The 2014 Phillies season is nearing its end, and barring a disastrous September, the Phils should end up with more wins than 2013. Part of the reason is due to the offense scoring slightly more runs per game–3.96 in 2014, 3.77 in 2013–but the pitching staff as a whole has done much better, as well. They are allowing 4.34 runs per game, compared to 4.62 in 2013, and their ERA is 48 points lower than last year (3.84 in 2014, 4.32 in 2013).
The starters, as a whole, have a lower ERA than 2013–3.96 to 4.41–but their other stats don’t much support that. They are walking more hitters and notching less strikeouts, both which support the fact that their FIP (Fielder Independent Pitching) is actually slightly higher than last year’s.
The bullpen, however, is a different story. They surrender less walks and strike out more batters, and both their ERA and FIP are lower than last year’s. Still, the bullpen’s ERA is only 11th in the NL, and their FIP is 7th. So what makes them good, exactly?
Giles and Papelbon are especially good. They both have outstanding ERA’s, and rarely allow baserunners. But they are also really good at avoiding the home run. They are the only two reliever teammates in NL history (min 39 IP each) to have an ERA below 1.61, a WHIP below 0.87, and a HR/9 below 0.30. And there are only 12 such player seasons that meet that criteria. The Phillies have two of them in the same season.
Giles has a 1.13 ERA with a 0.81 WHIP, and Papelbon has a 1.61 ERA with a 0.86 WHIP. If we bump those numbers up to a 3.74 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP, the Phillies would be tied for third in the NL with four such players.
The problem is that three out of seven players with at least 23 innings pitched for the Phillies in relief have ERA’s above four. And then there’s guys like Phillippe Aumont and Luis Garcia, who’ve thrown only a handful of innings, but have given up a bunch of earned runs.
The top six relievers in innings pitched for the Phillies (Diekman, Papelbon, Bastardo, De Fratus, Hollands, and Giles) have a combined 3.45 ERA. The rest? 6.46–a steep dropoff.
So while the team stats may lead you to believe that the bullpen is near the bottom of the NL, that isn’t the case. The top four guys in the ‘pen are right up there with the NL leaders, and the top two are having a historical season together. The 2015 bullpen is looking mighty strong.