I looked at the Phillies bullpen back on June 28, 2013: The Phillies Bullpen v.2013: 2,500 Blindingly Obvious Words Synonymous with "Suck"
Things have begun to look better since then, though it has been a struggle. The team has used 25 players, excluding position players, as pitchers this year, with the vast bulk trying relief roles. Ideally, your perfect world baseball team has a series of roles for the bullpen pitchers, of whom there are usually seven. There is usually a "closer" along with a "set up man" and a "long man" and four other guys for various match-up roles.
In 2014, the Phillies will be committed to Jonathan Papelbon as the closer. The rest of the roles are pretty much up for grabs. Here is my stab at things:
|Justin De Fratus||8.39||4.76||43.5||RHP|
*Injured or suspended for a large portion of 2013
There are others. Lord, there were others this year. But these seem to be the pool of "most likely" for next year. I'm excluding those like Phillippe Aumont (who is only 24 years old, remember) as well as pitchers like Raul Valdes, though I am not sure that he wouldn't be an OK long man to keep around. I figure the team will need between 10 - 15 relievers next year at various stages, but hopefully, any of them past numbers 4 or 5 won't be terribly important.
Again, the Phillies will stick with Papelbon as the closer, though he has been poor this year. His save conversion rate is the second-lowest on the leader board at ESPN, above only Heath Bell, though to be fair, had he blown only 2 fewer saves this year, he would be league average. It is not as though 2013's failures can all be laid at his feet, but for the money he is making as a closer, it is not unreasonable to expect elite performance from him. He is not delivering it, but he will be back, because, you know, his contract and stuff.
Someone else who should be back is Antonio Bastardo, though two factors make this uncertain. First is his PED suspension. The second may be his arbitration case, though oddly, his PED suspension may make him cheaper to retain on that count. Also note the handedness column above. Lefties are not something the Phillies have tons of, and Bastardo strikes guys out. He also has a longer track record of success over a larger body of innings than the other available options. Diekman looks good now, but his body of work in MLB is about 50 innings, and Bastardo has about 200 innings. Bastardo will only be 29 next year, too. The Phillies should not cut ties with Bastardo lightly.
Mike Adams is a lock to be back because of...contract. Also, a player who can strike out 8 batters per 9 innings and walk under 4 per 9 innings with a ground ball percentage over 50% can probably be reasonably effective. He's not worth what they signed him for, but he can be a useful part. If he can get healthy and get his walk rate back down to something approaching his career numbers, then he will be a useful part next year when he is 36. If he is not healthy and can't play, well, the Phillies have a bunch of live right-handed arms. It will be unpleasant to eat the contract, but not a catastrophe. In any case, what is done is done.
Jake Diekman looks like he may have turned the corner. His walk rate is down tremendously from 2012 to 2013, and his velocity has been hitting the high 90's at times this year. He is still striking out batters, and he is still generating a number of groundballs that is above average. He has also been getting appearances for whole innings rather than just being a LOOGY. Based on a pretty small sample in the second half of the year, he has caused no small amount of wishcasting among fans, me included. He will be 27 next year, so he had to get it sooner or later. It looks like Diekman is figuring it out, but his body of work this year really is not huge. Diekman looks great now, but he is not a reason to discard Bastardo.
B.J. Rosenberg is the flavor of the week this week, getting a chance to close out the Braves on Sunday after Papelbon's
most-recent blown save recent heavy workload. Rosenberg is putting up zeroes, but his BABIP over the last 30 days is a thoroughly unsustainable .190. He is controlling the walks that have plagued him, at least over his last 9 innings since he was brought back up. That is hardly a number to base a season of bullpen on, but it is at least 9 innings of not walking people. Did I mention SSS at least a couple of times? I'd like to see more grounders out of him, too. He bears watching, but I'm not anointing anyone as savior of the bullpen based on a couple of weeks. Rosenberg turns 28 in a week, so he is probably done "blossoming" though seasoning in MLB will probably benefit him. Consider me skeptical here.
Mike Stutes is the same to me now as he was in my June 28th piece -- when healthy, he walks too many hitters, gives up too many fly balls, and he does not strike out enough hitters. He can be a fringy extra bullpen arm with some MLB experience, but he is not a major part of the picture going forward. Fungible, middling right-handed reliever is his best outcome, especially for a guy who just turned 27 and who has a history of injuries. Nice hair, though.
Justin De Fratus is a good right-handed reliever. His BABIP over the last 30 days has spiked to .379 giving some folks the wrong idea about his performance, but his K rate is over 10.0 over the same period to help mask the BABIP. His GB% is 48.3%, which is great, and it has helped to offset the walk rate of 4.63 per 9 innings. For the whole year, his K rate is too low and his walk rate is too high, but he has gotten better as the year has progressed, and he is just 25, though he turns 26 in a month or so. He is one of the younger arms out there. I still have faith in De Fratus as being an above-average RHP for the Phillies' pen, and I think he'll be reliable and used often in 2014. I hate seeing a guy pitch pretty well, but get hurt by some batted-ball bad luck and then have folks get down on him.
Jeremy Horst is a great example of why keeping a bunch of arms around is a good idea. Injuries, injuries, injuries, even with the young guys. He's also the LHP version of Mike Stutes. Horst should never see the light of day against right-handed hitters (.419 wOBA), but he can be at least marginally effective against lefties. If he makes it, it is as a LOOGY, but he'd better stop walking so many batters. Against LHB this year, he walked 4.91 per 9 innings.
Ethan Martin was just moved to the pen. Whether this is permanent or to limit his innings is unknown. Check this story out. Lifted directly from Schmenkman's comment on that story, here is what Martin has done to lineups the first time through the order:
(63 PA): .200/.290/.327 (.618 OPS), 6 BB, 23 K
After that, he falls off pretty fast. But he is murder for 25 pitches or so, especially (again, thanks to Schmenkman for the numbers):
1-25 (37 PA): .147/.216/.147 (.363 OPS), 2 BB, 16 K
Ethan Martin may be a reliever, folks, and a really good one. That is some wicked stuff.
Were I a betting man, I would guess that the Phillies break camp next spring with their group of seven relievers including: Papelbon, Bastardo, Diekman, De Fratus, Martin, Rosenberg, and Adams. That has the makings of a pretty good group, though it does have a lot of uncertainty and there's no clear "long man" type unless Martin is miscast in that role. Papelbon seems to be in decline, and Adams being healthy is a huge unknown. There is a lot of youth and small sample size risk in there, too. There is also a lot that could go right.
In the wings lie the wild cards like a really young and still raw Phillippe Aumont, J.C. Ramirez, Mauricio Robles, and all the other folks fighting for a chance in the pen right now. The Phillies may sign or trade for some bullpen help in the winter, but they should stick to flyer type guys that can provide some depth or risk reduction in the event of pumpkinization or injury. Some of the seven who break camp will go down with injuries or be ineffective, so having some plausible replacements available can't hurt.
Trying to "solve" the pen with free agent acquisitions and trades has not really worked well for them, and a move like that may stunt what appears to be some pretty positive growth in the youngsters who have been thrown into the fire this year. Why push them to the bottom of the depth chart when it looks like they may be responding positively?