I sing of a right arm and of a man: his fate/
miscast him as a long reliever; he was the first
reliever to journey from the bullpen bench as far
as the eight and ninth innings.
Throwing fastballs and sliders he was battered
beneath the violence of opposing bats, for
the savage Sandberg's unforgetting anger;
and many sufferings were his in relief--
until he was mercifully released
and carried his talents to free agency;
from this has come much hand-wringing, managerial blame,
and the sorrow that accompanies thoughts of what might have been.
Tell me the reason, Muse: what was the wound
to Sandberg's ego, so hurting him
the he, manager of the Phillies, compelled a man
remarkable for bad Twitter politics to endure
so many innings, meet so many home runs allowed?
Can such resentment hold the minds of Hall of Famers?
Let's get the main point out in the air at the outset: Justin De Fratus had a bad season for the Phillies ins 2015. He was so bad, in fact, that immediately upon its, i.e., the 2015 season's, conclusion, the Phillies expressed to him in no uncertain terms that he would not be welcome as part of their roster going forward. Keep in mind that the Phillies in 2015 were really bad--almost uniformly so across the roster--at baseball. Not even they thought this guy was worth keeping around. In short, again, De Fratus was a bad pitcher in 2015.
With that out of the way, De Fratus' season deserves a bit of a deeper dive because it was, believe it or not, more interesting than your run-of-the-mill plainly bad season might be. All of those reasons begin with one central fact: Justin De Fratus threw 80 innings in 2015. Prior to 2015, he had never thrown more than 53 inning in a single major league season. Perhaps more unusual was the fact that he averaged over an inning per appearance for the first time in his major league career (he averaged about 4 outs/appearance this season).
Ideally, when a pitcher throws that many innings in relief it is due to his ability to get the requisite outs required to amass an innings total without surrendering much in the way of runs. This was not the case with De Fratus. Although he was second among all relievers in innings-pitched, he was worst among 137 qualified relievers in ERA.
A Baseball-Reference Play Index query yields two notable statistical nuggets. De Fratus is now one of 28 expansion era relievers to throw at least 80 innings with an ERA more than 20 per cent worse than league average. Most teams stop letting pitchers of that quality throw innings well before the 80 inning threshold. Of the over 1000 post-expansion reliever seasons of 80+ innings pitched, De Fratus' 2015 ranks 10th from the bottom in ERA and 7th from last in ERA+ (ERA adjusted for park and era). Not only was De Fratus bad, but he was bad for too many innings.
Those innings took their toll. This is a graph of De Fratus' average velocity on each of his pitches:
That is not how you want things to go. I mean, hot damn, look at them fastballs and sliders. His four seam fastball was over 4 mph slower in October than it was in May and June. The demise of the slider was even more tragic. That particular pitch's velocity declined over 5 mph from a May peak of 83.82 to 78.41 mph in October.
And while a velocity dip this severe is very likely a symptom of overuse and, in the long run, should lead to worse results, if such a thing is in fact possible. In 2015, though, hitters did not seem to be able to hit De Fratus any better as his velocity declined. That might be because he was already being hit around so much that it just isn't possible to hit him around any more, but there was no trend of increasing opponent batting averages or slugging percentages as the season wore on. If you are inclined to put a silver lining on every season, that De Fratus' diminished velocity didn't make his season worse than it already was might be one to take away.
Not a week after the conclusion of the season, the Phillies outright De Fratus from the 40-man roster and I can't shake the feeling that that is a crass move by the Phillies front office. I get that De Fratus is not a good pitcher and probably isn't worth a roster spot at this point, but that seems to be a result of the Phillies' doing to a significant extent. He entered the season with an average or better fastball and a plus slider and a barrage of 40+ pitch outings later, the combination of Ryne Sandberg and Pete Makanin had rendered them slop.
There was once--not too long ago--a useful medium-leverage major league reliever in Justin De Fratus' body. It's possible, if not likely, that that is and never will again be the case due to the abuse the Phillies put him through in 2015. It's cliche of sports transactions that they are impersonal reflections of the business side of things, but the Phillies using up De Fratus in 2015 then throwing him out to the curb immediately afterwards feels shockingly impersonal if not inhumane. While his trials may not have been as perilous as those of Aeneas, they deserve to be remembered all the same.