Have you ever noticed that when a team struggles, the bullpen is usually one of the culprits to that struggle? Good teams are able to assemble a collection of pitchers that have the required skills to get hitters out with relative regularity. Occasional hiccups are going to happen (these are not automatons, after all), but for the most part, a solid bullpen is one of the keys to a successful year. A simple check of who is leading MLB in bullpen ERA almost looks like a who’s who of division contenders while a scroll to the bottom shows teams that aren’t exactly having the greatest season ever. I’m not saying this is the only way to evaluate a team. For example, according to that search, the Braves are only 12th in the league in bullpen ERA (3.60), yet they’re arguably one of the top three teams in baseball thanks to their offense being almost unrelenting.
Getting back to the bullpen, it’s been frustrating to watch the Phillies send out pitchers in tight situations this year and see them have issues since we got so accustomed to their being able to be dominant in the postseason. We know now that they were probably just on a four week heater, but the way that they were carving through the best of the best offenses led us to believe the team had stumbled onto a way to enter the bullpen arms race that was burgeoning in the game. Only one of them, though, has been able to carry over that success into 2023 (Jose Alvarado) while the others look like they’re still finding their footing.
While perusing the leaderboards, pitchers like Connor Brogdon, Andrew Vazquez and Luis Ortiz look like they’re having a good season. For Brogdon, I’d argue that the same can be said by simple observation as well. However, neither Vazquez or Ortiz look like anything more than pitchers the team uses when either up by a bunch or down by a bunch. Their average leverage indexes back this up as well (0.27 for Ortiz, 0.15 for Vazquez). As of now, they’re employing someone named Jeff Hoffman who, let’s be honest, you haven’t ever heard of before Saturday’s game against Boston.
Of the pitchers Rob Thomson trusts the most in games that are close, in what order would you rank them in terms of trust, 0 being “watching with hands in front of your eyes”, 5 being “game’s wrapped up, when is the recap coming?” Arguably, the pitcher most likely to get a 5 just went down to injury, which makes the situation a little more fraught with peril. The number that you would place near a pitcher would probably vary by the day. Running down the current members of the bullpen, one such possibility might look similar to this:
- Seranthony Dominguez - 2 (velocity is good, everything else is meh)
- Gregory Soto - 3 (just gimme consistency, buddy)
- Connor Brogdon - 3 (he’s been good, but there is still something holding me back)
- Craig Kimbrel - 2 (I wouldn’t trust him if you paid me)
- Matt Strahm - 4 (if the game is on the line, this is who I want out there)
- Luis Ortiz - 1 (roster filler....)
- Andrew Vazquez - 1 (someone needs to get those innings in a lost game)
- Andrew Bellatti - 1 (are we sure his right arm is still attached?)
- Jeff Hoffman - 0 (who?)
There are pitchers here that can become more trustworthy. Dominguez was probably the best reliever in the playoff last year. Soto just went 11 appearances where he allowed a total of five baserunners. Brogdon has been unusually rock solid in his pitching this year. Matt Strahm, at least in his relief outings, has locked things down a bit for the team, which will be a big boost for them with Alvarado out.
Matt Gelb, in his article about the bullpen, wrote:
The club acquired Gregory Soto and Craig Kimbrel to add to the collection of bullpen arms that emerged a season ago when the Phillies rose to prominence. The idea was to provide Thomson with various options late in games so he didn’t overuse the best ones whenever a big spot arrived. Everyone is fresher...Left unsaid: It made compensating for an injury to one of those relievers more palatable.
Yes, there are more arms available to Thomson to piecemeal a bullpen. It’s just been difficult to watch them at times. Should they get on a roll, it could make the challenge of winning these games a little easier since the dependability they would give would ease the minds of those in the dugout. So far, that just hasn’t been there as frequently as we got used to seeing last September and October.