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Phillies Nation Mailbag With Tim Kelly

Phillies Nation Mailbag: Who have been the best Phillies relievers this decade?

Jonathan Papelbon spent three-and-a-half seasons with the Phillies. (Derik Hamilton/Icon Sportswire)

Each week, Phillies Nation Editorial Director Tim Kelly will answer reader questions as part of the Phillies Nation Mailbag. Questions can be submitted by tweeting at @PhilliesNation@TimKellySports or e-mailing your question to 

I was thinking about this the other day: who is the best relief pitcher the Phillies have had this decade? I’m afraid I won’t like any of the possible answers. – Kevin in Bryn Mawr

Whether Jonathan Papelbon left Philadelphia on good terms – or was on good terms for most of his tenure with the team – the biggest misconception about his time with the Phillies was that he was a free-agent bust.

Sure, there’s a debate to be had about whether it was smart for general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. to sign Papelbon to a four-year/$50 million deal ahead of the 2012 given that the Phillies window appeared to be closing. But in terms of on-field production, Papelbon posted a 2.31 ERA in parts of four seasons with the Phillies, deservedly made two All-Star teams and closed out a franchise-record 123 games.

Papelbon broke Jose Mesa’s record for franchise saves leader, a sign that the Phillies don’t exactly have an illustrious history with relief pitchers. And despite tremendous individual seasons from Steve Bedrosian, Billy Wagner and Brad Lidge, there’s a case to be made that Papelbon is the best reliever in Phillies history. Certainly, he’s the best Phillies reliever this decade, even if the lasting image of him in a Phillies uniform is him grabbing his crotch.

Who has been the second best Phillies reliever this decade is another interesting debate, and at least two candidates are exactly fan favorites.

Ken Giles was fairly electric in parts of two seasons with the Phillies, posting a 1.56 ERA in 113 games between 2013 and 2014. However, the lasting memory of Giles’ brief tenure in red pinstripes may be then-manager Ryne Sandberg and his pitching coach, Bob McClure, screaming at Giles in the dugout (and him yelling back at McClure) during a game on June 13, 2015 in Pittsburgh. That was perhaps a precursor to him punching himself in the face after giving up a go-ahead home run as an Astro in May of 2018, or cursing at manager A.J. Hinch less than two months later.

Across two stints with the Phillies, Pat Neshek has seemingly struggled to be on the same page with two different managers, and rubbed some the wrong way with a hesitancy to pitch on back-to-back days. He also hasn’t managed to stay healthy for much of his second stint with the Phillies. Still, the bar isn’t overly high here. In 2017, Neshek was the Phillies lone All-Star representative, and in 43 games before being traded to the Colorado Rockies, Neshek posted a 1.12 ERA and 1.94 FIP. After signing a two-year deal to return to the Phillies ahead of the 2018 season, Neshek was unable to pitch until early July with a shoulder strain. However, in 30 games after he returned, he still posted a 2.59 ERA and 3.61 FIP. Neshek is currently on the injured list for the second time in 2019, making him part of a bullpen that has been ravished by injuries this season. Still, as far as the runner-up to Papelbon, he at least has to be in the discussion.

Though he’s naturally more associated with Phillies teams from last decade, Ryan Madson’s two best seasons as a Phillie arguably came during this decade. Perhaps the most underappreciated Phillie from the 2007-2011 run, Madson remained a part of the “bridge to Brad Lidge” in 2010, posting a 2.55 ERA, 2.61 FIP and 1.2 fWAR in 2010. Though he was unable to seize the closer’s job from a struggling Lidge in 2009, pitching in the ninth inning finally clicked for Madson in 2011, when he recorded a career-high 32 saves for a team that won a franchise-record 102 regular season games.

From the Phillies perspective, it has to be a disappointment that Seranthony Dominguez isn’t in this discussion. In 2018, Dominguez was dominant at times, flashing electric stuff and posting a 2.85 FIP in 53 games in his rookie season. Unfortunately, the 24-year-old hasn’t taken a step towards become one of the game’s elite relievers in 2019, as he’s been on the injured list with a UCL injury since early June. Even in the 27 games that he’s pitched in 2019, Dominguez has a 4.01 ERA and 3.96 FIP, so it’s been a disappointing campaign overall for the righty.


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