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.