We’ve all gotten over the Phillies’ failed acquisition of Manny Machado. The Dodgers came in and beat the offer the Phillies felt was fair, something we should have been fearful of all along. Now, the team needs to set their sights on getting better over the next few days by upgrading the team. Paul Boye already wrote about what the team might do next, but I’d like to focus in on two specific names that I feel the team should seriously consider acquiring. One you know about. The other? Let’s call him a darkhorse.
The first thing we have to decide is how to upgrade this team. Most people can agree that the offense needs a boost, which is why Machado was the perfect acqusition. Getting a player that was in the discussion for American League MVP would have provided a tremendous coup for the team, if only for a few months. He would have provided power, average and a presence in the middle of the lineup that this team doesn’t really have right now. Since they don’t have him, does anyone else on the market really represent the upgrade Machado could have provided? If you think that Mike Moustakas or Whit Merrifield or any of the other names being mentioned in connection with the team will be a dramatic difference over what is on hand, well, I have some bad news for you. That means the offense probably has to hope that Carlos Santana, Rhys Hoskins and the rest of the lineup will just get better as the season wears on, something not entirely out of the question. My proposal is to upgrade the part of the team that has proven lately to be the difference between who goes home in the playoffs and who marches on: the bullpen.
While the bullpen the Phillies currently have have been very good lately (2.56 ERA in July), we have seen that October is a totally different animal. Managers have a shorter leash with their starters because they cannot let a game get out of control or there might not be a next game. This in turn ratchets up the stress level on the pitchers and if they aren’t prepared for it, it could eat them alive. Therefore, strengthening the bullpen should be at the top of this team’s list and I have two guys that would go a long way towards doing it.
Here’s one guy you know about...
Zach Britton was dominant before he ruptured his Achilles tendon in December. He had an absurd 1.38 ERA (299 ERA+) between the 2014-16 seasons. Then December happened, and prior to that, he spent a good deal of 2017 on the disabled list with a forearm issue. So, he’s got an injury prone label being thrown around when people talk about him. Couple that with his beginning of this season where he had a 7.04 ERA after his first eight appearances (7.2 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 6 BB, 7 K) and you might have some people scared off of him. Lately, he appears to be returning to form as in his last seven games have much closer to his pre-injury form (7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 7 K). That should help dissipate some fear that he’s not the pitcher he once was. Sure, he’s not generating the same groundball rate he did since his power sinker is a few tics below what it was in 2016, but he’s still got a 62.2% rate at getting those balls on the ground. He’s a free agent after this season, so the team wouldn’t have to worry about a huge prospect package in order to get him. All in all, he’d be an excellent addition to this bullpen that doesn’t have a reliable left hander to get out the likes of Bryce Harper and Freddie Freeman as this team fights for the National League East crown.
...and another you may not know about!
Another guy the team should consider resides within the division already and would require Matt Klentak to complete a trade with a team the Phillies haven’t dealt with since 2001. I’m talking, of course, about the Mets. Now, you’re first thought could be that the team should acquire somebody like Jeurys Familia and to that notion, I say “Nay!” Even if it meant he’d be an upgrade to this team, in no way do I want someone like Familia on the Phillies. Instead, I’m looking at the much less heralded pitcher that also takes up space in the Mets’ bullpen.
Seth Lugo is quietly having a very good season for the Metropolitans. His 2.61 ERA is better looking that his other stats (4.13 DRA, 3.42 FIP), but he has made it work. He’s striking batters out (25.4%) and doesn’t walk too many batters (7.8%). He gets groundballs at a 45.4% clip, so he’ll let his defense work for him. All in all, a very hush-hush good season. Which is odd, because back in June, Travis Sawchik wrote at Fangraphs about how the Mets might have the right handed version of Rich Hill on their team, so someone has taken notice of him.
According to Brooks Baseball, Lugo throws his curveball about 32% of the time, for good reason too. He’s currently ranked 15th among relievers in the game who have thrown the pitch at least 50 times with -8.57 inches of vertical movement. While hitters aren’t swinging and missing that much on the pitch (24.34%), it has set up his fastball quite well. As Sawchik noted:
While Lugo doesn’t have elite spin [on his fastball], he does have greater velocity with the pitch, averaging 93.8 mph. Opponents are batting just .111 against Lugo’s four-seam fastball with a .133 slugging mark this year and .183 average and .307 slugging mark for his career.
Since that time, those numbers have increased slightly (.167 AVG, .278 SLG), but that is still quite effective. And it’s not like hitters are feasting on that curveball either. So far, they are hitting only .163 AVG and .196 SLG against it. It’s the best curveball, according to the weighted measure available on Fangraphs, for a reliever this season so far. People might be wary of acquiring a guy who only has two pitches like this, but he does have a deeper arsenal that has also proven to be able to get hitters out
Of course we have to consider this is the first full year for Lugo as a reliever. He’s started most of his minor league and major league career in the Mets’ system, where he was mostly just a depth piece. It’s something that can work in his favor as well as it demonstrates an ability to throw multiple innings, something highly valued in the playoffs. If he is able to keep up this effectiveness for the rest of the season, a team would be luck to have him down the stretch.
Let’s hope they do something
Trading for these two players would give the team a nice boost for the rest of the season. Of the two, though, only Britton is known to be available. While Lugo would be a nice get for the team, trading with the Mets would be extremely difficult for the obvious reason (division rival) as well as the contractual one (Lugo can’t be a free agent until 2023). It would take too massive of a haul to get him, especially for someone who doesn’t have much of a track record as a reliever.
Even if Lugo and Britton are not on the Phillies come August 1, the bullpen should be addressed. It’s the easiest way to make sure they can continue winning one run games the way they currently are able to right now (20-8 in such games). These two players might be an answer to the question of “how can we improve as a team?” that is currently being discussed. Let’s see how it all pans out.