For the second time in a week, the Phillies were beating a National League East rival heading into the ninth inning. And for the second time in a week, Hector Neris let the lead turn into a deficit, and a win turn into a loss.
The anger about Neris is mounting. It’s funny that the 28-year-old hasn’t used his superior splitter more often, and one wonders if he lacks confidence in that pitch. It’s great that Jake Arrieta is standing behind the closer. It’s interesting that Gabe Kapler didn’t come right out and say “He’s our closer.”
It’s refreshing that despite these blown saves, the Phillies are still six games over .500 and could be 10 games over .500.
But back to the last part. I’m a little surprised that Kapler even started the year with Neris as closer, because I’m surprised Kapler even went with a “closer” at all. Kapler has shown to break convention all the time, especially with the bullpen, but not in the ninth inning. Neris has pitched in the ninth inning in all of his 17 appearances this season, and in all but three of those situations the Phils had at least a one-run lead. The Phillies have had a closer, and it has been Hector Neris.
Fangraphs measures leverage through its Leverage Index. Neris leads Phils relievers in the Leverage Index when entering a game with a 1.67 (anything over 1 is higher leverage than normal). Typically “closers” are in the top tier of this stat.
Fangraphs also measures Clutch, which attempts to show how a pitcher performs in high leverage situations. It’s not a good future predictor, but it – along with Leverage Index – can be used as a way to nudge players into higher leverage situations.
Neris, as you can imagine, has not been very clutch. He ranks 315th of all relievers (qualified or not) with a -0.35 clutch. That’s bad. Leading all Phillies in clutch (unqualified) is Zac Curtis, which isn’t reliable at all because of the small sample size. But Tommy Hunter has a larger sample size and is next up with a clutch of 0.21. His Leverage Index when entering a game is 1.19. That’s higher than average; Hunter is probably a good bet to get more high-leverage spots going forward.
But it doesn’t mean Hunter should just slide into the ninth inning. Adam Morgan (0.14 clutch, 1.18 inLI), Yacksel Rios (0.09 clutch, 0.86 inLI) and Seranthony Dominguez (0.08 clutch, 0.46 inLI) all have performed well in high-leverage situations. Yes, Morgan is hurt, but this just tells us that the Phils have a few options for high-leverage spots.
(If you’re wondering about Luis Garcia and Edubray Ramos, both are below average in clutch, which isn’t the end-all of anything, but it’s curious.)
Maybe Gabe Kapler should be thinking more about rotating his relievers in and out of leverage. Maybe Neris shouldn’t used so much when the game is so tight. Maybe better thinking about the late innings and leverage could net the Phillies those wins they should get back.