Phillies: Pete Mackanin is Jumping the Gun Naming Gomez Closer

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Dec 6, 2016; National Harbor, MD, USA; Philadelphia Phillies manager Pete Mackanin speaks with the media on day two of the 2016 Baseball Winter Meetings at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 6, 2016; National Harbor, MD, USA; Philadelphia Phillies manager Pete Mackanin speaks with the media on day two of the 2016 Baseball Winter Meetings at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /
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Phillies manager Pete Mackanin shut the door on any closer competition this spring, but he may be making the wrong decision.

Many expected the Phillies to have a closer competition this spring after bringing in Joaquin Benoit in free agency and the emergence of Hector Neris as an effective reliever in 2016.

However, manager Pete Mackanin quieted any talk of a competition, naming Jeanmar Gomez the closer to start the year.

On an interview with MLB Network Radio, Mackanin said “Gomez was so good for us for 5 months, he deserves right out of spring training to be our closer.” He echoed that sentiment when spring training officially began Tuesday, telling reporters, “I believe he [Gomez] deserves to be called our closer at this point.”

Mackanin referenced Brad Lidge’s 2009 season to explain the reasoning behind his decision: [quote via Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer]

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"“I remember back in 2009, my first year as a coach here, when [Brad] Lidge blew a lot of saves and Charlie [Manuel] stuck with him,” Mackanin said. “It proved to be important that he did, even though a lot of people were clamoring for a change. Charlie showed him confidence and stayed with him. I think that was the right thing to do.”"

Several fans lost confidence in Gomez after he allowed 18 runs in eight innings in September, blowing two saves in the process.

He was effective for most of the year, but the league eventually caught up to Gomez and showed why he was never a closer before.

If Mackanin was truly confident in Gomez as his closer, he should have let him prove it during spring training in a competition. Now we won’t know if Gomez is truly the best option because he was handed the job rather than having to earn it through a competition with Neris and Benoit.

Mackanin even said, “You have to keep proving yourself at the major-league level. Nobody is guaranteed a job anywhere.” If Mackanin wants to enforce a meritocracy in Philadelphia, it should ring true for every job on the team, rather than just a select few of them.

Had there been a competition, Neris or Benoit would have likely emerged as the better option for the job.

Neris was utterly dominant in 2016, striking out 11.43 batters per nine innings on his way to a 2.58 ERA, 3.30 FIP, and 3.17 xFIP. His 1.2 fWAR was 12th-highest among all National League relievers and led all Phillies relievers.

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Unlike Gomez, Neris also possesses an utterly dominant pitch in his splitter. It was worth 12.5 runs above average according to Fangraphs. His fastball was worth 1.9 runs above average as well, giving him an effective one-two punch in his arsenal.

Meanwhile, Gomez’s best pitch, his fastball, comes in at 5.2 runs, but the rest of his arsenal is below-average.

Neris also more than doubled Gomez’s swinging strike rate at 15.4% compared to 7.3%. Gomez finished just behind Betances – Neris was just a few thousandths behind Betances – for the 11th-best swinging strike rate among relievers last year.

That’s some good company to be in.

Even if you don’t believe in Neris as the team’s closer, Benoit still remains as another viable option.

Benoit was lights-out after being traded to Toronto last season, allowing just one run in 25 appearances down the stretch with the Blue Jays. He also served as Detroit’s closer in 2013, registering 24 saves with a 2.01 ERA in 66 games.

Since 2010 when Gomez entered the major-leagues, Benoit has a better K/9 (9.99) and BB/9 (2.80). Gomez has racked up just 1.6 fWAR in his major-league career, while Benoit has 6.4 since 2010.

Next: Phillies News: Freddy Galvis Suffers Groin Injury

Had Mackanin allowed a competition for the closing job – which he claims to want for every position – Neris or Benoit would likely have beat out Gomez for the job. Mackanin jumped the gun naming the closer and now it may hurt the team since they will have a potentially lesser player for the job.

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