To their credit, the Phillies were active at this year’s trade deadline.
With a league-worst bullpen filled with other teams’ castoffs and underperforming home grown arms to start the season, general manager Matt Klentak had one mission over the last two weeks.
Get some help.
Last week, he acquired 32-year-old David Hale from the New York Yankees in exchange for minor league pitcher Addison Russ, and sent Nick Pivetta and pitching prospect Connor Seabold to the Boston Red Sox for two more veteran relievers, Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree. Finally, just an hour before the deadline on Monday, he sent three low-minors pitchers to the Milwaukee Brewers for middle reliever David Phelps.
With left-hander Jose Alvarez on the injured list, the Phils have just three players left in the bullpen that were on the opening day roster: Hector Neris, Tommy Hunter and Adam Morgan. With Spencer Howard ensconced in the starting rotation, Vince Velasquez has been moved from the rotation to the ‘pen, JoJo Romero has been added from the alternate squad, and Blake Parker and Ranger Suarez are new faces to the 28-man roster.
It’s a completely new bullpen from what was seen on Opening Day. Of course, “new” doesn’t always mean “better.” So, is the Phillies’ bullpen better after the trade deadline?
Phelps should definitely help. He has a 2.77 ERA in 12 games (13 innings) this year and has struck out 13.85 batters per nine innings while walking just 1.38. Hitters have an average exit velocity of just 80.4 mph against him this season, the lowest mark among qualified pitchers, and his 52.0% ground ball rate is a career high. Over the last three years, Phelps has posted ERAs of 2.28, 3.40 and 3.41, so he should stabilize the middle-to-late innings of close games.
The early returns on the two relievers acquired from Boston have been less than stellar. Workman has a 4.85 ERA in 13 games (13.0 innings) for the Red Sox and Phils, but since coming to Philadelphia has a 5.86 ERA and has allowed 16 baserunners in his first 6.1 innings with his new team. This is the guy Joe Girardi has turned to in the 9th inning since arriving about 10 days ago, and all Workman has done is put guys on base and make things far less comfortable that they should have been. The other half of the Boston trade, Hembree, has fared even worse. In his first five appearances with the Phillies, he’s allowed nine baserunners in 4.1 innings and, somehow, has given up four home runs already for an unsightly 8.31 ERA. Hale, meanwhile, has only pitched in one game for the Phillies, but he gave up three earned runs in that 1.2 inning performance.
Perhaps things have turned around for the former closer Neris, whose 7.56 ERA and -0.6 bWAR in 2020 is ghastly, but who hasn’t been scored upon in his last three outings. He’s been using his mid-90s fastball more to some degree of effectiveness after losing the ability to command his splitter. Tommy Hunter was brutal early on, with an 8.31 ERA after his first five appearances. Since then, he’s only been scored on once in his last eight outings and has a 0.96 ERA over that stretch. Romero has yet to give up a run or a hit in his first three appearances and has allowed just one walk, and Jose Alvarez should return soon from the injured list to provide his usual stellar relief work.
If the newly acquired veterans can get their acts together, and if Phelps continues to pitch the way he has this season, the bullpen could be better. But it’s impossible to place a high degree of confidence in that happening until it actually does. Given the offensive firepower and solid starting pitching the Phils possess, even an average bullpen should be enough to get this team into the postseason for the first time since 2011.
On Episode 412 of Hittin’ Season, I talked about the remade bullpen and the rest of the MLB Trade Deadline with Justin Klugh and Liz Roscher. Make sure to subscribe and download!