Another Look at the Bullpen

With the first Spring Training game on Saturday, it’s time to take a serious look at the Phillies bullpen. 11 names are listed on the depth chart, and unless a non-roster invitee really impresses the club, six or seven men on this list will likely make up the Opening Day bullpen:

Keep in mind that this list does not include swing-man Kyle Kendrick. Kendrick is currently slotted as the #4 starter. While the odds are that he will stay there unless he struggles and someone else steps up in a big way (someone like Jonathan Pettibone), stranger things have happened. If John Lannan pitches well and the Phillies end up with an extra starter, Kendrick could be put back into the spot-starter/long relief spot where he was decently productive last year. Such a situation would potentially knock another one of the guys above down to the minors.

General Impressions

Obviously, if Papelbon and Adams are healthy, they’re in, as the 8th/9th inning guys. That leaves space for four or five other guys. Experience can play a big role in who gets the spots at the beginning of the year, but there are only a few relief pitchers in the system with much experience. That said, Bastardo and Durbin – the two others who have the most experience – will most likely make the team. If they do, the club has space for two or three other pitchers.

A Closer Look

Before simply laying out a prediction, one needs to consider many factors. Here are some notes on each of the men not making more than $2 million a year:

Antonio Bastardo

Bastardo’s 2011 season was fantastic, as he took over the 8th inning position and even closed out in 9 save situations (converting 8 of those opportunities). After seeing some major league action in 2009 and 2010, he had a 0.93 WHIP and sub-3.00 ERA in 2011 and was one of Philly’s most dependable arms. 2012 brought some regression, however. His ERA jumped by more than one and a half runs; his WHIP, nearly 30 points.

This year the Phillies will presumably not need to ask Bastardo to pitch the eighth inning incredibly often. Instead, the team may ask him to be a lefty specialist. His career splits against lefties are noticeably better, so it would make a lot of sense. After inking a $1.4 million contract, they certainly hope he can settle in and put up numbers closer to those of two years ago.

Chad Durbin

Durbin is following what was one of his best seasons. The 35-year old had an ERA a tad over 3 for the Braves – worse than only his 2008 season with the Phillies – and and 1.31 WHIP, matching his previous best. If Durbin can continue to pitch the way he did last year, he will be a gladly welcomed part of a three-man veteran presence in a bullpen with several young arms.

Jeremy Horst

It would definitely be nice for the Phillies to have more than one southpaw in the ‘pen. Horst pitched well in AAA last year, but pitched even better in the majors. He pitched 31.1 innings for the Phils in his second major league stint with a 1.15 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. If he has a decent spring, he will likely stay with the club to start the season.

Phillippe Aumont

Aumont, one of the pieces of the 2009 Cliff Lee deal, made his major league debut last year. He didn’t blow the opposition away, but he did hold his ground in limited action. Aumont picked up a couple saves near the end of the season. His command is the biggest concern, but he has the stuff to be effective. Whether or not he makes the team likely depends on what kind of a spring he has.

Justin De Fratus

De Fratus spent a lot of time on the DL last year with a strained right flexor pronator tendon (read “forearm strain”). In limited time in the bigs over the past two years, he pitched with a 3.07 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. It’s a small sample size, but those are the kinds of numbers teams love. If he’s healthy and looking strong, he could definitely make the club, but there are many moving pieces here.

Michael Stutes

Stutes also went on the DL last season, but had year-ending arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in June after being sidelined in late April. The shoulder had been an issue in Spring Training, and it showed up again. Stutes could have some of the success he had in 2011 if he’s healthy. Stutes threw live batting practice on Tuesday, but that’s not enough to get a good idea of where he’s at. Obviously, with the number of possibilities the Phillies have, Stutes needs to have a good spring to crack the roster.

Jake Diekman

Diekman has some good stuff, and definitely has potential. The last time he had an ERA over 4 – at any level, including 32 games in the majors last year – was 2009, and that was 4.04. As a lefty, he’s definitely an asset. The one area of concern is his high WHIP. In the majors, one can only go so long without batters taking advantage of the men on base. In 27.1 innings, Diekman walked 20 and allowed 25 hits. He may need some fine-tuning in AAA, where he excelled last year. If he’s put in the work, though, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him make the roster, though that may depend on how Horst does.

B.J. Rosenberg

Looking at Rosenberg’s numbers, it seems a classic case of the player in-between levels. Rosenberg blew away minor league batters, going 5-2 with a 1.89 ERA over 62 minor league innings, mostly with the AAA IronPigs. He started six games, but mostly pitched in a reliever role in the midst of a few call-ups. He had his moments, but struggled overall with the Phillies, posting a 6.12 ERA. His minor league numbers indicate he could have some success with the club, but it hasn’t shown yet. Rosenberg may need some time to retool in the minors, but he may get a shot again soon.

Raul Valdes

Valdes is another lefty, which makes four on this list – some teams would be envious to have as many southpaw possibilities. However, I haven’t been overly impressed with Valdes. He’s bounced around – the Phillies are the fifth MLB system he’s been through, and he spent some time in the independent leagues. Valdes seems like a backup plan in case other lefties Horst and Diekman don’t pan out. There may be a hidden gem here, but at 35 years old, he may have to be impressive to stick.

How It Looks

Here is one possible Opening Day bullpen:

Papelbon
Adams
Bastardo
Durbin
Horst
Aumont

It wouldn’t be surprising to see a full 7-man bullpen. In that case, this list is one spot short. If the team goes with a righty, it could be De Fratus or Stutes, depending on who returns stronger from injury. If he’s strong and the team wants another lefty, Diekman could take the last spot. If all those on the list make the club, the team would have a closer, a setup man, a long reliever, two lefties, and one situational righty. That list may call for another right-hander.

Too much pitching is a good problem to have; however, a lot of this talent is young pitching. This young pitching core certainly has potential, but potential only amounts to as much. With three available spots in the bullpen, the Phillies need some of their young pitchers to mature and take charge.

Thoughts on Delmon Young

Amidst talks of the Phillies signing Scott Hairston or trading for Vernon Wells, they went out and made what could end up being a gem of a move.

Their one-year, $750K (with incentives for more) signing of Delmon Young is the definition of low-risk, high reward. If things don’t work out, they will not have spent a wad of money (Hairston is reportedly asking for 2 years, $8 million) or given up prospects.

I’ve seen comparisons of Young’s 2012 stats to those of former Phillie Hunter Pence.
While there are some reasons this is not a fair comparison (e.g. RBI, OBP, primary position), it’s an interesting argument.

Amazingly, Young had a better year in a few categories, but Pence will likely make far more than Young’s base $750K. With incentives, Young could get up to around $3.25 million, but one would rightly think his performance, if earning those incentives, will make it worth the extra cash.

Granted, Young was used heavily at DH last year, but if Young’s numbers can improve as he fights for the corner outfield spot, he will be well worth the contract.

If he improves in the right areas, he could also be good protection for Ryan Howard in the lineup, and a right-handed bat to split Chase Utley and Howard from whichever lefty bats in the 6 hole.

Three things Young will need to work at, whether or not he gets the starting job:

1. Plate Discipline
His career OBP is .317, and it was under .300 last year. He only walked 20 times in 151 games last year. He’ll need to learn when to take some pitches, especially if he is to be Howard’s protection.

2. Defense
Young is a slight defensive downgrade from Pence. His range factor and fielding percentage are slightly lower over his career, and he also didn’t play as much in the outfield last year.

3. Off-field Issues
I’ve listed this as “off-field issues,” but sometimes they show up on the field, too. Young would be best advised to keep a low profile and just work hard at the game. He’s made some mistakes, and he needs to keep his cool and not be a distraction in the clubhouse – or anywhere else.

It won’t be clear until the season starts to progress how good a move this is, but it’s the kind of minor move consistent with Ruben Amaro Jr.’s approach this offseason that has a chance to really improve the team.

2013 Phillies Outfield Projections

There are some major questions about the Phillies outfield for the 2013 season.
The team is searching for a corner outfielder, and while you never know what Ruben Amaro Jr.  may do, don’t count on it happening. The Phils have made relatively small moves so far this year, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the personnel is the same as it is now come spring training.

Counting Ruf as an outfielder, there are 8 outfielders on the 40-man roster. Only 6 have a legitimate shot at outfield positions this year, but here are some projections for all 8 players:

Ben Revere – starting center fielder
There’s not really a question here. The Phillies traded a respectable amount of talent to acquire Revere, and he’ll have the starting job. Of all the outfielders on this list, he’s the most ready.
Expect good defense; he also could be competing for the leadoff spot.

Domonic Brown – starting right fielder
Sending Brown to AAA for yet another year may not be an option at this point. It’s time for Brown to prove he can produce in the bigs for a full year. The Phils owe him a legitimate shot at the starting position, and the signs point to him getting that spot. It’s finally time to see how the man who was untouchable in the Roy Halladay trade can adjust to the major league level.

John Mayberry (Jr.) – backup outfielder & first baseman
A big reason Mayberry is on the team is his versatility. The club is confident enough in his ability to play center field that Manuel can trot him out there for a game here and there. He also can play for Ryan Howard when a tough lefty is pitching or simply to give Howard a break. Mayberry should end up being a reserve again this year.

Laynce Nix – backup/platoon with Ruf
Laynce Nix is owed $1.35 million this year, which makes him the most expensive guy on this list. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Nix will make the roster. He’ll be at least a pinch hitter. If Ruf (see next) gets the left field job, Nix could be simply a backup. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a platoon in left field even though the Phillies haven’t done too much of that recently.

Darin Ruf (listed as an infielder) – left fielder/platoon with Nix/AAA
In a small sample of big league time last year, Ruf looked impressive. It may be time to see if he can produce anything close to what he did in AA last year. If the Phillies make no more moves and he has a decent spring playing left field, he has the starting role.

It will be interesting to see how he transitions to the outfield. If he has one particularly strong asset (like Pat Burrell‘s arm – both accurate and strong), it could make up for a deficiency elsewhere. At this point the club is probably looking for average defense from Ruf. Again, one option that’s been tossed around the web is a platoon. I’m not sure how likely it is, but it’s a possibility. Regardless, at 26 (Howard was a rookie at 25), it would be nice to see Ruf contributing consistently from left field.

Ender Inciarte – pinch runner & backup/back to Arizona
The casual fan may or may not know about Inciarte yet. The Phillies claimed him from Arizona in the Rule 5 draft the same day they traded for Ben Revere. Interestingly, his assets are similar to those of Revere.

Inciarte could make the team, especially if another player gets injured. He will really have to stand out, though, because the Phillies aren’t likely to carry 6 outfielders. To keep Inciarte for sure, the Phillies would have to keep him on the major league roster for the whole year. He’s not a power bat, so with the present situation there isn’t a whole lot of incentive to keep him. I don’t think he’ll make the team; instead, Philly will offer him back to Arizona (as part of the Rule 5 provisions). Whether or not the D-Backs reclaim him may depend on what he does in Spring Training.

There’s always a chance for another Shane Victorino scenario, but don’t count on it.  For those unfamiliar with this stipulation of the Rule 5 draft, when Victorino didn’t make the team, the Phillies offered him back to the Dodgers, who declined taking him back (which would be at $25K); then the Phillies kept him in their system. Of course, that’s the point. A team takes a risk by using a roster spot for the acquired player, which the Phillies may well not do. That being said, it’s a fair guess that Inciarte could be headed back to the Diamondbacks system in a few months.

Tyson Gillies – AA/AAA
This is an important year for Gillies. It’s time for him to prove that he can be healthy and produce, otherwise he may not make it to the bigs.

He’s had his struggles in the Phils’ minor league system, but this is the year he needs to stay healthy and produce. If he has a good spring and improves on his AA R-Phils success, it will be a huge boost to his major league prospects. Baseball has a way of forgiving many mistakes, if the player shapes up and produces. Look for him to start the year at AA Reading. If he puts up the numbers, the club could advance him to AAA.

Zach Collier – AA
Collier is 22. He’s been in the Phillies system for five years, but his age gives him some more time.
He lost a year in 2010 to hand and wrist injuries and was suspended for 50 games last year, but the Phillies still hope he can eventually be a part of the big league club.

There is definitely pressure for Collier to produce, but placing him on the 40-man roster was a vote of confidence from the organization that he is able to do so. He may start the year in AA. It’s up to him to start progressing into a player who can crack the 25-man roster in a year or two.

Phillies Fill Two Needs with Lannan Signing

On Saturday I posted about the pending addition of Mike Adams to the Phillies bullpen.
Within two hours, the Phillies confirmed another signing.

The Phillies signed the non-tendered John Lannan to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million, with another $2.5 million in incentives.
It’s a safe signing for a number 4 or 5 pitcher, and exactly the sort of solid move Phillies fans were hoping would come from the front office. We could see him fall into the number 5 spot to prevent three straight games with lefty starters.

Here are three things to expect, given his status as a back-end-of-the-rotation starter:

1. Innings
Including his stints in the minors, Lannan has pitched at least 180 innings in the last five seasons. That’s the kind of consistency you look for in a number 4 starter. In that regard, this signing is like the acquisition of Joe Blanton back in 2008. Blanton ate innings and kept the Phillies in games, and that’s the realistic expectation here.

2. Ground balls
Lannan has a career ground ball rate of 53.0%. That’s a plus in a stadium like Citizens Bank Park. I’ve heard some discussion about putting Freddy Galvis at third for Lannan’s starts, and depending on how Young re-adapts to the position, there may be something to the argument.

Though his numbers have not been good at Citizens Bank Park, he has not fared well against the Phillies in general (figures below). He obviously won’t have that problem the next time he takes the mound at CBP.

3. Contact
Lannan has a career 4.7 K/9. Don’t expect a lot of swing-and-miss at-bats when he’s on the mound.
This pitching style relies a lot on defense, but hey, it worked well enough for Jamie Moyer, right? Granted, Moyer has a career K/9 of 6.0, but he certainly relied heavily on solid defense.

As alluded to before, there are some intriguing career statistics. Todd Zolecki points out:

Interestingly, he is 3-13 with a 5.53 ERA in his career against the Phillies, but 39-39 with a 3.80 ERA against everybody else. If Lannan gives the Phillies 30-33 starts with a 3.80 ERA they will be thrilled.

Looking at this year’s stats, an ERA of 3.80 would have made a pitcher #46 in that category, in the middle of the pack for qualifying starters – not bad at all for a #5 starter.

Adams and the ‘Pen

In 2011, the Phillies had a great setup man in Antonio Bastardo, but didn’t have a viable closer.
This year, they had heavily-touted Jonathan Papelbon, but due to Bastardo’s struggles and the club’s inability to find a good long-term solution, they didn’t have a consistent 8th inning guy.

The final-innings formula could finally be locked up.

With the two year, $12 million contract for Mike Adams (three years, $18 million including the vesting option), the Phillies appear to have found the solution to this year’s eighth-inning woes.

The Phillies have tried to trade for him before, and many fans have clamored for someone of his caliber. Now, when there are very few alternative options, the club has found a way to lock him up.

Adams’ diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome (a rib bone presses against a nerve, leading to pain as well as numbness in the arm) and the resultant surgery this October may have been a deterrent to other interested teams.
The surgery, which includes removing a rib to relieve pressure, was reportedly successful, and the expectation is for Adams to be ready for Spring Training.

As somewhat of an aside on this type of surgery, PubMed Health (link above) notes that surgery can be expected to be successful in 50% to 80% of patients, and about 5% of patients have recurring symptoms after surgery. This will be something to watch for.

Where does this put the bullpen? Obviously, Papelbon and Adams are in. After that, it could be a free-for-all, but here’s the rest of the depth chart as listed on the Phillies’ site:

  • Antonio Bastardo
  • Phillippe Aumont
  • Jeremy Horst
  • Justin De Fratus
  • Raul Valdes
  • Michael Stutes
  • B.J. Rosenberg
  • Jake Diekman

With the addition of John Lannan, the Phillies will have 5 starters. By my estimate, having those seven pitchers should leave five remaining spots in the ‘pen. At least three of those guys will not start the year in the majors.
We’re waiting on a few things here – to name a few, how Stutes comes back after recovering from shoulder surgery and if Bastardo can settle in and be the lefty specialist the Phils likely want him to be.

At this point, the Opening Day bullpen is anyone’s guess. We’ll have to wait for Spring Training to iron out some of these questions.