You may remember last year's bullpen as being pretty bad.
They finished 27th in the Majors with a 4.19 ERA. Their batting average against of .259 was 28th in baseball, as was their OPS-against of .741. Only Houston allowed more walks (227) and had a worse K/BB ratio (1.89), and the Phils finished just 24th in strikeouts (429). That they only blew 16 saves last year is actually more an indication that they weren't leading very often late in games than the bullpen doing a good job of nailing things down.
Last year, Mike Adams' injury, Jonathan Papelbon's declining stuff, the existence of Chad Durbin and Raul Valdez, and the failure of so many young arms to emerge crippled the Phils.
Happily, the Phillies decided not to invest in any more bullpen arms this off-season. They resisted the urge to bring aboard any more 30-something relievers on multi-year deals, having seen what a mess that can become with Papelbon and Adams. Instead, the team will be relying on some of the young, hard throwers in the system to soak up some of the middle and late innings in 2014.
Unfortunately, many of those young arms are either hurt, or not looking so hot at the moment. Here's a look at the 2014 'pen, excluding Papelbon and Bastardo, who were both subject to their own player preview.
It was just a few weeks ago Adams was worried he'd die throwing a baseball. Well, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but the guy sure did not sound like a confident pitcher heading into his first bullpen session. However, Adams is now throwing to live hitters and could see game action this week. Adams is in the second year of a two-year, $12 million deal that will pay him $7 million this year.
Last year, Adams appeared in only 28 games, posting an ERA of 3.96 before a shoulder injury ended his season in May.
It would be terrific if the Phillies could get some mileage out of the 35-year-old right-hander this year, especially given the fact he's making $7 million. But counting on Adams would seem to be a dangerous way to fly. Anything he gives you this year is gravy, and should be viewed as such.
MIKE STUTES & JEREMY HORST
Stutes and Horst were both sent down to the minor league camp last week, and both don't appear close to reappearing at the Major League level anytime soon.
Stutes' velocity is way down, topping out in the high 80s this spring. Arm and shoulder trouble have sapped him of his velocity, and he needs to rebuild it before the Phils bring him back. Horst, who was a revelation in 2012 when he struck out 11.5 batters per nine innings and posted a 1.15 ERA in 31.1 innings, took a big step back last year. His K-rate was way down (7.3) and gave up a hefty 12.1 hits per nine innings.
Hopefully, both players can get their acts together in the minors and be useful pieces later in the season. But, not right now.
The man who everyone wants to be a reliever, except the Phillies, won't have a chance to start or pitch out of the 'pen for a while. Martin, acquired from the Dodgers in the Shane Victorino trade, has a very live arm and looks for all the world to be a late-inning bullpen piece, but is now injured and will not start the season with the Phils. Martin's sore shoulder (sensing a theme here?) is a big blow to a 'pen that could have really used a young righty who can throw in the mid-90s with a good secondary pitch. He'll likely be back in a couple months, though.
MIGUEL ALFREDO GONZALEZ
Even before MAG's shoulder began to hurt, he was ineffective and pitched like a scared bunny rabbit. Now, he's not throwing anything, resting a sore shoulder that seems to somehow be contagious in Phillies camp this spring. Even when he does come back, Gonzalez is going to be worked as a starter in the minors. It would be a huge shock if he appeared on the Phillies in any form this year, other than as a September call-up.
Going well so far, right?
At some point, the Phillies are going to have to cut the cord with this guy. Aumont's stuff is off the charts, but the kid has no idea where it's going. Like, ever. This spring, Aumont has faced 33 hitters. He has struck out one, walked four and hit another. That's not what you call "missing bats." Aumont is a young arm that could be a back-end bullpen guy if he could ever get his head on straight. But I'm not betting a mortgage payment on that happening.
Giles throws the ball a million miles an hour. Well maybe not that fast, but he's a triple-digit guy who also has a quality slider, stuff that should not keep him out of the Majors for long. Giles hasn't pitched above Single-A yet, but impressed manager Ryne Sandberg enough this spring to make one think it won't be long before he's on the big league roster. Giles was sent down this week, but there are only so many arms out there that can throw 100 mph.
The young left-handed Phillies farmhand has apparently made a good impression on the coaching staff this spring, having given up just one earned run in seven innings with five strikeouts and three walks. However, Hollands can also be a starter, having started 20 games in the minors last year, so it would make sense for the Phillies to send him down to the minors and stretch him out for starting depth.
Rosenberg also has a big arm, capable of throwing upper 90s heat, but there is just something missing with him. He doesn't seem to be able to put hitters away. He's given up five earned runs in 7.1 innings of work this spring, striking out five and walking two. In 19.2 innings last year he had an ERA of 4.58 while posting a WHIP of 1.475. Once again, too many walks, which leads to lots of baserunners, which leads to lots of runs.
It's possible Rosenberg could make the team out of spring training, if only because he has more experience than some of the other options and he can throw hard. But he needs to figure out how to finish off hitters and avoid getting into long counts, or he won't be in the Majors for long.
Acquired for Erik Kratz, Lincoln has yet to give up a run so far in 7 2/3 spring innings, but he's allowed a lot of baserunners, nine total, while striking out six. Still, given the lack of depth in the bullpen, the right-hander is almost assured of a spot, likely soaking up some of the middle inning work. Phillies fans probably shouldn't get too excited about him, though. Last year, with Texas, he posted an ERA of 3.98 in 31.2 innings, but his WHIP of 1.579 was a bit scary.
If he can pitch like he did in the 28 games he pitched with Pittsburgh in 2012 (2.73 ERA in 59.1 innings, averaging more than a strikeout per inning), he can be productive. But his career ERA of 4.66 may be more of an indication of what he is. Still, he's just 29 years old, so I guess a career year is possible.
Hopefully, Diekman's 2014 will go a lot better than Horst's 2013. The lanky left-hander who is brutal on left-handed hitters was one of the few young arms to step up last year, with an ERA of 2.58 in 38.1 innings. He struck out 9.6 batters per nine while walking just 3.8. And left-handed hitters batted just .148 off him last year, so his value will come mainly as a late-inning reliever against tough left-handed hitters.
The Phils desperately need the 27-year-old Diekman to follow up on his excellent 2013 with a similarly good 2014, and avoid The Horst Regression.
The lack of depth in the bullpen has made Camp's good spring very important, and probably guaranteed him a spot on the Opening Day roster as well. Camp has pitched 5.1 innings this spring and given up no earned runs with four strikeouts and no walks. As you read earlier, the Phils were giving away free passes at an alarming rate last year, and they hope the 38-year-old will continue to avoid giving up walks. Throughout his 10-year career, Camp has a walk rate of 2.7 per nine. He doesn't strike a lot of guys out, but the Phils need a strike-thrower, and Camp appears to be just that.
JUSTIN DE FRATUS
De Fratus was one of the other few youngsters to show some promise out of the Phils' bullpen last year, although he had a tendency to give up walks as well. However, his 3.86 ERA in 46.2 innings was not too shabby for a 25-year-old getting his first real taste as an everyday Major Leaguer. And this spring, De Fratus has continued to pitch well, allowing just one earned run in five innings with five strikeouts and no walks.
Of course, given the dearth of options in the bullpen right now, and the fact the Phillies have two open spots on their 40-man roster, I would be remiss if I didn't mention...
Seth Rosin, unprotected by Phillies in Rule 5, is going w/ Dodgers to Australia. 11 Ks, 2 BBs, 2 ER in 11 IP this spring.— David Murphy (@ByDavidMurphy) March 18, 2014
So yeah, that's kind of a bummer.
At the moment, it appears the bullpen will consist of Papelbon, Bastardo, Lincoln, Camp, Diekman, De Fratus and, if you held a gun to my head, Rosenberg. But I fully expect Adams to join this group at some point, Martin will hopefully join the bullpen when he's better (although the Phils will probably continue to stretch him out in the minors) and Giles will get the call just as soon as the Phillies think he's worked on controlling his slider well enough in the minors.
There are some hard throwers here with some promise. For the Phillies to win in 2014, they'll need these young arms to emerge, and for the old arms to fool enough hitters with diminishing stuff.