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Phillies Beat with Destiny Lugardo

A deep dive into the 2021 bullpen and what the Phillies need most in 2022

Connor Brogdon came into an April 20 game against the San Francisco Giants with three wins on the season and a 15-inning scoreless streak dating back to August of 2020.

Disaster followed.

The then 26-year-old gave up six earned runs, including two home runs. Brogdon didn’t have his changeup and his fastball suffered. Maybe Joe Girardi should have pulled him after the right hander gave up the first three-run home run to Alex Dickerson, but both José Alvarado and Archie Bradley, two eighth-inning options, were on the injured list. Closer Héctor Neris was not used that day. Other options included Bailey Falter, who was just called up, along with Brandon Kintzler, David Hale, Vince Velasquez and Ramón Rosso, who came into the game in relief of Brogdon.

Connor Brogdon was solid in his first full year with the Phillies. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

After the game, Brogdon was refreshingly honest on why he struggled that day.

“I’m not making any excuses, but growing up in Fresno and watching the Giants, I think there was a lot of adrenaline pumping,” Brogdon said, “seeing some of the guys that I watched on TV. I just found myself getting rushed and I think that’s why the changeup was floating up and away to a lot of left-handed hitters there. Just gotta find a better way to calm myself down and execute.”

Brogdon had a solid first full season with the Phillies, pitching to a 3.43 ERA over 57 2/3 innings.

But if you take out Brogdon’s one bad outing in April, his 2021 ERA would be 2.53. The Phillies haven’t had a pitcher post an ERA that low with at least 50 innings pitched as a reliever since Ken Giles in 2015.

For relievers, one bad day at the office could change the perception of your entire season. Brogdon’s case in particular raised a question: Why is performance evaluated using a statistic that doesn’t reflect the role of a reliever?

ERA isn’t misleading in some instances. The 2020 Phillies bullpen had a 7.06 ERA. That’s enough to conclude that the unit was one of the worst in the sport’s history.

But for everyone else who didn’t have a historically good or bad season, ERA can sometimes fail to tell the story of a reliever’s season.

A reliever’s job regardless of the situation is to get in and get out without giving up runs, no matter how many runners are on base at the start of the outing. If that’s the role, then there should be a statistic that measures a reliever’s success rate at preventing runs from being scored on a game-by-game basis.

We can take the amount of games a reliever allowed zero earned runs, subtract it by the number of games in which a reliever allowed zero earned runs and at least one inherited runner to score and divide it over appearances in a given season to get a sense of how good (or bad) certain Phillies were at keeping runs off the board.

As far as I know, nobody else has given this statistic a name, so I will call it the “get in, get out percentage” or “GIGO%.” In math, “GIGO” is an acronym for “garbage in, garbage out,” which means bad inputs lead to bad outputs. It’s a concept that is also relevant in baseball. If you have bad players, bad coaches and bad processes, you are not going to win many games.

Anyway, here is how a few Phillies fared in that category in 2021.

GIGO outings= Relief outings in which a pitcher allows zero earned runs and no inherited runners to score. GIGO%= The percentage of total outings in which a reliever allows zero earned runs and no inherited runners to score. *Ranger Suarez’s ERA as a reliever

Brogdon, Neris and Ranger Suárez’s status as one of the top Phillies relievers isn’t surprising, but there are a couple of names on there that don’t seem like they fit.

Ian Kennedy’s short tenure as Phillies closer was bumpy. He’ll forever be remembered as the guy on the mound for the most crushing blown save of the Phillies season against the Rockies, but he did finish the year with an eight-inning scoreless streak and did come up huge in late season outings against the Mets and Marlins. Maybe the Phillies consider bringing Kennedy back on a minor league deal to serve as a middle reliever that’s capable of moving to a backend role.

One reliever who will be back next year is Alvarado. His outings on the mound were an adventure. Alvarado walked 18.7% of hitters, hit seven batters, threw nine wild pitches and walked the bases loaded twice in 2021. The former Rays reliever also allowed just 19% of inherited runners to score and hitters slugged .325 against him. He was close to unhittable against left-handed hitters. It wasn’t pretty, but Alvarado got the job done when called upon.

Embed from Getty Images

On the other hand, the stat brings light to Sam Coonrod’s underwhelming first season with the Phillies. He posted a 4.04 ERA, but in eight appearances in which he came in with at least one runner on base, he allowed at least one of those runners to score seven times. The Phillies bullpen as a whole has to be better when it comes to stranding runners on base, but Coonrod in particular has to take a step forward if he wants to be a backend reliever in Philadelphia.

Like many surface-level stats, “get in, get out” isn’t perfect. It doesn’t take into account leverage or the length of outings. JD Hammer’s 2021 season is a good example of the limitations of this stat. His GIGO% was 75% through 20 games, but so many of his outings were in low-leverage situations. Hammer, who was outrighted off the 40-man roster in November, finished the year with a 4.95 ERA after giving up five earned runs in the Phillies’ 17-8 win over the Cubs in September.

The good thing is that we already have two stats that can quantify when a reliever has both a stellar and stinker of an outing. “Shutdowns” are every relief outing in which a reliever’s win probability added is +0.06 or greater. This means that the reliever’s outing increased his team’s chances of winning the game by at least 6%. The Phillies bullpen had 138 shutdown outings, good for 19th in MLB.

“Meltdowns” are relief outings that increase his team’s chances of losing by at least 6%. The Phillies, unsurprisingly, ranked sixth in MLB in meltdowns with 98 in 2021.

Here’s the “Shutdown/Meltdown” breakdown by Phillies relievers.

Player ShutdownsMeltdowns
Héctor Neris3314
José Alvarado 2014
Connor Brogdon167
Archie Bradley 1512
Ranger Suárez*104
Ian Kennedy103
Sam Coonrod 89
Bailey Falter* 62
Brandon Kintzler57
“Shutdowns” and “Meltdowns” for Phillies relievers in 2021. * For Ranger Suárez and Bailey Falter, outings that were only three innings or shorter were used. “Opener” outings were also included.

For a Phillies bullpen that has lacked reliable late-inning options for years, losing Neris is a massive blow. He is the Phillies’ leader in both shutdowns and meltdowns by a wide margin since he debuted in 2014. His best attribute was his availability; he appeared in at least 60 games in a season four times and never went on the injured list in the regular season during his Phillies tenure. Girardi used him on back-to-back nights 17 times in 2021 and while Alvarado endured a similar workload, the Phillies don’t have an internal option that’s capable of pitching in big spots as often as Neris did.

The Phillies did sign former Brewers and Dodgers reliever Corey Knebel on a one-year, $10 million deal to serve as the team’s closer. He should not be viewed as Neris’ replacement since he dealt with significant injuries in each of the past three seasons and it’s far from a given that Knebel will match or exceed Neris’ workload in 2022.

To replace Neris, the Phillies will need to sign or trade for at least one bullpen workhorse with a safer injury track record than Knebel and receive elevated production in big spots from internal arms like Brogdon. One of those bullpen workhorse options on the market could be Mychal Givens, whose GIGO% in 2021 was 76% with 23 shutdowns and nine meltdowns. The Phillies did have “substantive” talks with Givens prior to the lockout, according to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

The last point I’ll make circles back to Brogdon’s April 20 outing. As the right hander struggled against San Francisco, the Phillies’ options beyond Neris were Kintzler, Hale, Velasquez, Rosso and a debuting Falter. The most stacked teams run out of pitching occasionally, but too often, the Phillies had two or three relievers in the bullpen at a time that Girardi would rightfully like to stay as far away as possible from in high-leverage situations. Starters who lost their jobs were also thrusted into bullpen role they didn’t fit in, which meant a combination of Velasquez, Chase Anderson and Matt Moore threw a combined 33 2/3 innings in the bullpen. In other words, depth was a big reason why the Phillies had a bad bullpen.

Before the lockout, the Phillies made multiple waiver claims to address this issue. Kent Emanuel, Ryan Sherriff, Yoan López and Nick Nelson, who was acquired via trade from the Yankees, are all relievers with big league experience that are currently on the 40-man roster. A productive season from just one of them would surely help, but if the Phillies are going to have a good bullpen, they’ll need a layer a depth that they haven’t had in years.


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