Tommy Hunter and the 8 Man Bullpen

Another day, another reliever contract for the Phillies. Yesterday the Phillies reportedly agreed to a 2 year $18M deal with free agent right hander Tommy Hunter.  The 31 year old Hunter has been an effective reliever for many year, but last year went to a new level with the Tampa Bay Rays as his strikeout rate shot up. Hunter started throwing his fastball less and harder while at the same time throwing more of his cutter which was around 94 instead of it’s previous 90. With his K% up over 10% on 2016, Hunter was able to post a 2.61 ERA on the season.

Hunter on his own is a solid addition. He isn’t a closer, and he probably isn’t a set up guy for the Phillies, but he should give Gabe Kapler another mid innings arm. This brings us to something that Matt Gelb mentioned yesterday. The Phillies are strongly thinking about going with an 8 man bullpen. In general I am opposed to 8 man bullpens because they leave a team’s bench a bit thin, but in this case the Phillies’ personnel was already leaning heavy towards this strategy.

Hitting wise the Phillies have absolutely no bench with the only returning bench players being Cameron Rupp, Andrew Knapp, and Tommy Joseph, with a non-roster invite for Pedro Florimon. If the Phillies trade Freddy Galvis, J.P. Crawford will slide into the starting lineup. But it is more than just the short bench, the Phillies starters are already positionally flexible. Both Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr can play all three outfield positions, Rhys Hoskins can shift to left field, and Maikel Franco can shift to first. The middle infielder, in particular Florimon and Crawford are also positionally flexible. Additionally if the Phillies go with Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp, both can play first base and Alfaro can probably slide into the outfield in an emergency. That allows the Phillies to run a shorter bench without leaving them in a pinch defensively.

On the pitching side it is no secret the Phillies starters are weak. Aaron Nola is a stud, and the Phillies would love for Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, and Nick Pivetta to be stalwarts but all of them cannot go deep and are Eickhoff and Velasquez are injury prone. The Phillies have a plethora of  other starters like Mark Leiter Jr., Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, Ben Lively, Thomas Eshelman, and Drew Anderson, but they are all either no ready or back end arms. This means that on days Nola does not start the Phillies are looking at 4-5 innings from the bullpen, so the Phillies might as well plan for it.

Which finally brings us to the arms in the bullpen, where the Phillies already have a core of inexperienced arms. This means the Phillies bullpen looks something like: Hector Neris, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Edubray Ramos, Luis Garcia, Adam Morgan, Hoby Milner, and an 8th pitcher from the Victor Arano, Yacksel Rios, Ricardo Pinto, or any of the above named starter group. The names may not jump out, but Hector Neris had a better second half, and Adam Morgan and Edubray Ramos were downright dominant. Luis Garcia is not a big strikeout pitcher, but he had a breakout year with a very high ground ball rate. Milner is probably replaceable as a LOOGY, but in an 8 man bullpen it is easier to carry a one out lefty. Neshek is not a closer, but he is a good 7th/8th inning guy, same with Hunter.

These additions push the weak reliever spot to the 8th spot in the bullpen and gives Gabe Kapler 6-7 reliable arms to mix and match and keep healthy all year. If that doesn’t work the Phillies should be able to move some of them at the deadline.

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  1. Eddie

    December 13, 2017 03:38 PM

    As a short-term, aid-to-development thing, I don’t have a problem with it. Where I have questions is how this fits into the long-term strategy.

    ISTM the goal should be to develop Pivetta, Velasquez, etc. into more than just 5-inning pitchers. If aren’t ever going to be capable of that then you need to be thinking about moving them to the pen. IMO you still need to have at least 3-4 serious SP to be a contender. I hope the thinking here isn’t that a bullpen-centric approach is viable long-term.

    • Romus

      December 13, 2017 04:05 PM

      I would have to agree…they surely cannot be thinking along those lines over the long term. The fascination of that approached was hi-lited by Tito, Girardi and others in playoff scenarios where teams usually had a day off between games or extended time off due to short series’ situations ….over a 6 month season….not sure how efffective that would be.

  2. Andrew R.

    December 13, 2017 06:15 PM

    Let’s be real. How many of our potential, 7-8 starting pitchers have even pitched 150 innings in a season? 175? Maybe Nola and Eickhoff are two guys considered to be 180-200 inning guys. Although, in 2016, Eickhoff had issues with the 6th inning, and last year he had issues with all innings it seemed.

    Assume Velasquez is healthy and proving himself. How much do you want to push him? I have no problem if these guys get through 5-6 innings with 85-95 pitches and Kapler decides to pull them. We now have an area of strength to go to. There will be times when “character building” can take place and we want to see Nola push 115 to get through 8 or 9. But for a team with 4 rotation spots as question marks, I’m ok with using a bigger bullpen. We can always reevaluate and readjust come July.

    • Romus

      December 13, 2017 06:52 PM

      AndrewR….funny you brought up the starters….just a few minutes ago, on another site, a guy posted these metrics on the their starters.
      “As for the starters, on the year they were middle of the pack (14th) and averaged 5.5 IP per start. And that’s after being hurt by Eickhoff having a bad year and having Pivetta and Thompson make more than just a couple of spot starts.(All decimals are fractions, so 0.2=2/10, not 2/3) Nola averaged 6.2 IP, VV averaged 5.76, Lively 5.91, and Leiter 5.52. Eickhoff only managed 5.33 in 24 starts after averaging over 6 IP per start in his career. And then there’s Pivetta’s 26 starts averaging 5.12 IP and Thompson’s 8 averaging 5.17.”
      ……..the issue for many of them will probably be…they have this season to prove, if they will remain a Phillie or move on.

      • Andrew R.

        December 13, 2017 09:30 PM

        Yeah and there’s nothing wrong with that. This should be make or break for quite a few guys. If Velasquez, Eflin or whomever gets hurt again, then we have to move forward without them in our plans. Pivetta, Thompson or Lively are ineffective, same thing. I’m not saying cut them, but make moves as if those pitchers won’t be part of the plan. A couple years later, someone might surprise, but don’t count on it.

        Ultimately, I’m good with building a stronger bullpen. I think it makes sense. And as usual, we can eat money in July for a potential trade.

  3. Steve

    December 13, 2017 06:22 PM

    What would a potential package for Yellich look like? Could we absorb all of the Marlin’s bad contracts and get Yellich without giving away Sixto Kingrey or Kilome? How about Yellich Strailey Chen Volquez and Prado for Cozens Lively a RP and one of Quinn, or Randolph

    • Romus

      December 13, 2017 06:57 PM

      Today at the meetings a Marlim beat guy said the package for Yelich will be higher than the package the Cardinals gave for Ozuna based on discussion he has had with Marlin officials.
      Point in question…..cost controlled years are more…and contract is very team friendly.
      So the Marlins will expect more.

      BTW…Volquez is no longer in play…the Marlins released him a few hours ago..

    • Andrew R.

      December 13, 2017 09:26 PM

      Derek Jeter has shown to only care about money. We could have beaten the package for Ozuna. Gordon and Stanton’s returns didn’t net huge returns. I really believe we can acquire Yelich for a discount. Not anything ridiculous. I know some people will say Tommy Joseph, Andrew Knapp, Maikel Franco and Nick Pivetta if we take Prado’s contract. Not quite like that. But I certainly think we can keep Sixto and Kingery.

    • Eddie

      December 13, 2017 10:01 PM

      Prado’s contract isn’t that bad; in fact if he gets back to pre-2017 form, it suddenly looks quite attractive. They’re better off holding on to him, hoping he rebounds, and making a trade later.

    • Eddie

      December 13, 2017 10:08 PM

      You’re not going to get Yelich without actual prospects. Gordon and Stanton were signed to fair-market value contracts. Ozuna is/was a two-year rental. Yelich is signed to an under-market deal for five more seasons. Very roughly speaking, his trade value is double Ozuna’s. You’re not going to get him by giving up guys whose prospect stock has been dropping for the last year.

      • Steve

        December 14, 2017 04:20 PM

        I agree that acquiring only Yellich would require better prospects than the Stanton and Ozuna deals. My point was, could we also take on some of the Marlin’s remaining bad contacts in place of some prospects. They cut Volquez so that’s out. Buying out 3years of Chen is substantial. 2 years of Prado may be, depending on how seriously they want to cut payroll. We have a ton of young OF and a bunch of borderline back end SP. Id like to keep Moniak and Hassley, but I’d be willing to part with one if he’s the best player we give up. I don’t want to deal Kingrey Sixto or Kilome. I’d basically give any 2 MLB SP not named Nola or Eickhoff and one or or two MiLB OF as long as it’s not Moniak AND Hassley.

      • Eddie

        December 14, 2017 06:53 PM

        I don’t know that the Marlins’ goal is to strip the payroll down to zero: All the rumors were they had to get under $90 million;, and they’re well under that now. Sure they’d like to save even more payroll, but especially given the amount of criticism they’ve taken already, I don’t see them giving Yelich away just so they can get payroll down to zero.

        Yelich basically already is the guy you hope Moniak and Haseley might someday be. He’s an established 4-WAR player who is only 25 and is under control for five years. He’d easily be worth any of your three untouchables, plus more.

  4. Mike Fassano

    December 14, 2017 12:01 PM

    Good luck to Carlos Tocci. The winter meeting are over, and the Phillies main focus now will be on acquiring another starting pitcher before spring training. I read somewhere this morning that the Phillies were asking for two pitchers for Hernandez. It didn’t say that they were starters, relievers, major league ready, or prospects. I’m still pretty confident that we’ll land a good pitcher, probably in January when the prices are lower.
    There’s been a lot of buzz about Machado, and rightfully so. Franco had a bad year in 2017, and failed the analytics AND the eye test. He did lead the team in Homers and RBI’s, was second doubles and third in walks, and was eighth on the team in strikeouts. That’s not too awful. His biggest problem was that when he hit the ball on the ground, it was always weak contact. I liked Stairs, but maybe he didn’t have the answers for Franco. With two new hitting coaches this year, hopefully one of them will succeed where Stairs failed.
    Another thing that the Phillies should be looking to add this winter is a AA or AAA third baseman with an upside. I’d like to have an internal option ready, or near ready by next winter. The jury is still out on Cole Stobbe.

    • Romus

      December 14, 2017 02:21 PM

      Don’t sell Franco short just yet….understand he is in the best shape of hs career so far and Kapler was down there last week to talk to him. I am sure he stressed all the requirements he needs to meet. Plus he did show some improvement when JPC was brought up and Mack put JPC in at third base…nothing motivates a person like the possibility of losing your job.
      If the Phillies do not get Machado this weekend, then Franco will need to step up.

    • Major Malfunction

      December 14, 2017 04:36 PM

      ” His biggest problem was that when he hit the ball on the ground, it was always weak contact.”

      I must object. His biggest problem was flailing at pitches he has no business even thinking about swinging and compounded it by spinning himself into the ground with his helmet coming off.

      You don’t get extra runs for hitting the ball any further than over the fence. He needs to work on that and pitch recognition. He’s wasn’t even hitting fastballs it got so bad. We’ve seen his past work. He obviously has shown the talent, so I guess it’s all in his head at this point. On any other team, he’d probably be headed to AAA but in the Phillies case, they really have NOTHING better than him to fill the gap.

      • ASK

        December 15, 2017 07:02 AM

        I disagree and I believe Mike F. was right about Franco’s biggest problem. Franco’s strikeout % (15.2%), swinging % at pitches outside of the strike zone (31.5%) and contact % when swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone (66%) suggest “flailing at pitches…” was not his biggest problem. On the other hand, Franco’s production on balls in play, particularly grounders – his BABIP was .234 (down from .271 in 2016 and .297 in 2015) and particularly his BABIP on ground balls of .164 (down from .211 in 2016 and .269 in 2015) – do seem to be biggest problem.

        Fangraphs’ Steamer projection for Franco in 2018 has his K% and BB% numbers minimally changed from last year while his BABIP is back up to .271 and his ISO is .212 (near its 2015 level) leading to a projected .264 / .319 / .476 triple-slash with a wRC+ of 104 and 2.0 WAR. I hope the Phils give Maikel a chance to see if he can rebound to being a league average 3B next year as Steamer projects him to be.

  5. Mike Fassano

    December 14, 2017 12:28 PM

    Not that I put a lot of stock in prospect lists, but I’m curious to see who replaces Tocci on the Phillies list. Any guesses?

    • RU

      December 14, 2017 07:54 PM

      This is a little premature but what about Simon Muzziotta (sp) who Phils got after Bosox were forced to let him go ? Strikes me as the same type of CF with similar physique.

      • Romus

        December 15, 2017 10:17 AM

        Sox scouts had originally compared Muzziotti to Jacoby Ellsbury two years ago.
        But IMO I can see him being the Enders Inciarte type…physical profile and defense, along with speed…he can flat out fly on the base paths once he gets going from first to third or home to third…8 triples in less than 90 games.
        He still needs to refine his base stealing skills, but once he does he could be a special player..

  6. Mike Fassano

    December 15, 2017 10:28 AM

    What I’m about to suggest may be laughable to many Phillies fans, but I’m sure that Matt Winkleman, Jim Peyton, and Jay Floyd have seen it many times in the minor leagues. Use two pitchers as one starter. Start a game with Velasquez and have him pitch four innings, and have Pivetta pitch the next four innings. Less innings for Velasquez means less of a chance of injury, and he can “air it out”, knowing that he’s only going four innings. In the event that Vinnie doesn’t have his best stuff one day and you have to pull him, you’re only asking your bullpen to get you to the fourth inning. I’ve seen it work, but I’ve never seen it tried at the major league level.

    • Matthew

      December 15, 2017 11:01 AM

      The Rockies tried it with a 4 day rotation a few years ago and it was an unmitigated disaster. In the majors it is a numbers problem. If you want a 5 day rotation that is 10 starting pitchers and you just can’t carry that on a 25 man roster and they don’t have that many effective starting pitchers.

      Right now the Phillies are building their bullpen expecting their starters to go 4-5 innings a year and covering it with relievers and not another starter.

      • Mike Fassano

        December 15, 2017 11:19 AM

        I didn’t mean with every starter. Six starters and seven in the bullpen.

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