2015 Phillies Preview: The Bullpen

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The Philadelphia Phillies head into the 2015 campaign in unfamiliar territory – as a rebuilding franchise. While the 2014 club was a constant source of angst among the faithful, there actually was one bright spot – the bullpen.

More from That Balls Outta Here

For the first time in recent memory, the bullpen is stacked with power arms capable of shutting down the opposition, one high-leverage situation at a time.

The youngsters are each coming off stellar seasons as they enter their prime.  The much-maligned elder statesman is still one of the top closers in the business, despite national perception.

Gone are the soft-tossing days of Kent Tekulve, Larry Andersen, and Ed Vosberg. Enter relievers who douse fires with mid-to-upper 90’s gas, and secondary stuff so filthy,an industrial strength washing machine couldn’t get it clean.

BULLPEN LOCKS

Jonathan Papelbon, RHP

Barring a trade before Opening Day, Papelbon will enter the season as the closer.  He will more than likely be viable for the remainder of his time with the club. The perception is that Papelbon is not an elite closer anymore, therefore he cannot be any good.

Jonathan Papelbon is still one of the game’s most effective closers

(Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

Quite the contrary. Papelbon has been a very good closer during his stretch with the Phillies. He has posted a sub-3.oo ERA for three consecutive seasons. His WHIP was 0.90 last season, to go along with a 2.04 ERA – his lowest since his days with the Boston Red Sox.

Coming off last seasons’ numbers, the prudent thing to do would have been to move him to a contending team during the offseason. Sell high! Sure, the Phillies will have to choke down a large portion of the remaining salary, but his trade value will never be higher than this offseason. The probability that 2014 will be duplicated is very low.

Ken Giles, RHP

Whoosh! That’s the sound opposing hitters hear when they stand in the batters box with what may as well be a pool noodle in their hands.

The young flamethrower was arguably the biggest surprise last season. He arrived in camp as a non-roster invitee who had never pitched higher than Single-A Clearwater. His 2013 season in Clearwater was abysmal: 6.31 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 6.7 BB/9. Those numbers are unsightly for any level.

He came into camp with a 100-mph heater, but no idea whether the pitch would even land in the same zip code. Then pitching coach Bob McClure did his thing. The result: 1.18 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 2.2 BB/9, 12.6 K/9.

Giles is blessed with a fastball that reaches triple digits and a wiffle ball slider that turns even the most professional hitter into toast. He also possesses a closer’s mentality and intensity. Once Papelbon is dealt, the Phillies have their closer for the next 10 years. Good luck, batters.

Jake Diekman, LHP 

The lanky Nebraska southpaw had another stellar campaign in 2014. He totaled 100 strikeouts for the season in 71 innings pitched (12.7 K/9). Possessing an upper-90’s heater and wipeout slider, Diekman needs to tighten up his command to be even better.

Despite his quality stuff, Diekman gives up a few too many hits (66 in 71 IP), walks too many (4.4 BB/9), and allows too many quality at-bats to right-handed hitters (.520 SLG%).

As soon as Diekman harnesses the slider and/or masters a changeup, he will be one of the elite left-handed relievers in the game. In his TBOH interview, former closer Mitch Williams stated that he believes he could help Diekman, and once offered to do just that. The lefty could use advice from somewhere: Paging Dr. McClure.

Justin De Fratus, RHP

As we highlighted recently here at TBOH, De Fratus has all the tools to be a plus set-up/closer-type for a long time. 2014 was his breakout season. He primarily relies on a mid-90’s four seam fastball, low-90’s sinker, and a low-80’s slider.

He started to throw his sinker more in 2014 generating a lot of strikeouts (8.4 K/9). The slider generates more ground balls than the sinker and is a plus pitch. The improvement from 2013 to 2014 was very encouraging and put De Fratus right in the middle of the teams’ future plans.

De Fratus’ BB/9 went down from 4.8 to 2.1, while his K/9 went up from 8.1 to 8.4. Also, his WHIP went down from 1.50 to 1.08, and his ERA went down from 3.86 to 2.39. With good health, the future is bright.

Mario Hollands, LHP

Every team in baseball needs a situational lefty, it seems. For the Phillies, that’s where Hollands comes in. He also throws mid-90’s darts and devastating sliders that eat up left-handed batters. The slider almost has an overhand curveball break and generates swings-and-misses by the bushel.

Like Diekman, he needs to tighten up his command. Righties wait for the hanging slider, which seems to sooner-or-later arrive with the word “Hit Me” stamped on the cover. The 4.0 BB/9 and 1.40 WHIP are too high and need to be brought down so that he can be trusted in high-leverage situations. Once those numbers are lowered, the 4.40 ERA will come down naturally.

BULLPEN PROBABLES

Ethan Martin, RHP

Remember him? The centerpiece in the Shane Victorino to the Los Angeles Dodgers trade, Martin was a forgotten man in 2014 – having spent the majority of the season plying his trade in Triple-A. He put up pedestrian numbers in Lehigh Valley, including a 4.15 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, and 4 BB/9.

On the bright side, he did strikeout nearly a batter per inning (8.5 K/9). He induced a good amount of ground balls and allowed a mere two home runs in 47 2/3 innings of work. He possesses a mid-90’s heater, a nice tight slider, and a devastating 12-to-6 curveball.

The problem for Martin continues to be consistency. Once (if) he learns how to repeat his mechanics, he will be a mid-to-late inning pitcher for many years – for some team.

Jeanmar Gomez, RHP

The Phillies signed Gomez as a non-roster invitee with the invite to big league camp in Clearwater. He toiled for the Pittsburgh Pirates the last two seasons, putting up quite respectable numbers in the process. Unlike the majority of the Phillies’ bullpen, the tall Venezuelan is not a particularly hard thrower. He pitches more to contact rather than chasing the strikeout.

Gomez primarily throws a low-90’s sinker, to go along with a slider and change-up. He won’t walk many, but won’t strikeout many either. His K/9 rates the last two seasons were 5.9 and 5.5. He posted a 3.19 ERA last summer which belies the fact that his WHIP was 1.5.

Gomez is a sinkerballer who relies heavily on double plays to help him escape trouble. If he heads north with the club in April, he projects to be a solid middle-inning reliever.

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, RHP

Cuban import Gonzalez could be a valued starter, reliever, or a bust.

Gonzalez will have to impress the brass in Clearwater to make the club. Already labeled a bust by some, the Cuban import will have to harness his repertoire to sustain any kind of success.

He throws a mid-90’s fastball with a three-quarter delivery which gives the pitch late running action. Unfortunately, he has not demonstrated an ability to throw it for strikes on a consistent basis. He also possesses a decent curveball and changeup.

With seemingly no room in the starting rotation, Gonzalez’s only chance of avoiding Allentown is better control so that he can lay claim to the position of long man out of the ‘pen. Also known as major league obscurity.

BULLPEN LONG SHOTS

Phillippe Aumont, RHP

Nobody, absolutely nobody, boggles the mind more than Aumont. His arsenal is equipped with 98-mph heat and a wipeout, ‘jelly leg’ slider that drops off the table. Sadly, he can’t harness it.

Phillippe Aumont remains an enigma

(Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

Last season’s numbers in Triple-A speak for themselves: 10.6 K/9, 6.4 BB/9, 1.58 WHIP. Then came the early season call up to Philadelphia. It was 5 2/3 innings worth of some kind of UGLY before he was put out of his misery and shipped back on the Northeast Extension.

Unless somebody flips the switch, he is destined for another year in Triple-A.

Andy Oliver, LHP

Should the Phillies decide to carry three southpaws starting the season, Oliver will have the inside track. He throws hard: 94-95 mph fastball. Even his off-speed offerings are firm. The changeup and slider are both in the mid-80’s.

Oliver came up through the Tigers organization and pitched with the big club briefly in 2010-11. Combined he made seven starts to the tune of a 7.11 ERA. He spent last season with Pittsburgh’s Triple-A affiliate and posted a 2.53 ERA with 13 saves.

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