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The good, the bad, and the funny: Phillies bullpen edition

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A brief look at how the Phillies bullpen has performed recently.

New York Mets v. Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

“The good, the bad, and the funny” is a new series designed to take a closer look at the state of the Phillies, one aspect at a time. Up first? The bullpen.

The Good

Hector Neris

Now that Ranger Suarez has moved to the starting rotation, it’s a little difficult to find a true bright spot in the Phillies bullpen. Bailey Falter looked promising in 18 appearances this season, but contracting COVID-19 may have ruined his season. Two other standout relievers, Sam Coonrod and Connor Brogdon, are also on the injured list.

Thankfully, the bullpen hasn’t blown any games since the calendar turned to August, but that doesn’t mean things have been pretty. Phillies relievers have a 4.13 ERA since August 1, which ranks 20th in baseball. That doesn’t sound too bad, but they also have a 5.92 FIP, which ranks 28th. Luckily, there is still one Phillies reliever to be optimistic about these days – Hector Neris.

Regardless of what you think about Neris or how much confidence you have in him going forward, there is no denying that he has been electric over the past month. Since July 10, he has a 1.76 ERA and a 2.78 FIP. He hasn’t been allowing very much hard contact (just 27%, compared to a 33.1% career average) or very many line drives (11.1%, compared to his 21.1% career average) and he’s striking out batters at an elite rate (28.8%).

The metrics at Baseball Savant shine a positive light on Neris as well. His xwOBA allowed over his past 50 batters faced is .203. To put that in perspective, Craig Kimbrel is the only qualifying pitcher with an xwOBA better than that (his is .192). Zack Wheeler and Ranger Suarez both have a .251 xwOBA, which is still elite.

Baseball Prospectus has also been reasonably kind to Neris this season. He has an 87 DRA-, which means he’s been thirteen percent better than league average by this metric. He’s the only current Phillies reliever with a DRA better than league average.

Hector also has a 3.29 SIERA and 3.55 xFIP over the past month. Those numbers aren’t as stellar as his ERA or FIP, but they still show that Neris has pitched very well lately. While there are other Phillies relievers with flashy ERAs over the past month, Hector Neris is the one whose success appears the most sustainable.

For a much more in-depth look at how Hector Neris has been pitching lately, you should check out Ethan Witte’s piece from earlier today.

New York Mets v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Bad

Archie Bradley’s underlying numbers

Speaking of relievers with flashy ERAs, Archie Bradley has a 2.40 ERA since he came off the injured list in May. He has a 1.71 ERA since the start of June, and a 0.60 ERA since the start of July. All of his ERA estimators, however, tell a different story. Whether you look at FIP, xFIP, SIERA, xERA, or DRA, there is plenty of cause for concern about Archie Bradley.

I should clarify that I am not saying Archie Bradley has been bad. That would be categorically false. He’s only allowed one earned run since the beginning of July, and the Phillies are 12-2 in his appearances during that time span. He’s gotten the job done, and he deserves credit for that. What I am calling “the bad” are his ERA estimators, the numbers that are supposedly more predictive of his future ERA.

Here are his numbers for the full season:

  • 2.73 ERA
  • 4.74 FIP
  • 4.96 xFIP
  • 4.87 xERA
  • 5.01 SIERA
  • 5.47 DRA

In Bradley’s defense, his underlying numbers have looked better recently. His average fastball velocity has gone up significantly since the beginning of the season, and his performance has certainly improved along with it. However, his average fastball velocity hit 94.5 MPH in mid-June, and it has stayed there since. And since June 12, Bradley has a 1.99 ERA, but a 4.32 FIP and a 4.58 xFIP. Those numbers aren’t terrible, but they do tell a very different story than his ERA.

As you can see from this graph, Bradley’s ERA has continued to go down since his poor start to the season, but his xFIP has hovered pretty consistently around 5.00.

I don’t mean to be too down on Archie Bradley. Even in a worst-case scenario, he is a competent major league bullpen arm and he will pitch meaningful innings down the stretch, and in a best-case scenario he continues to make improvements and his ERA doesn’t regress. Nevertheless, when Archie Bradley enters with the game on the line, I still hold my breath.

New York Mets v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Funny

Ian Kennedy’s Phillies debut

So you all remember Ian Kennedy, right? The only major league reliever the Phillies traded for at the deadline? The one who gave up three home runs in his first four appearances? Okay, maybe this is only funny in a “laughing and crying at the same time” kind of way. But still.

With his third home run allowed, Ian Kennedy joined an elite group of Phillies relievers. Nineteen different men have given up three or more home runs in their first four relief appearances with the team. That elite group includes prominent names like Brett Oberholtzer, David Phelps, and Jared Hughes. But Ian Kennedy is the only one of of those nineteen relievers whose Phillies team went on to win all four games!

Let me emphasize that. Ian Kennedy entered all four games in the ninth inning. He allowed a combined five earned runs on three homers. And yet all four times, he closed out a Phillies win. That’s why this is funny instead of just sad; it’s hard to be too upset when the Phillies are winning.

It gets funnier, too. In those first four appearances, Kennedy put up a 13.50 ERA. Not great, right? Well it sounds even worse when you realize that Ronald Torreyes also has a 13.50 ERA this season. Luckily, Kennedy still has an advantage over Torreyes in one major pitching category – fastball velocity. While Kennedy is averaging 93.8 MPH on his fastball, Torreyes is averaging just 63.7 MPH on his.

Plus, Ian Kennedy still has the consolation prize of being a better hitter than Torreyes. Over the past five seasons, Torreyes is slashing .278/.308/.372 with an 83 wRC+, while Kennedy is slashing .400/.500/.400 with a 157 wRC+. Torreyes has struck out 83 times over the past five years, while Kennedy has struck out just twice. Small sample size? Sorry, I’ve never heard that term before.

For more serious reading about Ian Kennedy, I recommend Kade Kistner’s piece from deadline day. And as for Ronald Torreyes, Ethan Witte’s appreciation post from June remains as relevant as ever.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports