Nick Pivetta’s career in Philadelphia: A brief post-mortem

The worst bullpen in Major League Baseball is getting a makeover.

According to general manager Matt Klentak, the ‘pen is going to look “A heck of a lot different,” when September hits. Along with three new additions coming via trade, Ranger Suarez and Victor Arano should be back in a week or so with David Robertson aiming for an early to mid-September return.

A notable arm that won’t be included in the new-look bullpen is the once-promising right-hander Nick Pivetta.

Nick Pivetta’s Phillies tenure is over. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire)

He – along with Phillies Nation’s No. 17 ranked prospect Connor Seabold – was traded to the Boston Red Sox on Friday night in exchange for Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman, $800,000 in cash and either a player to be named later or additional cash considerations. Hembree will enter his third year of arbitration eligibility in 2021 and will slot into a high-leverage, middle-relief role. Workman is a free agent after this season and will pitch in the eighth or ninth inning down the stretch for the Phillies.

The hopes were high for Pivetta, who was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Jonathan Papelbon trade in 2015. He made his major-league debut in 2017 and spent three-and-a-half seasons with the Phillies as a slightly below average starter at best. Like every middling major leaguer, Pivetta occasionally flashed his brilliance, whether it be a 13 strikeout performance against the Cardinals in 2018 or a complete-game win against the Reds in 2019.

Pivetta had the talent and the stuff to be a potential frontline starter for the Phillies. He started the second game of both the 2018 and 2019 seasons for Gabe Kapler, although odd circumstances can be attributed to Pivetta being placed in those situations. Pivetta also possesses a highly-touted curveball, which ranked in the 92nd percentile in spin rate from 2017 to 2019. The Canadian born pitcher was also among the very few Phillies arms who could consistently throw their fastball in the mid to high 90s.

At his best, his swing-and-miss stuff was off the charts. At his worst, opposing hitters feasted on his fastball and ran up the score for as long as Pivetta stayed in the game. The latter outcome made up the majority of Pivetta’s outings in 2020. His last, however, may be the most damning of his entire Phillies career.

With a 13-1 lead, Pivetta was tasked with preserving Aaron Nola’s brilliant performance against the Atlanta Braves by getting the last three outs. He would only get one of those three outs, as he surrendered six runs in what could have been one the worst bullpen collapses in MLB history. Pivetta was optioned to Lehigh Valley the following day.

The Phillies have no choice but to reflect on Pivetta’s tenure and wonder what exactly went wrong for the 27-year-old. When a reporter asked the Phillies general manager to elaborate on just that, Klentak looked genuinely perplexed.

“I don’t know,” Klentak told the media over Zoom Friday night.” We have a lot of people in this organization that have tried to answer that very question who have worked with Nick and tried a lot of different things.”

Could Klentak have inadvertently answered his own question? A lot of Pivetta’s struggles over the years have been accredited to his shortcomings on the mental side of things. Some of that may have been difficult for the Phillies to solve. Still, the Phillies also have to look inwards to scope out the depth of this particular instance of failure on the player development side.

Klentak’s predecessor, Rubén Amaro Jr., thinks a certain pitching coach may have set both Pivetta and Vince Velasquez back.

“Their progression was stalled in a lot of ways by the last pitching coach that they’ve had,” Amaro Jr. said on a recent episode of the Phillies Talk podcast. “I think that they were progressing really well with Rick Kranitz and I think Chris Young didn’t do either one of those guys a service. [It was a] disservice in some ways.”

The problems most likely run deeper than Young’s disastrous year as Phillies pitching coach in 2019, but either way, the Phillies had the chance to develop a valuable arm in Pivetta and squandered the opportunity.

“He’s enormously talented and we’ve seen flashes of that both as a starter and as a reliever. [We] were never quite able to see the consistency from him in our uniform,” Klentak said Friday.

He’ll get a fresh start on a Boston team that just began its fire sale. Pivetta is relatively young and still possesses the raw stuff that made him such a valuable prospect to begin with. His ceiling is probably much lower than it was perceived to be a couple of years ago, but he could still make something of his MLB career.

“That doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen for him,” Klentak said. “I think there’s a lot of talent in that kid. We’ll be rooting for him from a distance.

“Sometimes, it just doesn’t doesn’t work out. We’ve held on for a long time on that one, trying to make it work and working with him. Nick has worked his tail off on his end as well. But at his juncture, with the way the rest of our club is performing and the ability to add the two relievers that we did, we thought it was a trade we had to make.”


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