After a stellar 2016 and 2017, Hector Neris suffered the first setback of his Phillies career in 2018. Will the veteran pitcher return to form in 2019?
I love this guy. I felt horrible watching him struggle so much at the beginning of the year. Hector Neris has been such an important piece in the bullpen the last three years and was an absolute force in the two seasons where he pitched 70+ innings.
On a 71-win team in 2016, Neris led the team in ERA (2.58) and strikeouts per nine innings (11.4), while primarily acting as the setup man to Jeanmar Gomez. When Gomez struggled in 2017, and Joaquin Benoit wasn’t any better, Neris was thrust into the full-time closer role for the second half of the year. He posted a 2.48 ERA with 19 saves, with 44 strikeouts in 36 innings.
Last season, Neris struggled to maintain the success he had in the previous two. Where he really struggled was the location of his fastball. His ability to locate his fastball up in the zone was a lethal weapon in 2016 and 2017 when he was throwing his split over 50% of the time, and his fastball under 40%.
Neris used his splitter and fastball more in 2018 which led to the fifth-worst barrel percentage in the league for pitchers with 100+ batted ball events (11.8%). Hitters also were able to connect at their sweet spot a remarkable 44.5% of the time, second-worst in the league (100+ BBE). Neris was demoted Triple-A in June to recover his 2016/2017 performance.
I was thrilled to see Neris return to form when he was called back up in August. Posting a 2.04 ERA, with 35 strikeouts and only 11 hits from August to October, Neris thrived in his late-game role while not serving as the closer. He struck out 51% of the batters he faced, while only giving up a 0.172 batting average and only five walks to 69 plate appearances. Most importantly, he didn’t allow a single home run after giving up 11 from April to July.