2013 Spring Training

Sorting Out The Bullpen Logjam

One of the best parts about Spring Training is the positional competition. In recent years, Phillies fans have gone without this interesting and usually very entertaining aspect of the preseason because the team has had so few question marks about which players would make the Opening Day roster.

But 2013 has changed that. For the first time in a while, the Phillies entered February with uncertainty abound. While the infield and rotation seemed set, the organization was still asking itself many questions: Who would play the corner outfield positions? Who would fill out the bench? Who would be the last members of the bullpen?

A month into the Spring and many aspects of those questions are no longer relevant. The emergence of Domonic Brown, the injury to Delmon Young, and the lack of performance from Darin Ruf have seemingly answered the questions regarding the outfield. On the bench, it’s just a matter of choosing which utility infielders you’d prefer at this point.

While the picture of this team seems much clearer after a month of baseball, there is still a considerable amount of doubt about just how the bullpen will look.

So let’s begin with what we do know. Right now, there are four players you can safely assume will be in the bullpen come April 1: Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams, Antonio Bastardo and Chad Durbin.

Beyond those four individuals, the bullpen picture is a dark chasm wrought with incertitude. With yesterday’s reassignment of Justin Friend, the Phils currently have eight players vying for three spots in the ‘pen. They are right-handers Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus, Zach Miner and Michael Stutes, and left-handers Jake Diekman, Jeremy Horst, Cesar Jimenez and Raul Valdes.

How the team currently views these players and their chances of making the team is anyone’s guess. Given their recent history, though, one would be inclined to guess that Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee would not carry more than two lefties in the ‘pen. With Bastardo’s spot assured, that leaves room for just one more.

At the outset of Spring Training, the smart money was on Horst to rise up and claim that spot after a superb 2012 in which he allowed four earned runs in 31.1 innings of work. His 2.39 FIP in 2012 suggests that his results were based more on his performance than on luck. However, the spring has not been kind to Horst thus far. In 7+ innings of work, he’s allowed ten hits and eight runs while striking out five.

All three of the other left-handers contending for a spot in the bullpen have pitched better. Diekman and Valdes have notched much more impressive strikeout numbers (13 and 15, respectively, in close to the same number of innings pitched) and Jimenez has yet to allow a run. If the season were to begin today, one could safely eliminate Horst from consideration, despite the goodwill he generated in 2012. As for Jimenez, at 28 years old and with little big league experience, he is probably not considered a legitimate possibility (his 1.2 IP suggest the team is only taking a look at what he’s got right now).

That leaves us with a two-horse race. Like Horst, Valdes impressed last season with a 2.90 ERA and a 10.2 K/9 rate. While Diekman has a big arm–and I fully expect “The Diek” to realize his talent and become a mainstay some day–his results haven’t been quite as good as Valdes’ so far. The experience Valdes has probably gives him the inside track. If a decision needed to be made today, Valdes would be your second lefty.

On the right-hand side of the spectrum, Aumont has to be your frontrunner. Aside from having the best pure stuff of any of the guys in contention, he, too, impressed last season–posting a respectable 3.68 ERA in limited innings and striking out 8.59 hitters per nine. One job is his.

Beyond that, it’s probably safe to eliminate Miner from the competition as he has allowed more runs than innings pitched so far this spring and hasn’t pitched in the bigs since 2009. That leaves the team with Stutes and De Fratus as their other right-handers. That’s where things get hairy. While Stutes hasn’t pitched badly this spring, his 4.50 ERA in six innings hasn’t exactly guaranteed himself a spot in the bullpen either. Plus he’s never been a huge strikeout pitcher. De Fratus has been worse.

If they wanted to, the team could forgo their usual M.O. and run with a more balanced bullpen of four right-handers and three left-handers, with the final bullpen spot going to Diekman, who has struck out 13 in eight innings pitched this spring. While this is atypical, the team has a reliever in Adams who will pitch the eighth no matter which batters are due up. Carrying an extra left-hander would give them the luxury of playing matchups through the middle innings. Although anyone who has watched the Phils in recent history would be skeptical of Manuel’s willingness to take this route.

If the Phillies went with pure performance and disregarded handedness, this is how their bullpen should shake out on Opening Day: Papelbon, Adams, Bastardo, Durbin, Aumont, Valdes and Diekman.

Of course, with just over two weeks to go in Spring Training, this can all change.



  1. wbramh

    March 15, 2013 at 11:20 am


    While I’m not a Darin Ruf fan, Spring training is less a fair gauge of Ruf’s abilities on the Major League level than his many years in the minors.

    Based on the Ruf meter, some of the greatest players to ever put on baseball gloves would never have stuck to their parent clubs based on their first full Spring training performances. Mantle experienced a terrible and prolonged slump. Of course,he was sent down to get his swing and head together. At 26, Ruf’s chances of getting another serious look are far less sure. Obviously, he’s no Mantle but it’s still an ugly way to see his career go up in smoke.

    If roster decisions based on Spring training were applied with equal weight to veterans, I wonder where Roy Halladay be playing ball this April?

    • Bruce

      March 16, 2013 at 12:38 am

      I agreed with you, wbramh. Of course, no one ever said life is fair. Ruf may be send down to get some playing time in his new position in LF. Once he has gained confidence and is comfortable in his fielding, I think his hitting will reflect that with renewed power production.

      I don’t know if you’re old enough to have seen a power hitter that was terribly awkward in LF for the Phillies in the 1970’s-80’s. It was the only position that he could play and do the least harm to the team (smile). They called him “The Bull” because he was stocky and weighed over 225 lbs. His name is Greg Luzinski. Today he is selling BBQ at Ashburn Alley in CBP (smile).

      One last comment; we do NOT know what the manager Charlie Manuel’s thoughts are on finalizing the roster prior to the start of the season. He has more than two weeks to evaluate and contemplate the results from Spring exhibition games. We can be fairly certain that NO decision has been made regarding the fielding positions, the bench and the bullpen. Fans and writers alike sometimes act as if they have the manager’s ear and expect him to make certain decisions as they see it. I’ll just wait till March 31st to read the official word from the manager and there may be a surprise or two for the fans here on final roster. (smile).

  2. Ken Bland

    March 15, 2013 at 11:58 am

    I’m not getting too worked up over the bullpen choices. It’s probably about 50% how well the mainstays in Adams and Paps pitch, and regarding the rest I’d take your closing line of

    “Of course, with just over two weeks to go in Spring Training, this can all change.”

    and projectt that in 2.5 weeks, but who’s counting, on April 1, someone will write

    Of course, it’s only Opening Day, so this can all change.

    Let’s be honest. Some portion of the middle guys, 1? 2? Maybe 3? are gonna fall off from the high hopes they’ve earned this spring. A shuttle, maybe not a real frequent one, between the Pigs and Phils just based on effectiveness won’t be shocking. Let alone injury. But 1 or 2 capable guys are gonna get sliced, but might well be back.

  3. d

    March 15, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    “As for Jimenez, at 21 years old”

    jimenez is 28 already.

    • Ryan Dinger

      March 15, 2013 at 12:21 pm

      You are correct, sir. Thanks for the heads up. I’ve edited the article. I apologize for the error.

  4. Lefty

    March 15, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    Who is the right handed long man? Valdes can do it from the left side. Do you keep a lefty as your long man? So in terms of Aumont, Stutes and Defratus you have to judge which one would be able to give you 3 innings. All 5 starters will need help at some point.

    And IMO- forget about Durbin as long man, one of the reasons he had so much success last season was due to one inning use with the exception but one appearance at 1-2/3.

    • Ryan Dinger

      March 15, 2013 at 12:53 pm

      I didn’t think it was necessary to have a right and left-handed long man. I agree the team will obviously need a long-man. But generally they pitch in mop up duty (except in the instance of injury), so having more than one seems superfluous to me.

      • Lefty

        March 15, 2013 at 12:57 pm

        Ryan, it’s coincidental, but I was just reading a column about how Davey Johnson likes that he has both, but no you don’t need both.

        I guess what I meant was, is it a safe bet to have your long man be a lefty facing 73% right handed hitters? Shouldn’t we have a righty instead of Valdes doing that duty?

      • Ryan Dinger

        March 15, 2013 at 1:11 pm

        Ideally, yes. That’s one of the issues with Kendrick being in the rotation now. He can’t just slide into that role. They really don’t have any right-handed relief pitchers suited for that role (Maybe Stutes because he was once a starter? But that was a few years ago and he’s coming off arm issues.) Aaron Cook could be a possibility, but would you really like Cook in the bullpen over one of the guys listed above?

      • schmenkman

        March 15, 2013 at 2:05 pm

        Lefty, just fyi, the approx 73/27 split is for pitchers — actually 71/29 in the NL last year (i.e. 71% of plate appearances were against a right-handed pitcher, 29% against a lefty pitcher).

        The batters in the NL last year were a bit more even — 58% of PAs were by right-handed batters, 42% by left-handed batters.

      • Lefty

        March 15, 2013 at 5:10 pm

        Ryan- No I would not rather have Cook, but that may have to be the case.

        Schmenkman- Are those starters or total batters? Even at those odds, I think you’re better off with a good Right handed long man when you have Kendrick and Lannan as starters, and especially if Halladay does not come back to form.

      • schmenkman

        March 15, 2013 at 5:39 pm

        The 58% righty, 42% lefty were the %s of ALL batters.

  5. Manny

    March 15, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    I’d much rather have DeFratus in the pen over Valdes. But agree on the other guys.

    In any case, they’re all good and we’ll see all of them throughout the season.. the best ones will stick, so no biggie.

  6. Chuck A.

    March 15, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Well, at least we don’t have to deal with Chad Qualls anymore…

  7. betasigmadeltashag

    March 15, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    I think you left out one guy who has pitched pretty good this spring, and would fit into KK’s role of last few years and that is Cook, he can start in a pinch and can be your long man. I think having a guy like KK in the pen like they had the last few years is very helpful. I am not positive Cook can be effective in that role but he is the only guy who may be that the Phillies have in camp. And it is a good thing to have a guy aht is is on the club in case you need a starter for a DH or have someone skip a start at some point. I think the best opening day pen would be Paps, Adams, Durbin, Bastardo, Cook, Deikman, Aumont, and if you really do not think Cook can be the long man/6th starter then I would like to see Stutes.
    In reality opening day is almost irrelevent, because there will be injuries and someone is not going to be effective as they thought. I know some one will have this but how what is the average numbers of pitchers pitch for the big club in the last three four years

    • Ken Bland

      March 15, 2013 at 3:46 pm

      Cook hasn’t had a particularly great career even when health has blessed him. I don’t know that I’d get carried away with his spring stats. Another guy in a very similar role to him is Rodrigo Lopez, who I believe has had a good amount more relief experience, so it’s not like Cook has unique talent. Cook, by the way, has an opt out clause, for what it’s worth. Like Bettancourt.

  8. George

    March 15, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    I think it’s a waste of time even worrying about who’s going to fill out the bullpen. “This can all change” will most likely end up as “This “WILL all change.”

    Also, there are things besides ERAs that a lot of fans probably don’t see, but the coaching staff does. Things like consistent mechanicsand confidence level. Just because a guy strikes out more batters early on than another guy does not always make him a better pitcher, and giving up a batch of runs on one bad pitch doesn’t always make a pitcher worse.

    I’ll trust in the staff and wait until opening day.

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