Is A Successful Bullpen Almost All Luck?


Jun 22, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Michael Stutes (40) delivers a pitch in the sixth inning against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies defeated the Mets, 8-7. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the Phillies’ bullpen was brutal.

In 2012, the ‘pen allowed 4.26 runs per game en route to 19 blown saves and 27 relief losses. Despite signing Jonathan Papelbon to a big, multi-year deal before the 2012 season, the rest of the bullpen struggled, especially in the first half, posting a 4.76 ERA and a .258 batting average against before the All-Star break. They were better in the second half, lowering their ERA to 2.89 and had a batting average against of only .200. They also struck out 25 more hitters in 20 1/3 fewer innings and had a 13-11 record (they were 9-16 in the first half). – stats per Lehigh Valley Morning Call’s Mandy Housenick

Part of what led to the turnaround was the improved pitching of Antonio Bastardo, and the emergence of lefty Jeremy Horst and righty Justin De Fratus. There were also intriguing bullpen arms such as Jake Diekman, Phillippe Aumont, Michael Stutes, and B.J. Rosenberg as potential young arms that could take the team in a new direction in 2013.

In 2008, the Phils used a mix of veterans and young power arms to compile one of the top three bullpens in all of baseball. Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, Scott Eyre, and Chad Durbin led the way for that championship season, essentially shortening most baseball games to no more than seven or eight innings on most nights.

Ever since, the Phillies have been trying to recapture that magic. But history has shown that success in the ‘pen is largely a product of simply getting lucky.

In ’08, Lidge had a 1.95 ERA and saved all 41 regular season games in which he pitched. In 2009, he posted a 7.21 ERA and a WHIP of 1.807.

In ’08, Romero had a 2.75 ERA in 59 innings. In ’09, he was suspended for the first 50 games for PED violations and then got hurt after pitching only 16.2 innings.

In ’08, Madson had a 3.05 ERA in 82.2 innings. In ’09, he had a 3.26 ERA in 77.1 innings.

In ’08, Durbin had a 2.87 ERA in 87.2 innings. In ’09 he had a 4.39 ERA in 69.2 innings.

In three out of those four cases, a relief pitcher was markedly worse or injured than the year before.

Heading into 2013, Ruben Amaro felt he needed a veteran pitcher to be the team’s official “set-up” man, so he signed Mike Adams to a two-year $12 million deal. He also re-signed Chad Durbin to a one-year, $1.1 million deal to add a “veteran presence” in the bullpen, and added Raul Valdes to the ‘pen as another veteran arm. The team has also turned to young arms such as Horst, Aumont, Bastardo, De Fratus, Raul Valdes, Stutes, Joe Savery, Diekman and Rosenberg at various points in 2013.

Whether going to veterans or young arms, nothing has worked for the Phillies this year.

May 5, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel (41) takes the ball from pitcher Chad Durbin (45) during the eighth inning against the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park. The Marlins defeated the Phillies 14-2. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into Monday, the bullpen had an ERA of 4.67, dead last in the National League. Opponents have hit .272/.348/.440 for an OPS of .787 off Phils’ relievers, all NL-worst marks, with a collective WHIP of 1.490. Perhaps the coup de grace came on Saturday as the ‘pen blew a 7-1 lead to the Mets, nearly costing the team a much-needed win against a very bad intra-divisional opponent. On Sunday, the team placed Stutes on the DL where he joined Adams, who hit the disabled list for the second time this year and is seeking a second opinion on an ailing elbow that has left him with a 3.96 ERA and a WHIP of 1.360 (career ERA is 2.39 and WHIP 1.075).

The veterans Amaro signed flamed out. Durbin was predictably released after posting a 9.00 ERA in 16 innings. Valdes was sent down to Lehigh Valley after compiling a 7.65 ERA in 20 innings. Both of those failures could have been seen coming a mile away.

But the young guys who everyone wanted to be given a chance to succeed have largely failed to do so or have gotten injured as well.

Aumont, who has the best pure stuff of any reliever in the organization, couldn’t find the strike zone after making the team out of Clearwater, posting a 4.15 ERA and a WHIP of 2.077 in 13 innings. It hasn’t gotten any better in AAA, where he has a 6.75 ERA in 10.2 innings with a 2.344 WHIP for the Iron Pigs.

Stutes, on the DL with bicep tendonitis, has an ERA of 5.17 in 15.2 innings. Horst, so good last year with a 1.15 ERA in 31.1 innings, has both regressed and been the victim of some bad luck, posting a 6.23 ERA in 26 innings. His K-rate has dropped from a robust 11.5 last year to 7.3 K/9 IP this year.

Bastardo and De Fratus have both been pretty good, with a 2.84 and 2.57 ERA respectively so far this year, although Bastardo’s wildness continues to bite him in the backside occasionally.

The injuries to Adams and Stutes have forced the Phils to turn to two relievers who were struggling in AAA. Savery has been recalled after compiling an ERA of 4.03 in Lehigh Valley, although his K/9 IP of 11.7 is pretty good. Diekman has also been recalled after posting a 5.70 ERA and a WHIP of 1.833 for the Iron Pigs.

Full disclosure, I thought the Mike Adams signing was a good one this offseason, but it’s been a disaster so far. His injury issues (which were a known possibility coming into the season) have derailed Amaro’s plans to have an established 8th inning bridge to Papelbon so far in ’13. Durbin and Valdes should never have made the team out of spring training, but Amaro’s insistence on “veteran” bullpen arms drove that train.

However, aside from Bastardo and De Fratus, the young arms that are so loaded with potential have also struggled.

Whether they be veteran or young-armed, almost no one is getting it done in the Phillies ‘pen so far this year. Which makes it fair to wonder just how much luck is involved in compiling a shut-down relief corps.