The 2021 bullpen:
The Phillies bullpen has been such a disaster the last few seasons, it’s become a meme. The 2021 bullpen usage looked like this (minimum of 12 IP).
*Excludes innings pitched as an “opener”
Hector Neris (74.1 innings pitched), Connor Brogdon (56.2), Jose Alvarado (55.2), Archie Bradley (51), Ranger Suarez (40.1), Sam Coonrod (40.0), Bailey Falter (31.2), Brandon Kintzler (28.2), Enyel De Los Santos (28.0), Ian Kennedy (24.0), David Hale (23.2), J.D. Hammer (20.0), Matt Moore (16.2), Cristopher Sanchez (12.1)
Two of the top four from 2021 have signed elsewhere. Ranger Suarez has moved into the starting rotation after a dominant second half of 2021 as a starter. It won’t be hard for this year’s crew to put up better numbers than those of years past. So let’s take a look at who is a part of the 2022 arm barn in Philly.
The 2022 depth chart:
Long relief option #1: Bailey Falter
2021 MLB stats: 22 G, 1 GS, 33.2 IP, 24.5 K%, 4.3 BB%, 36.1 GB%, 5.61 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 0.3 fWAR
There aren’t many guarantees for the 2022 bullpen as to who will fill what role. So first we’ll start with possible long relief options. Depending on how Joe Girardi and Dave Dombrowski decide to shape the Opening Day roster, Bailey Falter has a shot to be a multi-inning arm out of the pen.
For some stretches of 2021, Bailey Falter looked like he would stick as a solid multi-inning tool for Girardi and the Phillies. A couple of multi-run performances hurt his ERA and FIP but his K% and BB% suggest success could be not too far away for the lefty. Having a left- handed arm that can give the Phillies multiple innings is especially valuable, considering they have just one southpaw in the starting rotation.
34 strikeouts in 33.2 IP, with just the six walks, will certainly play. With a strong spring, Falter has a shot at a roster spot that could see him become a multi-inning weapon.
Long relief option #2: Cristopher Sánchez
2021 MLB stats: 7 G, 1 GS, 12.2 IP, 22.0 K%, 11.9 BB%, 63.9 GB%, 4.97 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 0.1 fWAR
Another southpaw that could see time out of the bullpen in 2022 is 25-year-old Cristopher Sánchez. The 6’5” Dominican Republic native saw brief action in the majors in 2021 with seven appearances. In four of those seven outings, Sánchez worked at least two innings.
Seventeen of his nineteen appearances in AAA came as a starter in 2021, so he has the experience to work multiple innings.
He did impress in his last five innings in the bigs, posting five scoreless frames with just three hits, two walks, and four strikeouts. Sánchez offers a four-pitch mix, centered around a fastball, surrounded by a slider, curve, and changeup.
The biggest concern here is the walks. In 2021, a 14.8 BB% (48 BB in 73IP) at AAA halted Sánchez’s progress.
Spring 2022 could play a big role in deciding which of the left-handed options the Phils choose. Out of the gate it appears Falter has an edge, thanks to his superior command.
Depth option #1: Ryan Sherriff
2021 MLB stats (w TB): 16 G, 0 GS, 14.2 IP, 22.2 K%, 12.5 BB%, 46.5 GB%, 5.52 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 0.1 fWAR
Before the lockout began, Dave Dombrowski improved the Phillies organizational depth at numerous positions. One of those depth adds was 31-year-old left hander Ryan Sherriff. Barring injuries, LHPs Jose Alvarado and Brad Hand are locks to make the Opening Day roster. With either Falter or Sánchez likely the long relief option, Sherriff has an uncertain path to the bigs. The previously mentioned duo could also pitch well enough this spring that Sheriff is left off the roster in favor of both.
Although he possesses a funky delivery and arm slot from the left side, the former Tampa Bay Ray is yet to put it all together in the bigs. His 3.65 FIP from last season coupled with an 89 FIP-, suggests there is room for progression this year. Although Sherriff’s ERA- of 135 says otherwise. Only time will tell if we see Sherriff at the big league level in 2022.
Depth option #2: Nick Nelson
2021 MLB stats (w NYY): 11 G, 2 GS, 14.1 IP, 28.2 K%, 20.5 BB%, 35.1 GB%, 8.79 ERA, 4.08 FIP, 0.1 fWAR,
The first RHP of the bullpen season preview comes in the form of 26-year-old Nick Nelson. Another pre-lockout pickup, Nelson was added along with Donny Sands in a trade with the Bronx Bombers back in November. The former Yankee had a rough 2021 in the bigs issuing sixteen walks, fifteen hits, and fourteen earned runs, in just over fourteen innings.
Nelson boasts a three-pitch mix that consists of a fastball, slider and changeup. One positive for Nelson last year was his fVA of 96.7. The hard throwing righty has struggled throughout his baseball career with his command, posting a 16.1 BB% lifetime in the majors.
Another positive feature is Nelson’s ability to work in a multi-inning role. This could make him a more appealing option to Philly as a complimentary piece to Sánchez or Falter.
Middle innings option #1: Seranthony Domínguez
*Pitched one inning in MLB in 2021 (Tommy John surgery recovery)
2019 MLB Stats: 27 G, 2 GF, 24.2 IP, 26.4 K%, 10.9 BB%, 54.5 GB%, 4.01 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 0.2 fWAR
Seranthony Domínguez could be the X-factor in this boom or bust bullpen. Domínguez seems to be one of a handful of “locks” to make the Opening Day roster. After his 2019 season ended prematurely due to a UCL injury, the 2011 international free agent signing finally went under the knife in July 2020, over a full year after the injury.
After a long and difficult rehab, Seranthony reappeared in the bigs at the end of the 2021 season, firing a scoreless inning against Miami.
In his first outing of 2022 Spring Training, Domínguez struck out the side on fourteen pitches, touching 97 MPH on his fastball. Domínguez’s outing left Joe Girardi impressed with the righty.
Joe Girardi after a dazzling outing by Seranthony Dominguez today (3 hitters, 3 whiffs, no good swings, 95-97 on the gun):— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) March 22, 2022
"If he gets back to where he was, he'd be a huge piece. Threw a ton of strikes. He didn't labor one bit."#phillies
As Joe said, if the 27-year-old returns to his 2018-19 form, he could easily develop into one of, if not THE most reliable bullpen weapon for 2022.
Middle innings option #2: Connor Brogdon
2021 MLB stats: 56 G, 8 GF, 57.2 IP, 21.3 K%, 7.7 BB%, 44.2 GB%, 3.43 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 0.7 fWAR
Connor Brogdon was arguably the best reliever in the 2021 Phillies bullpen. The 27-year-old worked nearly 60 innings, while walking just eighteen batters. An April implosion against the Giants, where he allowed six earned runs, inflated his numbers in what was otherwise a solid season.
If you take out Connor Brogdon's six-run outing against the Giants in April, his 2021 ERA would go down from 3.43 to 2.53.— Destiny Lugardo (@destiny_lugardo) January 7, 2022
It is very easy to get excited for what 2022 has in store for Brogdon. A 96.1 vFA shows good zip on his fastball, and paired with a changeup and cutter, that makes a good pitch mix. As for where Brogdon is utilized, it really depends on Girardi. Does Joe see Connor as a better late-inning option than Hand or Familia?
Brogdon could also be used as a middle inning bridge or as a four-out weapon to get the pen from the 5th to the 7th inning.
In fifteen outings last season, the right hander recorded four or more outs. It may serve the Phils best if Brogdon is used in a similar manner, where he can enter after a starter exits and get a few outs, rather than be locked into a specific inning role.
Middle innings option #3: Sam Coonrod
2021 MLB stats: 42 G, 7 GF, 42.1 IP, 25.9 K%, 8.1 BB%, 57.1 GB%, 4.04 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 0.5 fWAR
Sam Coonrod was a relatively stable option for the Phillies in 2021. His 3.71 FIP, 85 FIP-, and 95 ERA- suggest he was even better than his ERA shows. Coonrod has the chance to lock down a middle relief role for the 2022 season with a strong spring training.
With an electric fastball that regularly sits at 98 miles per hour, there is a lot to like with the 29-year-old. The right hander also posted a solid 17.8 K-BB% in 2021, displaying improved command throughout the season.
The former Giant has become a bit forgotten, thanks to a slew of adds this offseason. However, he could very quickly become a lethal weapon out of the 2022 arm barn.
Middle innings option #4: José Alvarado
2021 MLB Stats: 64 G, 10 GF, 5 SV, 3 BS, 16 HLD, 55.2 IP, 27.1 K%, 18.7 BB%, 57.4 GB%, 4.20 ERA, 4.80 FIP, -0.3 fWAR
When José Alvarado emerges from the bullpen, it’s truly a mystery how he will perform on any given night. We could see the dominant lefty with the exploding fastball that clocks in near 99 MPH. Unfortunately, often times we get the Alvarado that can’t find the plate, as evidenced by his 47 walks in 55 2⁄3 innings. The inconsistencies have prevented Alvarado from reclaiming his success that he found in his early Rays days.
With more support around him in the pen this year, the 26-year-old may find himself in a middle innings role that puts less pressure on him. There will certainly be plenty of situations where he’s used in the 7th or 8th inning throughout the year, but with Hand, Familia, and Knebel in town, Alvarado could be shifted to a low leverage role to start.
This could be a good way for the southpaw to harness the fastball and lower his disappointing 110 FIP-. An improved BABIP of .298, almost 50 points lower than 2019, is an encouraging sign.
Starting with a low-leverage or middle innings role could help take the pressure off Alvarado and help him regain some control of his electric stuff.
Set-up option #1: Jeurys Familia
2021 MLB Stats (w NYM): 65 G, 16 GF, 1 SV, 6 BS, 11 HLD, 59.1 IP, 27.5 K%, 10.3 BB%, 51.0 GB%, 3.94 ERA, 4.40 FIP, 0.0 fWAR
After spending the bulk of his ten-year career with the Mets, Jeurys Familia heads to Philadelphia on a one-year deal. The 2016 All-Star brings postseason and closer experience to the Phillies.
Posting 94 saves from 2015-2016, Familia could find himself closing at some point this season. For now, Familia will likely find himself pitching in high leverage spots in the 7th and 8th innings. Like many on this list, his spring performance will likely dictate where Girardi uses the former Met.
Seranthony Domínguez and José Alvarado could be in line for holds as well. With no clear vision of how usage will play out, Familia adds much needed experience and depth to the bullpen, at the least.
While he has not been the sharpest reliever the past two seasons, his K-BB% of 17.2 is certainly an encouraging sign. A 10.3 BB% from 2021 was a 5% improvement from 2019-20 (15.55%). Although, an ERA- of 101 and a FIP- of 106, should temper our expectations just a bit.
With improved command, Familia could assert himself as a late-inning staple. However, he could just as easily fade back into his lackluster 2019 form. This seems to be the theme with many on this list. They could boom just as easily as they could flop.
Set-up option #2: Brad Hand
2021 MLB Stats (w WAS, NYM, & TOR): 68 G, 45 GF, 21 SV, 8 BS, 3 HLD, 64.2 IP, 21.9 K%, 9.4 BB%, 39.8 GB%, 3.90 ERA, 4.58 FIP, -0.1 fWAR
The 2021 season was a mixed bag for now 32-year-old LHP Brad Hand. The eleven-year vet started with the Nationals, pitching decently enough that the contending Blue Jays scooped him up at the trade deadline.
Hand’s time in Toronto was less than impressive, as after allowing seven earned runs in eight and two thirds innings, the Jays DFA’d him. The Mets claimed Hand off waivers as he took on a late-inning role with New York by the end of the campaign.
With the Mets, the southpaw would post a 2.70 ERA, 3.40 FIP, 14/5 K/BB, in 13 1⁄3 IP.
Philadelphia has apparently seen enough positives in Hand to take a chance on him with a one-year, six-million-dollar agreement.
Another uncertain addition, the former second-round pick has more positives to look at, rather than his rough patches.
Projected Closer: Corey Knebel
2021 MLB stats (w LAD): 27 G, 3 GF, 25.2 IP, 29.7 K%, 8.9 BB%, 45.9 GB%, 2.45 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 0.6 fWAR
As of the time of this writing, Corey Knebel is penciled in as the Phillies closer for 2022. Stepping into a role that was previously filled by Ian Kennedy, Héctor Neris, Brandon Workman, and Jeanmar Gómez, Knebel does not exactly have big shoes to fill.
The red and white pinstripes do desperately need Knebel to bring some stability to the role, especially at his ten million dollar price tag. There is a decent amount of depth behind the former Dodger, but even that aforementioned depth has a plethora of questions behind it.
Knebel has not spent time as a primary closer since 2018, but his most dominant year was in 2017, when he posted 39 saves with a 1.78 ERA.
It is a bit of a reach to think we’ll see the 30-year-old achieve that same level of success he once had in Milwaukee.
2021 was a solid season in LA for the flamethrower. A legit 2.40 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 68 FIP-, and an ERA- of 60 gives phans something to be excited for.
The big question here is if Knebel can stay healthy and sustain reliability throughout a full season, which he has failed to do since 2017.