On December 11th, 2014 relief pitcher Andy Oliver was selected by the Phillies in the 2nd round of the MLB portion of the Rule 5 draft. The lefty came from the Pittsburgh Pirates organization with a solid reputation. Just a year ago in AAA, Oiver pitched 64 innings with a 2.53 ERA and 85 strikeouts.
Unfortunately, Oliver had control issues, producing a 6.6 BB/9 rate. These struggles have been a career problem at all levels. Across five minor league seasons, Oliver has a troubling career 5.8 BB/9 rate.
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During 2010-11, Oliver pitched in 31.2 major league innings as a starter with the Tigers. He struggled with a 7.11 ERA, only 23 strikeouts, and those walks hurt him again as he produced a measly 6 BB/9 rate. The Philllies likely decided to take a gamble on the 27 year-old southpaw because of his propensity for strikeouts.
This spring, Oliver has lived up to his track record with 20 strikeouts and 10 walks, along with a 2.45 ERA in 11 innings pitched. His control issues remain despite trying a few tweaks to fix the issues. However, his strikeout total has been particularly attractive to the Phillies, and is likely his ticket to joining Jake Diekman as the 2nd lefty in the bullpen.
When Oliver experienced his first troubles this spring, Manager Ryne Sandberg still had good things to say on Phillies.com, “Oliver’s been impressive…He wasn’t quite getting ahead [in the count] like he had the last two outings but he still showed his good stuff.”
Mar 10, 2015; Clearwater, FL, USA;
Araujo (74) throws a pitch during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Bright House Field.
(Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)
Mario Hollands struggles with elbow soreness helped open up the competition for Oliver. The only other lefty reliever still around as spring camp ends is Cesar Jimenez, who has a 5.87 ERA with 6 strikeouts, 3 walks, and 11 hits allowed over 7.2 innings of work. Oliver’s spring has definitely been enough to warrant a shot over the known commodity in Jimenez.
Should Oliver struggle in the majors as he has in the past, Jimenez and Elvis Araujo will certainly be ready to take over his job. Araujo was impressive in 5 innings this spring; producing a 1.8 ERA with 5 strikeouts and only giving up 2 hits and 2 walks. The margin of error for Oliver will be small if Araujo keeps pitching like that in the minors.
Andy Oliver has had a solid spring overall, and has also been the beneficiary of a lack of left-handed relief pitching depth. One of the bright spots this spring, he hopefully will continue to contribute positive innings for what figures to be the Phillies strength in a power-pitching bullpen.