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2021 report card: Héctor Neris

Héctor Neris was Héctor Neris again in 2021.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Héctor Neris had a very Héctor Neris season in 2021.

His 3.68 ERA was very close to his 3.42 career mark. His 74.1 IP total was similar to what he’s thrown in his other full seasons. His fastball velocity stayed in line with his career average.

Once again, Neris was asked to be the Phillies closer, and once again, he lost the job midway through the year. And while he was mostly a very effective reliever, he did go through some of his typical periods of ineffectiveness, such as a three-game span from June 26 to July 4 when he allowed 10 runs in 2.1 innings and a week in mid-September when he allowed three home runs in four games. As we have come to expect from Neris, he was much better in low leverage situations than high leverage situations.

He was very much Héctor Neris off the mound too, such as when he was mic’d up during Spring Training and provided some hilarious soundbites.

All in all, it was a fitting final season in red pinstripes for the man who once held the title of “longest tenured Phillie.” No matter how you feel about Héctor, you can’t deny that it will be strange to see him sitting in the Astros bullpen on Opening Day 2022.

2021 stats

74.1 IP, 11.87 K/9, 3.87 BB/9, 1.45 HR/9, 3.63 ERA, 4.08 FIP, 3.65 xFIP, 2.99 xERA, 3.55 DRA

The good

Héctor Neris had a good season in 2021. He ranked sixth among NL relievers with 74.1 IP, and his 3.63 ERA was well below the NL average reliever ERA of 4.19.

Neris finished second among all NL relievers in strikeouts, behind only fireballer Josh Hader, who had 102 strikeouts to Neris’s 98. According to Baseball Savant, Héctor’s strikeout rate was in the 91st percentile, and his whiff rate and his chase rate were both in the 93rd percentile. In other words, he was outstanding at generating swings and misses (and he needed to be with the defense that played behind him).

He also did an excellent job inducing poor-quality contact from hitters. His average exit velocity allowed was almost 2 MPH slower than his career average, and his average launch angle allowed was more than 2.5 degrees lower than his career average. As a result, he allowed barrelled balls at a rate much lower than his career average. His 2.99 xERA ranked in the 90th percentile of major leaguers and seventh among qualified NL relievers. It was the first time in his career that he has had an xERA below 3.00 and an xERA than ranked in the top 10% of the league.

Baseball Prospectus was also very high on Neris in 2021. His 3.55 DRA ranked fifth among NL relievers (min. 50 IP) and his WARP ranked third.

These metrics rank Héctor Neris among the best relievers in the game, which seems a little hard to fathom at first. However, Neris did manage to put up a better-than-average ERA while pitching his home games in a hitter-friendly and homer-friendly ball park and while pitching in front of one of the worst defenses in baseball. In fact, according to Outs Above Average, no pitcher in baseball was more affected by poor defense last season than Héctor Neris. By OOA, the Phillies defense prevented seven fewer runs than average in just 74.1 innings while Neris was on the mound. For context, if Neris had allowed seven fewer earned runs in 2021, he would have finished with a 2.78 ERA. With that in mind, it starts to make a lot more sense why the metrics from Statcast and Baseball Prospectus were so high on Héctor Neris this past year.

The bad

Héctor Neris has a bit of a reputation for coming up short in big moments, and he did nothing to shed that reputation in 2021. According to FanGraphs, Neris allowed 13 runs (and 4 home runs) in “high leverage” situations. That’s almost identical to the 14 runs (and 4 home runs) he gave up in “low leverage” situations, despite facing only 74 batters in high leverage situations and 131 batters in low leverage situations.

On the one hand, it’s easy to chalk those extra runs and home runs up to a small sample size fluke. 74 PA in high leverage situations is hardly enough to draw any serious conclusions from. On the other hand, Neris has a career 3.55 FIP in low and medium leverage situations, and a career 4.43 FIP in high leverage situations, so there’s no denying that he does struggle in tight spots.

In addition to his continued struggles with the game on the line, Héctor Neris struggled with walks in 2021.

From 2014 to 2019, Neris was walking 3.03 batters per nine innings. That’s far from elite, but it was still better than average, and when combined with his excellent 11.41 K/9, it made for a well above-average strikeout-to-walk ratio.

In 2021, however, his BB/9 was 3.87, almost identical to the NL reliever average of 3.92. While his K/9 rose as well, it didn’t rise proportionally to his BB/9, and so his K/BB ratio was the lowest it’s been in any full season of his career.

Héctor’s K/BB ratio was still above average this past season, so his rising walk rate isn’t exactly a problem quite yet, but it is certainly a trend that the Astros will want to keep an eye on.

The future

The Houston Astros jumped on Héctor Neris quite early in the offseason, so clearly they saw something in him that they liked. Developing pitching and helping veteran pitchers improve later in their careers has been an organizational strength for the Astros in recent years, so perhaps they’ll be able to help Neris reach new heights he was unable to reach during his time with the Phillies.

The final grade: B+

Héctor Neris was a workhorse for the Phillies and he provided lots of innings to a bullpen that desperately needed them. He also did quite a good job of limiting scoring despite the atrocious defense behind him. He had some bad outings and he struggled at times in the closer’s role, but we can’t keep blaming Neris for not being a closer. It’s just not who he is. B+ feels like a fair grade for Héctor’s solid 2021 season.