Phillies 2017 Preview: Relief Pitchers

Before we continue with the 2017 preview series, let’s take a moment to reflect. In 1903, the very first World Series was played. There were 16 teams in existence at that point. By 1980, 15 of those 16 teams had won a World Series. The exception? The Philadelphia Phillies. The infamous Cubs drought was a mere 72 years young in 1980, 5 years junior to the Phillies’ own odious streak. That 77 year long drought was the cherry on top of the franchise’s losing legacy (a legacy that includes a major league high 14 times finishing with the worst record in baseball ). In 1980, manager Dallas Green led the Phillies to their first ever World Series, putting fans in the unfamiliar situation of having something to celebrate. Thanks, Dallas. I’ll leave the rest of the sentiments in more qualified hands than my own.

Previous Posts –
Middle Infield
First and Third
Starting Pitchers (Part 1)

Starting Pitchers (Part 2)

Relief Pitchers

Jeanmar Gomez

Gomez turned in 37 saves in what is probably the major league record for “least likely to record 37 saves in baseball history”. He doesn’t strike out many. He doesn’t really limit walks. And yet, given the opportunities, he was able to induce ground balls and limit home runs to a “successful if you worship saves” season. Statistically, it wasn’t a particularly strong season – the 37 saves are a function of his usage, not an indication of his own skills. FIP results (Fielding Independent Peripherals, which attempts to remove luck from the equation and is a better predictor of future ERA than ERA itself is) early in the season pointed toward an okay pitcher rather than a shut down closer, and in September, regression reared its ugly head. The 51 batters he faced put together an OPS of 1.278, a Bonds-in-his-prime type number.

What should we expect in 2017? In spite of his regression, the Phillies have indicated that Gomez is all but guaranteed to be the closer. They value experience over skill. Given that the Phillies won’t be competing for much this year, it’s hard to be too frustrated by this decision.

Hector Neris

The gif says it all. This man should be the closer.

What should we expect in 2017? Neris took steps forward in every single way in 2016 – harder fastball, more strikeouts, more innings pitched. He almost entirely abandoned his slider in favor of his splitter, throwing the latter more than 50% of the time to great results – he’s now one of the 20 best relievers in the game. He’s still 27, so there’s no reason to expect much regression in terms of stuff or performance. Hopefully he continues to pitch well and proves to management that he deserves the closer role.

Joaquin Benoit

In sports, only father time is undefeated. Benoit is doing his best to buck that trend. In his age 38 season, his fastball averaged 94.2 MPH, which is harder than he threw a decade prior. He recorded a 2.81 ERA for two teams in 2016, due to his stint with the Blue Jays in which he had a 0.38 ERA in 23.2 innings. The Phillies were willing to bet on this small sample performance, and signed him to a 1 yr/$7.5 million deal to fill out the back end of the bullpen.

What should we expect in 2017? While Benoit’s true talent isn’t the 0.38 ERA he recorded in Toronto (but who’s is?), it’s also not the 5.18 ERA he had in 24 innings with the Mariners. He was a bit wild at times in 2016, walking more batters than he previously had in his career. Despite that, he is still a good high leverage arm, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him settle in as the closer if he excels and Gomez and Neris falter.

Pat Neshek

Something teams look for in the offseason is veteran depth, and sometimes they’ll overpay in their quest to acquire it. The veteran depth the Phillies acquired with this offseason came in the form of one RHP Pat Neshek, but the Phillies avoided the “overpay” trap, parting with just a player to be named later or cash. For those unfamiliar with Neshek, an alliteration – sidewinder with sinker and slider for strikeouts. He’ll go to his slider more often against righties and throw it away in the zone for strikes. The slider is a pitch that has the largest platoon split, so while he dominates righties (.463 OPS. Not OBP. OPS!!), each lefty he faces basically turns into into Miguel Cabrera (.967 OPS).

What should we expect in 2017? Neshek is a situational reliever, albeit a very good one. He’ll have a role against righties, but the leash should be short against lefties in order for him to find success. If used correctly, an ERA in the mid to low 3’s should be doable.

Adam Morgan

Throughout his time with the organization, Adam Morgan has appeared in 121 games with the Phillies and its minor league affiliates. In all but 4 of these games, he has started. With the amount of pitching depth ahead of him this year, Morgan’s best chance of cracking the big league roster is to flip that script and pitch in relief. Given that he’s both a lefty and stretched out, he figures to be a fairly versatile option if he were to make the team. His fastball in his two 2016 relief appearances was up a couple ticks from where he sat as a starter. The added velocity couldn’t hurt.

What should we expect for 2017? Given his history with the team, his versatility, and presence on the 40 man roster, Morgan could settle in as the team’s long reliever. He’s been mostly mediocre as a starter, but hey – the switch worked for Joe Blanton. Why not Morgan?

Pat Venditte

Speaking of versatile relievers, there’s nobody in the majors quite like Venditte – an ambidextrous pitcher. Drafted by the Yankees in the 20th round of the 2008 draft, Venditte used both hands to slowly climb the rungs of the organizational ladder. He finally made his debut in 2015 with the A’s, and was…okay. He’s more than a novelty, but not by much. Hey – not many guys get rules named after them. What more do you want?

What should we expect for 2017? The largest hurdle that Venditte faces is that he isn’t on the 40 man roster, meaning the Phillies would have to expose a player to waivers if they want Venditte to make the team. That might not be worth it for the team, but for entertainment’s sake, I hope we get to see Venditte and his 6-fingered glove in Philadelphia.

Joely Rodriguez

Acquired from the Pirates prior to the 2015 season, Rodriguez pitched his way through four levels in 2016 – High A, AA, AAA, and a brief September call up. He seems to have a knack for limiting home runs. While the data is limited for his minor league stints, in his 9.2 IP in the majors (admittedly a Super Small Sample) Rodriguez ran a 57.0% GB rate, which would be a top 10% GB rate if he were to pitch a full season. This could explain his low HR rate if he runs similar groundball rates in the minors. He has a live fastball and not much left to prove in the minors, and it seems the Phillies know that.

What should we expect in 2017? The bullpen needs to be filled out with somebody, and Rodriguez is considered to be one of the favorites. Good minor league numbers and a great fastball should be enough to get him a job, but with the bullpen it’s hard to really know who will make the team until opening day.

Edubray Ramos

“What I like in a bullpen”, you say aloud, “are pitchers who appear in just, a whole bunch of games, and yet I still don’t really know who they are.” Well, let me re-introduce you to Edubray Ramos. Like the friend of a friend you say “nice to meet you” to after meeting the 3rd, 4th, and 5th time, Edubray Ramos has been around long enough that you should know who he is. Let’s hope he’s also friendly enough to not call you out for being forgetful person. Edubray pitched in 42 games last year, but debuted in late June, when baseball games all start to blend together and it feels like one long baseball dream. In spite of his anonymity (or the anonymity that I project upon him), he was surprisingly decent – 25.0% strike out rate, 6.9% walk rate, and a 3.83 ERA. Not bad, Mr. ….what was that name again? Edward?

What should we expect in 2017? His fastball averaged over 95 MPH, his results were average with peripherals to match, and he’s already on the 40 man roster. There’s a good chance he makes the team, although he’s considered “on the bubble”, which for a position as fluid as relief pitching, it’s one hell of a bubble.

And that is that. As we celebrate Harry Kalas’s birthday, we’ve finished the 2017 roster preview. This time next week, the major league season will be under way, and one day later, the Phillies begin to play in earnest. At Palardelphia, we’ll continue bringing weekly content with coverage, analysis, and an occasional look at baseball quirks. Spring has sprung. Let’s buy some peanuts and cracker jacks and settle in.

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