“It’s still early.”
That’s the mantra the informed baseball fan repeats to him or herself over and over when the urge to react (or overreact) to the things they see from their team on the field in the first few weeks of the season inevitably crops up.
It’s a phrase that is time-tested and accurate–there is quite a bit of folly in trying to glean too much information from such a microscopic portion of the schedule.
What we know about the team right now isn’t much, and what we think we know can change drastically over the next few weeks and months.
Still, it’s very difficult to ignore the disaster that has been Phillies middle relief through nine games.
Thought to be a strength at the outset of the 2013 campaign, the Phillies bullpen has not been as good as advertised through three series. The major offenders, Chad Durbin, Raul Valdes and Jeremy Horst have a combined ERA of 9.42, allowing 15 earned runs in just fourteen innings of work. Worse, they’ve allowed 12-of-15 inherited runners to score.
Some have blamed Charlie Manuel for the poor results early, claiming he needs to stop going to these guys in the middle innings of close games. Others have faulted Ruben Amaro for assembling another leaky bullpen. While both those individuals deserve some of the blame, the real culprit for the lackluster performances out of the bullpen so far has been the starting pitching.
For a collection of individuals making $71.5 million (or about 45% of the Phillies total payroll), the starters have thus far not lived up to the expectations that comes with their hefty paycheck.
Collectively, they’ve posted 6.24 ERA, which ranks them 28th in baseball. More importantly, however, in terms of how they’re affecting the bullpen, the starters have only averaged 5.2 IP per start. If you take away Cliff Lee‘s two starts of at least eight innings, the starters have averaged 5.0 innings even.
When your starters don’t go deep, the relievers are forced into the game earlier and expected to record outs in tough situations (in six of the Phillies nine games, relievers have entered the game with men on base). Ideally, you’d like to keep your middle relievers out of the situations as much as possible. So far, Manuel has had no choice but to use them in tricky spots, and the damage has been evident.
Make no mistake about it, it’s no coincidence that in all four of the Phillies wins so far, the starting pitcher has gone at least six innings.
This is a team that was built on pitching. Specifically, they were built on starting pitching and a very strong backend of the bullpen. In order for this team to win, they’ll need the starters to pull their weight. So far, they have not.
As they kick off a series with the light-hitting Marlins this weekend, it’s a good time to turn the page on an ugly first couple of weeks and begin turning in quality outings.