I love breaking a season into parts. It helps to show when a particular part of a team’s season turned around, or when a particular player made a mechanical change that led to more effective results. We all know about small sample size and the dangers of drawing conclusions from them so we look for a large enough set of innings or at bats to point to so we can sit back, arms folded, smiling and nodding approvingly.
The bullpen this season has been an issue. Due to some serious bad luck, injuries have swept throw the relievers like the stomach bug goes through a kindergarten classroom. We’ve seen an unusual amount of pitchers go down not just with an injury, but one that leaves them incapacitated for long stretches of games. Consider this: at the beginning of the bullpen, it was whispered that their bullpen would be one of the strongest units in baseball. This is how it was supposed to set up - David Robertson as the closer, Hector Neris, Pat Neshek and Seranthony Dominguez getting the important outs in the seventh and eighth innings, and some combination of Tommy Hunter, Jose Alvarez, Edubray Ramos, Juan Nicasio and Adam Morgan to extinguish fires in the inning some before. On paper, that was a solid ‘pen!
Instead, while the injuries mounted, the team was forced into handing innings off to the likes of Edgar Garcia (6.15 ERA), Cole Irvin (7.98) and Austin Davis (8.25). It’s gotten ugly and it showed in the numbers. This is where we get into the “cherry picking stats” portion of the writing. Prior to July 20, the Phillies were one of the worst bullpens statistically in the game.
Yup, that’s a pretty bad bullpen. According to Fangraphs’ WAR, the Phillies from the start of the season until July 19 had the second worst bullpen in the game. Play around with the leaders a bit too and you’ll see they were the second worst at giving up home runs per nine innings, had the fourth worst FIP and the seventh worst ERA. It was bad. You knew it, I knew it, everyone watching them knew. So, we assumed that in order to stay in the playoff chase, the team would grab a few arms to help out. Come the trade deadline and all we saw was the Nationals making a ton of moves to sure up their bullpen while the Phillies seemingly twiddled their thumbs. Bad right? Not necessarily.
I chose July 19 on purpose. That’s because the next day the team would add the first of their under the radar bullpen arms, plucking Mike Morin from the Twins for cash. On the 30th, the team rolled the dice with Blake Parker. Not the sexy moves that fans were looking for, but lo and behold, it seems to have worked. Since that date (July 20), the team’s relief corps has actually been quite good.
By fWAR, this has been a top half bullpen since picking up Morin. Did the club see something that we should have? Obviously they did. They were also riding some decent performances from guys already here.
Jose Alvarez struggled early on in his Phillies tenure. Through June 14, batters were teeing off on him to the tune of an .801 OPS, which lead to a very untrustworthy 4.32 ERA. Since that date in which he gave up four runs to the Braves in that horrible, bullpen exploding loss, Alvarez has been very good. He has a 1.66 ERA in 21 2⁄3 innings with an OPS allowed almost 170 points lower than the previous example (.632).
Adding Morin and Parker has given the team some stability. Both have had hiccups (Morin allowing 4 runs to the White Sox on August 7, Parker allowing 3 against the Diamondbacks the night before), but they have stabilized the bullpen by doing something the Edgar Garcias, the Yacksel Rios’ and the Austin Davis’ couldn’t do: throwing strikes. Prior to Tuesday’s game in Boston, Parker and Morin have, in 23 innings combined, issued exactly one walk between them. ONE! That’s something that the young kids from Lehigh Valley couldn’t do, necessitating their removal. It’s been a refreshing change from what we had to watch in the months prior.
Listen, I’m not claiming that the bullpen is still good. There are still issues coughJuanNicasiocough but having Morin, Parker and Alvarez develop into semi-reliable weapons at the end of games has been a stroke of badly needed luck for the Phillies. Should Matt Klentak get criticism for not addressing the bullpen further? Absolutely. Expecting two scrap heap pickups to continue at this pace could end up being foolish. However, we must also credit Klentak for identifying them and acquiring them for basically nothing. Let’s just hope they can keep it up since the team will likely lean on them as they continue their chase for the final wild card spot.