A look at full season numbers reveals the Phillies’ bullpen has been pretty average for the 2014 season thus far. Considering the bullpen once featured Jeff Manship, Luis Garcia, and B.J. Rosenberg, that in itself is a pretty celebratory accomplishment. On the season, the Phillies 3.73 bullpen ERA ranks 11th in the National League and last among their NL East division rivals. The Phils ‘pen has been the fourth-most effective team at striking out hitters but ranks only tenth at issuing free passes. And entering today’s game, only the Rockies are more likely to surrender a homer.
But something has changed in the last 30 days. The Phillies’ bullpen ranks second in K/9 IP and there is now six teams between the Phillies and the distinction of being the team most likely to surrender a homer out of their bullpen. In the last 30 days, the Phils’ ‘pen ranks fifth in the NL and seventh in FIP and xFIP.
The change is even more pronounced over the last 14 days. The bullpen has cut their walk-rate by over three per 9 IP, ranking best in the NL in that span. The Phillies also rank first in ERA over the last 14 days. So what changed?
While the pitchers in the ‘pen have been terrific, one fact that stands out is that the Phillies bullpen has been relatively rested over the last 14 days. The Phillies rank 12th in the National League in innings pitched.
In addition to Ken Giles joining the Phillies, Justin De Fratus has returned for good and has been fantastic. In his 12 innings since his return on May 26, De Fratus has not allowed an earned run while striking out 13.
Don’t look now but Antonio Bastardo has retired 27 out of the last 28 batters he has faced, good enough for a .036/.036/.036 against line, lowering his season ERA to 2.86. And that Papelbon guy has been good, too: 1.59 ERA, 1.024 WHIP in 28.1 IP.
Well, this is the explanation that will disappoint some. The Phillies have benefited greatly from a .236 BABIP, implying the Phillies opponents are hitting balls from the bullpen directly to someone 87% of the time with a 90.5% LOB rate.
In short, the improvements may not be sustainable but there is reason to believe the successes of some are real. De Fratus has shown a plus slider and Giles seems to be able to compete against Major League pitching. And aside from his bout of unluckiness Monday, Jonathan Papelbon has remained firmly re-interjected into “Best Closer in the NL” discussion.