Relief pitching additions give Phillies a stronger, deeper bullpen

Robertson provides a proven shutdown arm to a deeper, more talented Phillies bullpen. (Photo: Keith Allison)

Philadelphia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak had four major boxes that needed to be checked off when this off-season began if he wanted to truly build a contending team for the 2019 season.

Those four were a proven impact run-producer for the middle of the batting order, a better defensive lineup, another veteran starting pitcher (preferably left-handed), and improvements to the bullpen.

With the additions of Andrew McCutchen in left field and Jean Segura at shortstop, the defense should be improved. The club continues to search for the middle-order bat and the southpaw rotation arm.

It cannot be argued that Klentak has not improved the bullpen. Given health, the Phillies relief corps is both talented and deep, and should prove to be a strength for manager Gabe Kapler.

The Phillies have added four new arms to their bullpen. Right-hander Juan Nicasio and left-hander James Pazos arrived as part of the Segura trade from Seattle. Southpaw Jose Alvarez came in trade from the Los Angeles Angels. Then just days ago the club signed one of baseball’s top relievers over the past decade, David Robertson, as a free agent.

Those four join a returning group that could include any from among righties Hector Neris, Seranthony Dominguez, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Victor Arano, and Edubray Ramos. There are two returning lefties in Adam Morgan and Austin Davis as well.

The Phillies could still use a shutdown left-handed arm with late-innings experience. But a closer look at the statistics shows that the arms needed to win match-ups with big lefty bats may already be here.

Robertson had a 53/10 K:BB ratio against left-handed hitters a year ago. Those opposing lefty batters hit the right-handed Robertson for just a .176 BAA as well as a .378 slugging percentage.

The one negative for Robertson against those lefties was that they got to him for a half-dozen home runs over 132 plate appearances against him. In comparison, he surrendered just one long ball to a right-handed batter over 151 plate appearances against.

Phillies sign free agent reliever David Robertson

During his breakthrough rookie campaign a year ago, lefty batters hit for just a .188 average against Dominguez. His biggest problem with them were walks, as Dominguez handed out 14 free passes to lefties in 116 plate appearances. Compare that to just eight right-handers that he walked over 115 plate appearances.

Ramos also had decent success against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .208 batting average against. Over 58 plate appearances those lefties got to Ramos for just two homers over 58 plate appearances, and he walked just five opposing hitters.

The four primary left-handed relief options at the present time are newcomers Alvarez and Pazos, and returnees Morgan and Davis. The last three of those southpaw pitchers actually achieved far greater success against right-handed hitters.

Against lefty bats, the Pazos/Morgan/Davis trio allowed 66 hits and walked 26 batters over 273 plate appearances when facing opposition left-handed hitters. Pazos got hit too regularly (.288 BAA) by lefties. Davis was hit hard (.603 slugging percentage) by them. Morgan had severe control issues against them, walking 14 over 121 plate appearances.

Alvarez was acquired in a December trade for righty reliever Luis Garcia. He could prove to be a key matchup lefty for the club in the coming season, especially if no further bullpen moves are made.

Last year, left-handed batters hit for just a .206 BAA and .338 slugging percentage against Alvarez over 147 plate appearances. He also had a fabulous 34/9 K:BB ratio against lefty hitters.

Alvarez also had some success against right-handers, holding them to a fairly low .232 batting average against. Somewhat surprisingly, he surrendered no home runs to righties but three long balls to left-handed hitters.

I am going to assume that Kapler, Klentak and the Phillies coaching regime are aware of their left-handers’ numbers. My hope is that they won’t simply bring in a lefty arm to face a lefty bat every time. They’ll break down the numbers even further would be my guess, seeing how a particular lefty batter fares against left-handed pitching, for instance.

Klentak is likely not done dealing. There is already a glut of outfielders with McCutchen joining Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, Odubel Herrera, and Aaron Altherr. If the Phillies were to sign Bryce Harper, that glut gets even worse.

If the Phillies were successful in signing Manny Machado, that would create a similar glut on the infield. He and Segura would join Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco, and Scott Kingery.

Phillies pursuit of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado: the best we have is conjecture

If Machado signs, plays shortstop, and Segura plays second, then Hernandez is likely trade bait. If it’s Machado at third and Segura at short, then Franco likely becomes the trade bait.

Bottom line is that Klentak is likely to shop every outfielder not named McCutchen, along with either Hernandez or Franco or both, depending on the outcome of the Harper/Machado situations.

Klentak also could be shopping any of the starting pitchers except Aaron Nola or Jake Arrieta. In a trade return the Phillies GM is likely to be looking for an impact left-handed pitcher for either the rotation or the bullpen.

The Phillies bullpen is now noticeably improved. The overall mix could still use that one more piece of a dominant late-innings left-hander. But as of today, the Phillies relief corps is deeper, more talented, and more experienced.






  1. czontixhldr

    January 6, 2019 at 5:06 pm

    The Phillies bullpen is potentially stacked. It’s an insurance policy against the failure of the starters not named “Nola”.

    I suspect that if they go with 8 guys in the pen, there are going to be a lot of 5 inning starts by the bottom half of the rotation, followed by the bullpen based on potential matchups in the prospective innings.

    I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be fun for opposing hitters to face someone in the 6th and then 2nd half-Neris, Robertson, and Seranthony in no particular order. That’s a potential 3-headed monster at the back end.

    I would, however, like a late Christmas present of a decent LH SP.

    • Jeff Orbcah

      January 7, 2019 at 10:37 am

      Agreed. I wonder how much of the Robertson Left handed home runs given up can be attributed to the short porch at Yankee Stadium.

  2. Keystone

    January 7, 2019 at 10:51 am

    You left out Jose Alvarez the other left handed reliever they traded Luis Garcia for. He held lefty hitters to a .206 avg last year and righties only hit .228 off him.

    • Matthew Veasey

      January 7, 2019 at 12:36 pm

      Thank you! You are absolutely correct. Will amend the piece right now.

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