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Unbelievable Moment in Phillies History: Antonio Bastardo, Starting Pitcher

Because, when you have a two-pitch pitcher who walks over four batters per nine innings, you have to start him.

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Antonio Bastardo's Phillies legacy, if he has one at all, is that of a talented left-handed reliever who could have been much more valuable to the Phillies if a) his managers used him better and b) he didn't walk so many damn batters. He was primarily a two-pitch pitcher (fastball, slider) who struggled with control, but, perhaps partially on account of that unpredictability (and a nasty slider), struck a ton of guys out as well.

Referring to a batter as a three true outcomes hitter--dingers, walks, and strikeouts--evokes images of Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard, and Giancarlo Stanton: guys built to either get all of the baseball with their swing, or none of it. For pitchers, however, it evokes two different types of pitchers. The first is the Joe Blanton type whose stuff is so mediocre that anytime a hitter gets a pitch to hit, it ends up over the fence. The second is another familiar one to Phillies fans: the "effectively wild" reliever who, when on, can essentially strike anyone out at well, but, when his control abandons him, it's either a walk or a meatball down the middle. Basically every left-handed reliever the Phillies have had in the last decade has fit this mold--J.C. Romero, Jake Diekman, and, you guessed it, Antonio Bastardo.

During his Phillies career, Bastardo carried a three true outcomes percentage just north of 43%. That's a number similar to what Ryan Howard and Mike Trout posted as hitters last year. Of course, not all of the three true outcomes are created equal. Mike Trout is walking and hitting a ton of home runs while Ryan Howard, especially the most recent versions, has been propping up that percentage on a heavy dose of strikeouts.

Similarly, Bastardo's three true outcome percentage is mostly built on good stuff, i.e. strikeouts, with a Phillies-career 29.6% strikeout percentage. But the walks (11.5%) and homeruns (2.2%) contribute as well. Being a three true outcomes pitcher is typically not an efficient way to work, which is why it is not a profile you see out of many starters. It is far more suited to relievers. You let their stuff play up to increase the strikeouts and live with the potential for walks and home runs, knowing you can have a short leash.

It is surprising, then, that Antonio Bastardo's debut with the Phillies was as a starting pitcher rather than a reliever.

You might not remember it, because his stint as a major league starter lasted all of five starts, but through the bulk of his minor league career, Bastardo was a starter. In 2008, between Clearwater and Reading, Bastardo started in all 19 of his appearances and pitched quite well. Over 97.2 innings, he carried a 2.95 ERA along with a 109:47 strikeout to walk ratio. Entering 2009, he was ranked the 11th best prospect in a still-strong Phillies system by Baseball America on the strength of his performance as a starting pitcher.

Early in 2009, with AA Reading, the Phillies converted Bastardo to the bullpen, but quickly returned him to the starting rotation. In early June, after Brett Myers tore his labrum, Bastardo was called up to make his Phillies debut as a starter for a team looking to repeat their 2008 World Series.

Obviously, it was a small sample, but his first two starts as a Phillie were amazing. In 11 innings, he had a 2.45 ERA. Granted, his strikeouts were lower than they had been throughout his minor league career (only nine in those 11 innings), but so were his walks, as he only walked 2 batters over those two starts.

Of course, the signs were there that he wasn't long for a starting job. In those first two starts, he wasn't even the two pitch pitcher he would eventually become. According to Brooks Baseball, he relied on his fastball on nearly 79% of his pitches (86% in his first start against the Padres) while mixing in a couple sliders and changeups to account for the remaining 20%. It was certainly fun to watch, but, if memory serves, even the mainstream commentary at the time speculated that Bastardo's success was not built on a particularly stable foundation.

And, of course, after those first two magical starts, the wheels started to come off a bit for the poor Bastard(o). In his third start on June 13th against the Boston Red Sox, he lasted all of one inning, during which he gave up five runs while walking three batters and giving up three hits. He only recorded one strikeout. He threw 7 changeups (nearly 20% of his pitches) in that start and the Red Sox teed off on it with a a 1.000 batting average and 2.500 slugging percentage against it.

He bounced back a bit six days later against the Orioles, lasting seven innings while giving up four runs. It was a very non-Bastardoin start, as he struck out only five and walked no one in those seven innings. How Antonio Bastardo manage to go seven consecutive innings without issuing a walk the world will never know, but it happened.

Bastardo was unable to parlay that bit of success into his next start against the Tampa Bay--it was really nice of the Phillies to throw him into the fire of the AL East--as he left the game in the middle of the 4th inning with a shoulder injury after giving up six runs, including two home runs, while walking three and striking out four. That sounds a bit more like our friend Antonio Bastardo, doesn't it?

For better or worse, that abbreviated start against the Rays was the last start he would make in the majors. He returned for the postseason and made one relief appearance against the Rockies and has since made 330 relief appearance for the Phillies and Pirates.

As a reliever, Bastardo changed into a different pitcher. Remember that changeup that made him something of a three pitch starter? That all but disappeared in his conversion to the bullpen. Maybe it was memories of the Red Sox knocking it around; maybe his slider just improved enough for him to be effective with only two pitches. Either way, here's that transformation:

Fastball % Slider % Changeup %
2009 73.8% 14.8 % 11.4%
Since 2009 64.4% 32.8% 2.9%

That's a reliever profile if ever there was one and Bastardo has been a very serviceable relief pitcher for six years now. But, before that, bizarrely enough, he was a starter and that's something worth remembering if only for the Quizzo point it will earn you in 2029.