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The Phillies bullpen has issues, starting with usage

In two games against Seattle, the Phillies bullpen surrendered 13 runs.

But you may be surprised to find that the ‘pen is by no means the worst in baseball. In fact, heading into Wednesday’s shellacking by the Mariners, the Phils had a 4.12 ERA. That’s actually pretty good, 12th in baseball.

The biggest reasons are Pat Neshek and Hector Neris. Neshek is carrying a 0.00 ERA in 12 innings, one of the best starts for any Phils reliever in club history. And Neris may be sporting a 4.08 ERA, but his 4.25:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (17/4) is 16th in the National League among relievers who’ve thrown at least 200 pitches.

But Joaquin Benoit, Edubray Ramos and Joely Rodriguez have been all over the map this season. One can say that despite Benoit’s terrible outing Wednesday, he’s been pretty effective. Take out the five-run Wednesday and he’s holding a 2.63 ERA with 14 strikeouts. But he’d walked seven batters going into that outing (in which he walked another three).

Ramos has an ERA under 4.00 and 19 strikeouts in 14.2 innings. Good right? Well he also has walked eight in those 14.2 innings.

And Rodriguez has eight walks in 17.2 innings. Add that to the 20 hits (including three home runs) in that time, and that’s a very unsuccessful result. Most disheartening is Rodriguez is supposed to get lefties out, but lefties are hitting .313/.405/.469 with three extra-base hits (and a 3:4 walk to strikeout ratio) against him.

So the walks are killing the Phils. Moreover, usage is killing them, and I’m not talking how much work they’re getting – an average of 5.2 innings per start isn’t that bad.

The problem is leverage. Neris and Neshek are the team’s best relievers, and they’re not being used properly.

Neris has pitched to 31 hitters in “high-leverage” situations (in which the score can change quickly), and hitters are putting up a .773 OPS against him – pretty decent. But Neris has also pitched to 22 hitters in “low-leverage situations.” Funny, Neris is worst in “medium-leverage” spots, with hitters putting up a 1.076 OPS in 18 plate appearances.

Those situations are typically those ninth-inning appearances where the Phils have already put away the game.

As for Neshek? Hitters have a .333 OPS against him in both medium- and high-leverage spots. But he’s only faced 26 hitters in those spots. He’s already faced 21 hitters in low-leverage situations (.586 OPS against).

Rodriguez, the most unsuccessful regular pitcher in the bullpen, has thrown to 32 hitters in high-leverage situations. Their OPS against him? .925.

To be fair, he’s also bad in low-leverage spots (.927 OPS).

The point is Phils’ relievers aren’t being used correctly in the early going. There are other questions too, like why the heck Jake Thompson is in the bullpen for this team, or why there’s such importance on the “closer” role when the Phils should be trying to figure out which relievers can get outs in big spots (even if they come in the seventh inning).

But maybe we should start at a baseline and go from there. Otherwise we’re just throwing darts around … right?

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