And the battle over the soul of Justin De Fratus is upon us.
On Wednesday, the Phillies announced a number of moves involving the 40-man roster. Outrighted off the 40-man were infielder Chase d'Arnaud, outfielder Jordan Danks, relief pitchers Justin De Fratus, Adam Loewen and Ken Roberts, as well as catcher Erik Kratz and rehabbing starter Jonathan Pettibone.
For the most part there are no surprises here. However, the one name generating some conversation is the much-talked-about De Fratus.
You see, the Phillies really did a number on him this season. He entered the year as a seventh-inning man but by the end of the season he was relegated to long relief. In 61 games and 80 innings, his ERA was 5.51 with a FIP of 4.28 and a strikeout rate of 7.65 per nine innings, down from 8.37 in 2014 and 8.10 the year before.
For those that believe the Phils overworked De Fratus, you're not wrong.
Among all Major League pitchers who pitched solely in relief this year, De Fratus' 1444 pitches was the most in baseball, far more than the 1373 thrown by Yankees closer Dellin Betances. De Fratus faced an MLB-high 362 batters (Betances faced 332) and his 84 innings were second-most, behind Betances.
In 25 out of his 61 games (32.3%) he pitched more than one inning. Compare that to last year when he pitched more than one inning 10 times in 54 games (5.7%). And digging further, the number of appearances in which De Fratus went at least two innings is far more stark.
Last year, he pitched two innings or more five times, and each time, it went no longer than two innings. This year, he went at least two innings 18 times, and twice went three innings (his final two appearances of the season).
That's a lot of pitches and innings, guys. However, there is an argument that De Fratus' increased workload affected his velocity. That may not quite be the case.
In 2013, Fangraphs had his average fastball velocity at 93.1 mph. The year before it was 93.3 mph. In 2014, his fastball velocity dropped to 91.5 mph, and this year it was actually a touch higher, at 91.7 mph.
Brooks Baseball saw something similar, putting De Fratus' average fastball velocity at 94.25 mph in 2012 and 94.01 mph in 2013. It then dipped to 92.67 last year and 92.69 this year.
In other words, the velocity dropped about 1.5 mph last year, when he was still just a single-inning relief pitcher.
And while he did have a solid 2014 season, with a 2.39 ERA, 3.11 FIP, and 8.37 K/9, his stuff did not translate into being a long-term, late-inning fixture for a rebuilding Phillies team.
How many RHRPs with a fastball at 90-94 with a 55 to 60 SL exist in baseball? It is not a rare profile, margin for error is slim— Matt Winkelman (@Matt_Winkelman) October 7, 2015
In reality even if they don't outright him, De Fratus likely loses his spot to Neris, Murray, Hinojosa, Ramos, Cordero, or Ogando— Matt Winkelman (@Matt_Winkelman) October 7, 2015
Was De Fratus screwed over by the Phillies? That seems like a harsh stance to take, but it's hard to argue that he wasn't overworked. He pitched way more than he should have, and the Phils were reckless with his usage. That being said, De Fratus was never really going to be anything more than a middling middle reliever, given his mediocre fastball and less-than-exciting slider.
Hopefully De Fratus is healthy enough to land with another team and can be a useful bullpen piece somewhere else. But for the Phils, it was pretty obvious he was not a part of their future.
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