost them a second. That is not going to cut it, even for a team lacking in playoff aspirations. This means the question really is “Who will replace Gomez?”, and not “Can the Phillies replace Gomez?”. The Phillies have four candidates to replace Gomez, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. So far the Phillies have been using Joaquin Benoit as their stopper, with him coming into a high leverage situation on opening day, as well as in the 6th in their most recent win to face Strasburg and then 1-2-3 in the order (he also got work in the 7th inning of Friday’s game). Ramos and Neshek have yet to get much leverage work (Ramos did pitch the 7th on opening day and Neshek got some outs in the 7th on Sunday), so it is hard to see what their defined roles are other than Ramos’ ability to go multiple innings. That leaves Neris, who got 4 outs on Sunday and pitched the 8th on opening day and on Friday. Neris clearly has Mackanin’s trust, and he also has the ability to 4+ innings, closing out a problem and then getting more work the following inning.

The answer of who will close clearly comes down to Neris and Benoit, but before looking at how the new structure allows for that choice to go either way, it is important to factor a demoted Gomez back into the mix. Gomez at his best is a former starter capable of going multiple innings with a good ground ball rate. That is essentially what he did in 2015, when his season stats were better than they were in 2016 (though his disastrous September sways that some). That would slot him into a role currently being occupied by a mix of Benoit, Neshek, and Ramos. Is Gomez a downgrade from those guys? Maybe, but not noticeably so from Neshek or the current iteration of Ramos (Ramos should improve as he continues to log MLB innings). This brings us back to Benoit vs Neris and how the added bullpen depth makes this transition easier.

If we assume that Benoit and Neris are negligibly different at getting batters out (which may or may not be true, but is reasonably close given our current knowledge), then the difference is that Neris can get more than 3 outs and Benoit is probably more limited to a 1 inning role. This means if Neris is your closer, his extra work is coming in the 8th inning, which theoretically is Benoit’s inning, which means you are planning on having a safety valve for Benoit. The opposite arrangement has Benoit in the 9th and Neris in the 8th, meaning that like today, the extra outs if you need them would come in the 7th, protecting Neshek, Ramos, and Gomez. If those players do their job, then you can limit Neris’ innings. If you start to sense trouble, then you have the ability to go to your best pitcher. The added bonus is that the Phillies’ bench is constructed in a way that makes moves like double switches palatable, as Mackanin can play the platoon advantages.

When this move happened in 2016, it left Neris and Gomez alone as the only viable pitchers in the bullpen, now this move sees the Phillies with existing arms that can help cover the leverage opportunities created by this shift in structure. This does mean that the Phillies are going to need pitchers like Edubray Ramos to get important outs early in the game, but this also frees the Phillies up to do more with their bullpen, like using Gomez as a long man and exchanging Morgan for a more situational arm. But that is just speculation for now, because with the improvements made this offseason, this is a reshuffling of responsibilities, not a gaping hole.

 

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7 comments

  1. Wildfyr

    April 10, 2017 12:47 PM

    I was at Sundays game and you should have heard people groan and roll their eyes after gomez gave up that home run. Everyone knows Neris should be given a real long term look at the closer role. He’s better than Gomez, period.

  2. Mike Fassano

    April 10, 2017 01:08 PM

    I’d go with Benoit as the closer, and after the trade deadline (whether Benoit is traded or not), go with Neris. By the way, our Phillies are in first place.

    • Romus

      April 10, 2017 03:34 PM

      Mike…agree. Benoit would be my first choice. He has the experience.
      Plus….the 40 man would be disrupted again if Klentak had to go outside the org. to get another reliever, and this early in the season is usually taboo to do that except in an injury situation. And Garcia, Morgan or Rodriquez would be in jeopardy of being DFAed if that were the case.

      • Eddie

        April 10, 2017 04:27 PM

        I don’t think a bunch of saves are going to do much to improve Benoit’s trade value, precisely because he already has the experience.

        OTOH, a bunch of saves would do a lot to improve Neris’ stock, especially looking for a contender wanting to used him in a pennant race. And while Benoit would bring in a lottery ticket prospect, Neris — who is almost 28 but has four years of team control left — would be a very appealing guy for a contender.

  3. RU

    April 10, 2017 01:29 PM

    Nice article and one only wonders how long this will take given that blowup yesterday. I see what you mean in terms of Gomez being the long man, but does it also possibly argue that they might also be better with yet another new face to substitute for Gomez / Morgan – arm side being irrelevant then. Klentak has a way of finding useful bullpen parts out of the detris. What a real shame that L. Garcia at AAA can’t learn to master that split finger pitch. With his velocity and a splitter ? – otoh, his control/command is suspect !! Be careful what you wish for….

  4. Ryan D

    April 11, 2017 09:51 AM

    Great piece, and I totally agree that the floor and floor reserves of this bullpen is far and away better than last year.

    My one quibble is that we may be under valuing Hernandez’s 2016 season. He did pitch 72 innings in 70 games at a league average level of production. He certainly wasn’t exciting, but overall put up just under one WAR and was the team’s fifth most valuable pitcher by bWAR. I was really hoping that Morgan was going to be able to perform at that level but he looks just as overmatched as Olberholzer was last year. Maybe you’re right that Gomez can move into this role and be that boring, dependable reliever that gives up a run every two or three games but manages to turn a still close game over to better relievers.

  5. boomerbubba

    April 11, 2017 10:46 PM

    Take your stiff pick in tonight’s 2nd straight loss to the Mets:

    PITCHERS IP H R ER BB SO HR PC-ST ERA
    C Buchholz 2.1 8 6 6 1 2 1 67-46 12.27
    A Morgan 3.2 7 4 4 2 5 4 76-51 10.50
    J Rodriguez 1.2 4 3 3 2 2 1 48-25 11.81

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