With the Rotation Doing Fine, The Phillies Need To Reevaluate Their Bullpen

The Phillies starting rotation has not been dominant this season on a whole. They have had a few dominant starts, like Jake Arrieta last night, but they haven’t been truly lights out, especially when you account for their level of competition. Their starters have the 5th best ERA in baseball at 3.14, but once again they have yet to really face an offensive power house. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez have been very good and Jake Arrieta seems to have finally finished with the warmup portion of his year. Aaron Nola is still not missing bats at a high rate, but he has a dominant start under his belt and a 2.22 ERA. If all of that holds, the Phillies have an above average rotation with some upside for a bit more. Early in the offseason the Phillies built a bullpen to withstand a bad rotation. At the time they didn’t have Jake Arrieta and Velasquez and Pivetta were huge question marks, as was the now injured Jerad Eickhoff. They expected to manage short outings from their rotation, signing Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter to bolster 7th and 8th innings, and building a team to handle a 8 man bullpen.

Then the Phillies signed Arrieta, Neshek and Hunter got hurt, and then all the question marks stopped being question marks. The Phillies rotation has been routinely pitching 5+ innings and mostly been at 6+ outside of Ben Lively. Outside of a couple of games that means the Phillies bullpen has been relatively untaxed, having pitched only 62.1 innings so far (20th in baseball). Additionally, the two relievers called up for Neshek and Hunter, Victor Arano and Yacksel Rios have been good*, with Arano setting the major league record for perfect innings to start a season. The Phillies are still running a 8 man bullpen however, with long man Drew Hutchison appearing in only 5 games for 5.2 innings. Tommy Hunter is nearing a return, and the Phillies now both have questions about making room for him and how they want their team to be.

The easy change is to wait for Hunter to be back and send down Yacksel Rios, who could use some more polishing in AAA. That doesn’t deal with two problems with the bullpen right now. The Phillies are essentially wasting two roster spots on Drew Hutchison and Hoby Milner. Hutchison has been bad this year, but he also has gotten very little work. The idea of the long man existed for the Phillies for a couple of reasons. The first is it is trendy, especially if you have a failed starter who can give you multiple high quality innings. The second is that Mark Leiter Jr. flashed the ability to be like 80% of the trendy version of this role and that is totally serviceable. The final is that Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, and Ben Lively all represented risks to be out by the 3rd inning (see Velasquez’s first start of the year), and having an arm to get you 3+ innings in an emergency was important. Hutchison is not Leiter so there is no incentive to use him in leverage situations and there has been no emergency uses outside of closing out the last innings of blowouts. In the case of Milner, he has been bad. Milner struggles to strike out batters and is a disaster vs right handed batters, but he generated enough weak contact vs lefties to be a LOOGY. Right now he has appeared in 10 of the Phillies 18 games and is averaging 1.8 outs per appearance and 2.5 batters faced. Of the 25 batters he has faced, 18 have been lefties, he has 2 walks and 2 strikeout sand they are hitting .267/.389/.467 off of him. That is much better than his line against righties, but it is not good. If Milner is not going to get lefties out and not give the bullpen innings, the Phillies would be better served pulling the plug in favor of even another RHP if they have to.

The Phillies don’t need to make a decision now, because there is nothing forcing them. They could go 5 man bench and have Roman Quinn given them more dynamism or Jesmuel Valentin give them more flexibility. They could even look at the free agent market for a designated pinch hitter to carry for a few weeks. At some point the left handed relief options in AAA like Austin Davis and Brandon Leibrandt are going to look more appealing than Milner. However, the Phillies may be able to solve their left handed problem by just avoiding it and just going with their best pitchers regardless of handedness. Even without dramatic change, we are starting to near the point where roster construction thoughts from the preseason need to be reevaluated based on the talent on the roster.

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19 comments

  1. Walt

    April 20, 2018 06:04 PM

    Pattern analysis: 1950 Curt Simmons; 1964 Chris Short, Dennis Bennett; 1980 Steve Carlton, Randy Lerch, Tug; 1983 Carlton, Holland, Tug; 1993 Danny Jackson, Terry Mulholland; 2008 Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer; 2009 Hamels, Moyer, J.A. Happ, Cliff Lee. By 2020 the Phils need to address this. This year or next would be better.

    • Wawa Mike

      April 20, 2018 06:48 PM

      Walt, am I missing something? What’s your point?

      • awh

        April 20, 2018 06:59 PM

        You beat me to it Mike. Pattern?

      • Steve

        April 21, 2018 11:15 AM

        Lefties

      • Romus

        April 21, 2018 12:46 PM

        Over the last 15/20 years…the majority of every WS winner had one lefty in their top three of their rotation. So Walt apparently is referencing the need for the LHP.

    • Steve

      April 21, 2018 11:18 AM

      You don’t insert a pitcher into your rotation just because he’s left handed. You also don’t over pay for a pitcher just because he’s left handed. Im not against acquiring a LHP if he’s good, and the price is right. But your implication that we need to get one at any cost is not something I can get behind. So far, the rotation is at the bottom of my list of concerns.

  2. Walt

    April 21, 2018 03:46 PM

    When a contender goes on the road in September for a showdown with another contender; the Phils must give their stopper every advantage. This will not be critical until 2020 when the Phillies will be primed. If this away opponent is not disrupted to the max and its manager can keep a set line-up for all games of the critical series and be allowed to dig in the results are usually not pretty. For example, when Phils went to S.F. with Bunning, Culp, Mahaffey, Short and Bennett it was optimal because the Giants’ batting orders were constantly in flux during a four or five game series and out of sync. Even in 1915 the Phils juxtaposed Grover Cleveland Alexander with Eppa Rixey who was the winningest southpaw in N.L. history until 1959 when Warren Spahn broke Rixey’s record.

    • Steve

      April 24, 2018 01:36 AM

      Walt – you had me until you mentioned Grover Alexander and 1915, I just can’t relate to that. Anyway, I began reading this article to get an update on Jerad Eickhoff? It’s 4-23 and Eickhoff is due back from the D/L on 4-26. He went out on a relatively light injury, how long do the Phillies expect him to rehab and what is his anticipated season start?

  3. Wawa Mike

    April 22, 2018 11:04 AM

    I can’t argue with Hoby’s demotion. Keep doing the work kid, and you may be back this year. Sending Hoby down gives the Phillies brass a couple more looks at Velasquez, and Lively. If they continue to go longer than 5 or 6 innings, we may not need an 8th arm in the bullpen.

  4. Walt

    April 22, 2018 01:01 PM

    1963 L.A. world champs present an interesting story.
    They went left, right, left and left for most of their regular season wins which was 99. Koufax with 25 victories, Drysdale with 19, Johnny Podres with 14 and one save and Perranoski with 16-3 and 21 saves in a fantastic closer performance.

    • awh

      April 22, 2018 10:22 PM

      And if the 1963 Dodgers had had 4 Henry Owens or 4 Eude Britos they would have been lucky to win 69 games.

      Yes, it’s nice to have a LHP. But the quality of the pitcher matters more than his handedness.

      • Romus

        April 23, 2018 08:52 AM

        Sox LHP Drew Pomeranz is a FA after the season…like to see the Phillies take a chance with him. His metrics have had an upswing these last 2/3 years.

  5. Walt

    April 23, 2018 03:29 AM

    I wonder why the Phils do not teach the scroogie to some in their huge stable of right handers. With the dearth of southpaws it would be an easy roster fix during the rebuild. Jack Baldschun was the last top Philly righty to throw it with excellent effectiveness. Of course, Tug McGraw was famous for it too.

    • Romus

      April 23, 2018 08:57 AM

      Walt:
      Brent Honeywell of the Rays throws it…one of the few in the minors to throw it…and it was a plus-plus pitch….he just had TJ last month.
      There in lies the concerns with teaching the screwball to high bonus youngsters……same goes with the splitter. Another pitch farm systems will not teach.
      MLB clubs see too much long term health risks to expensive investments.

    • Eddie

      April 23, 2018 11:52 AM

      You can’t teach what you don’t know. I doubt any of the Phillies coaches have ever thrown a screwball.

      The other reason is that, true or not, the screwball has a reputation for causing injury.

  6. Walt

    April 23, 2018 11:22 AM

    Bonus babies are probably off limits for scroogie training. What about a Mark Leiter Jr. at 27 years old? A player hoping to stick in the bigs. The mastery of this pitch could make his career. Not everyone is injured by this pitch. I threw it alot in my youth with no problems. I developed it quickly after a big dude lefty hit a liner off my knee cap. The next time I faced him he whiffed three times; once looking. I was a side wheeling right hander. The scroogie was the only pitch I threw over the top and it did not matter if I telegraphed it. My model was Luis Arroyo of the Yanks who saved almost all 25 of Whitey Ford’s wins in 1961. Research in now underway that is studying the effects of the scroogie on an arm and is sponsored in part by MLB. Leiter could be the next Mike Marshall or Jack Baldschun.

    • Romus

      April 23, 2018 02:37 PM

      I think Yu Darvish may be one of just a few to have thrown it on occasion today in the majors….and that might have been back in his early Ranger days before his TJ.
      Then there was relievers Danny Santiago who threw it and Jim Mecir.
      Tug threw it in th 80s and then read were Warren Spahn took it up in his 30s and won plenty of games afterwards.
      It is a dinosaur itch it appears…….. still, it seemed clear that the pitch has been abandoned by baseball without cause because there has never been any definitive proof it damaged elbows or shoulders..

    • Steve

      April 23, 2018 03:09 PM

      Wow, that’s a reach. I’m assuming all of your posts are satire as none of them make much sense in 2018. Most of your references are 50 years ago and I don;’t see your point.

  7. Aaron Warren

    May 03, 2018 04:40 AM

    Nice article, but I’m not sure it looks like the Phils are running with an extra arm because they are concerned about a poor rotation. I think it’s more about the direction baseball is heading in general. Have an uber-utility oosition guy and use him like a starter, almost is like giving you an 26th player on a 25 man and then you add an arm to the bullpen and pull the starting pitchers early (3,4+runs, 5th-6th, play matchups like crazy rather than just having a guy pitch the whole inning).

    Could be wrong about this, but didn’t Kap say something about wanting to get the bullpen going early in the season, the Santana signing – which shifts Rhys to the outfeild, but also gives roster flex as Rhys will learn to play position better, and then the coup de gras, playing Kingery all over the diamond, and Kap constant talk about sticking to the plan”. Just saying doesn’t feel like an adjustment for bad starters.

    Anyhow, I’m hoping a)Vince gets moved to bullpen, he could be a great closer, I think, this moves Neris back to the 8th which seemed to suit him better, b) Dominguez comes up mid May and dominates and c) Spencer Howard is promoted mid-June and on his first run through the Bigs goes like 10-2, 2.75 ERA.

    But that’s probably crazy talk.

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