clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Phillies need to find a reliever for high leverage situations

It’s becoming a problem. Again.

Philadelphia Phillies v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Trust is relievers is a tough thing to build. A manager, in an ideal world, would have a bullpen stocked with pitchers he can trust in any situation, no matter the handedness of the batter or number on the leverage index. He would like to know that whoever he is bringing in is going to get the job done. Those who have watched the Phillies over the past few years know that this type of reliever has been ever elusive for the team, a cast of characters rotated in and out in the hopes of finding someone who can do the job. Sometimes you get one (Seranthony Dominguez), sometimes you do not (anyone from the 2020 bullpen).

Sunday’s loss to the Dodgers felt a lot worse than it should have. The team had already taken two of three from Seattle and was on the verge of sweeping a four game series against the best team in baseball on their home field. “Magical” might not be the proper word to describe, but “improbable” felt more apt. Aaron Nola gave them seven innings of excellent baseball and turned the game over to the bullpen in the hopes whoever was going to fill those innings would be able to lock it down.

Then it all just...went away.

No need to rehash the end of that game, but suffice it to say, it exposed yet again how the bullpen might be filled with live arms, but as of now, very few of them can be trusted. When a high leverage situation presents itself, it would be helpful if the arms available were able to shut down the opposition, but alas, that isn’t happening. Here is a chart of the current relief corps’ situations and how they have fared in them:

Phillies’ RP by PA and OPS in tough situations

Pitcher avg LI Low Leverage Mid Leverage High Leverage
Pitcher avg LI Low Leverage Mid Leverage High Leverage
Brad Hand 1.46 (16) .333 (9) .500 (19) .759
Corey Knebel 1.46 (19) .433 (15) .414 (29) .970
Seranthony Dominguez 1.34 (20) .427 (18) .590 (16) .732
Jeurys Familia 1.34 (18) .572 (15) .733 (23) .967
Jose Alvarado 1.24 (19) .681 (10) .425 (19) .974
Nick Nelson 0.78 (53) .731 (10) .522 (7) 1.000
Andrew Bellatti 0.72 (35) .701 (3) .667 (3) .333
Connor Brogdon 0.64 (14) .812 (5) .800 (0) .000
James Norwood 0.63 (34) .628 (6) 1.100 (3) .000

These are some completely arbitrary ways to judge how well a relief pitcher pitches, but there are some notable things in here. Let’s go through them.

  • The OPS’s allowed by several relievers in high leverage situations is startling, particularly the totals allowed by the supposed closer, Corey Knebel. We’ve all seen the blowups by Familia and Alvarado in high leverage spots and have correctly aimed our vitriol at them for those stumbles. Seeing Knebel post that high of an OPS allowed in those spots is slightly concerning, even if the sample size is small. We’ve written ad nauseum the past three years about the need for the team’s relievers to be better than they have been and Knebel was supposed to help solve that. Even though it’s still early in the season, his failures in those spots have cost the team at least two wins. That’s a problem.
  • The overall OPS allowed by relievers in high leverage spots is .763, good for 25th in the league (don’t look at Cincinnati...eeesh). For a team with playoff aspirations, this cannot be allowed to continue. The arms brought in this year were expected to bring a sense of stability to the position, and so far, they have not done anything to quell the fear they instill when they trot out to the mound. The relievers simply have to be better in those spots.
  • What we don’t want to do with this is overreact and simply say, “Andrew Bellatti has the best OPS in high leverage spots. Put him there!” That’s not how it’s going to work. Bellatti’s numbers this year have been good precisely because he’s being used in spots where he can find the most success. Every bullpen needs pitchers who can start to learn on the job in those low pressure spots before they are eventually handed more difficult assignments. However, what we can say is that someone like Familia, who has had issues in high leverage situations before, should start to lose those assignments. Perhaps it’s time to at least try someone like Bellatti out to see what he can do. Until they actually do it, we just don’t know.

Again, these are arbitrary numbers that I found. They may mean something, they may not. What isn’t really up for dispute is how poor this bullpen has been in the biggest of spots of the game. We’ve seen them do this repeatedly, coming into a heated situation armed with nothing but a gas can and a smile, yet this year was supposed to be different. Regression from a supposed solid arm in Brogdon, the absence of Sam Coonrod and the “maybe it should have been expected” bad starts from Familia have all combined to make this a unit that needs an upgrade once again.

Most time, teams will wait to see how they are doing after Memorial Day before they start making roster shaking moves like a deal to bring someone in from the outside. However, if they are going to try and make a run at the division, they need to win as many games as possible. The scheduling quirk this year means that they are already running out of head to head chances to make up ground on the Mets, so they’ll have to simply win all their other games instead. Winning those games will be a lot easier with a competent bullpen, so adding a quality reliever to that group, maybe sooner than they had anticipated, will help them immensely.