Relief pitchers are, by their very nature, volatile.
There is a reason guys like Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Wade Davis make a lot of money pitching just a handful of innings per week. They are consistent relief pitchers, largely immune to the ebbs and flows of production that seem to grip many short-form pitchers. And those guys are rare.
For the first couple months of this season, Hector Neris looked as if he was on his way to becoming one of those guys, a future closer in the making. And he had one of the most unhittable pitches in baseball, a split-finger fastball that batters simply had no chance at hitting.
But in last night’s 7-2 loss to the Blue Jays, Neris was lit up once again. He retired just two batters in the 8th inning and gave up three runs on two hits and two walks with no strikeouts, including a monstrous home run to the incredible Josh Donaldson.
Through May 29, Neris had a 1.29 ERA and a 2.74 FIP, with 11.89 K/9 and 2.25 BB/9. Opponents were hitting .137 and he had a WHIP of 0.71.
Since May 30, Neris has an 11.37 ERA and a 9.93 FIP, with a 7.11 K/9 and 11.37 BB/9. Opponents are batting .393 against him in his last 6 1/3 IP with a WHIP of 3.00.
Manager Pete Mackanin said the big problem with Neris has been the splitter, which was one of baseball’s most unhittable pitches through the first part of the season. And as you can see from this chart, the whiff rate against Neris’ splitter has plummeted from April to June.
And in this chart, his batting average against has gone up against the splitter as well, from .083 in April to .286 in June.
And the main reason? Neris is missing with location, as evidenced by his percentage of "grooved" pitches.
Part of the issue could be due to how much he’s been used this year. Even as the Phillies have stumbled on hard times, he’s still being called on quite a bit. His 34 appearances are second-most in baseball (Sam Dyson and Zach Duke each have 35), and his 34 1/3 IP is tied for ninth-most. Last year was his career high in Major League innings, with 40.1, although he tallied a 97.0 inning season in Double-A in 2013.
When he was pitching well, Neris had the look of a sure-fire future closer, and he still might be. But he needs to figure out how to get control of his signature pitch, the splitter, if he wants to return to form.