The bullpen was always going to be a weakness of this team. Though the front office tried to shore it up by signing Jeurys Familia and Brad Hand, they still had to realize that they were signing Jeurys Familia and Brad Hand. They went and signed offense to help prop this team up, but only giving then manager Joe Girardi these two arms (in addition to Corey Knebel) felt like simply settling for veteran options that didn’t cost much or command as many years.
Now, Hand actually hasn’t been too bad this season, but there has to be some caution taken with that statement. While his 2.08 ERA might suggest “good reliever”, his peripherals suggest that maybe we should pump the brakes on labeling him that for a second. The difference between that ERA and his 3.31 FIP suggest that some of that ERA is a mirage, which goes along with his 13% walk rate, 40th worst among 294 relievers that have thrown at least 10 innings. However, Hand has been much better than Familia, who, though his walk rate is lower than Hand’s, has a worse ERA and FIP and has generally just been too unreliable an option out of the bullpen.
The one shining light during the year has been Seranthony Dominguez, but even new manager Rob Thomson is treating him with a little more caution coming off of Tommy John surgery, though maybe less so than Girardi. Corey Knebel is currently hurting, but his last month has been pretty rough (4.91 ERA since May 5).
The less said about names like Jose Alvarado, Nick Nelson and James Norwood, the better.
Former TGPer Leo Morgenstern took a look at the bullpen last week and noted that they are one of the unclutchiest bullpens in the game. One night, you can expect that the starter will give the team 5-6 solid innings and, depending on the mixture of relievers brought into the game, the rest of it can be pretty well sewn up. The next day, they hand the game over, surrendering a bunch of runs thanks to their inability to throw the ball in the strikezone. So, with the team suddenly at .500 and back into the thick of the National League wild card hunt, now is the time to start looking around at what might be available to help reinforce what is already here.
The internal candidates
Before the team decides to start laying the groundwork for trades, they might want to consider who is available in their own backyard. We have already seen Francisco Morales in the big leagues, promoted when the team was facing some injuries, but his three innings of work is nothing to get excited about. He walked four batters in those three innings, wildness something that has followed him a bit since he went back down. He came from Reading the first time, but when he was demoted, he was sent to Lehigh Valley. In eight games there, he has thrown 8 1⁄3 innings, walking an alarming 12 men while striking out 10. A lot of that damage was done in one game where he gave up four runs on only one hit, but walking four and not getting a single out. If you were wondering why he hasn’t been recalled yet, this may be one of the reasons.
The other option that is starting to gain some online traction is completing the redemption story of Mark Appel. There is no reason to get into all that he has gone through, but suffice to say, he’s been very good in Lehigh Valley this year, serving as a multi inning reliever and generally putting up some solid numbers for the IronPigs. He’s only allowing 2.7 BB/9, something this relief corps could really use, but there is still a lot of unknown here. Couple that with the fact that he would require a 40-man roster move and the team is probably rightly hesitant to bring him forward just yet unless they are really desperate. While we’d love to see him get his shot at the big leagues, it’s probably still a ways from happening.
The external candidates
Of course, nothing is spicier than to get the trade rumor mill cranking by looking at the standings and seeing which team might be sellers. This year, with the addition of the third wild card, there will definitely be a seller’s market at the trade deadline, so now might be the time to start looking at which teams present the best options that the Phillies could be interested in.
Oakland: The Athletics aren’t going to win this year and are thus a prime candidate to sell off pieces. They’ve already done so with Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea, so why not continue what has already started? When it comes to relievers, though, there isn’t much that jumps out as prime relievers that would provide a huge boost to the bullpen. A.J. Puk would probably be the first one to draw attention (1.78 ERA/3.08 FIP) as his ability to throw multiple innings, and do so from the left side, would be appealing to a team that doesn’t really have that kind of pitcher right now, but Oakland would probably require a haul for him as he’s still controllable for a while and still has that whiff of appeal as a starter. Someone like Lou Trivino might have appeal as a bounceback candidate (9.20/3.61) who has much better peripheral numbers than that unsightly ERA. His .488 BABIP suggests some serious bad luck right now that might turn his way in a bit.
Pittsburgh: The first and most obvious name to jump out from the Pirates’ roster is David Bednar and for good reason. He’s been stellar this year (1.29/1.89) as the team’s closer and might be able to slot into the same role in Philadelphia. All of his back of the baseball card stuff is great, and looks like it is backed up by his advanced numbers as well. His curveball has been particularly effective, not allowing a hit all year thus far and generating a swing and a miss 41% of the time. With five more years of team control left, this is probably Pittsburgh’s best trade chip they have heading into the deadline and will be valued as such.
Outside of Bednar, Wil Crowe (2.12/2.87) has been good for the Pirates this year. Not quite as good as Bednar, but when looking at what it might take to acquire him, probably more attainable as well. If they’re looking at someone who might benefit from a change of scenery, Chris Stratton (5.63/3.30) has run into some bad luck and, with a tweak or two, might be someone who could help the back end of a game.
Cincinnati: The Reds are bad mostly because their bullpen has been bad. Their collective 5.12 ERA is the worst in majors and has not helped their case as a team bouncing back from a historically bad start. Thus, the options in their relief corps are limited. Jeff Hoffman (3.00/3.25) has been one of their better options to handle innings at the end of games, but with two more years of control that aren’t very expensive, the chances of the Reds overvaluing him to this year are high considering he’s never really been effective prior to this season. Luis Cessa (4.24/4.34) doesn’t walk anyone, something the Phillies’ bullpen doesn’t really have much skill in, but his HR/9 of 1.54 is scary enough that the team might take pause in grabbing. His Baseball Savant page has a lot of blue on it (too much blue), but there are some positives there that the team might see as worth looking into a bit more.
There are many other candidates that are out there for the Phillies to look into to help improve the bullpen. These are far from the only ones available, but they serve as a jumping off point for the team to start laying the groundwork for potential deals. Improving the bullpen remains a must through, especially as the “easier” part of their schedule begins.