Phillies: Why Hector Neris is actually a below-average closer

While Hector Neris has some strong numbers, upon further inspection, the Phillies’ closing pitcher is actually below average.

Phillies closer Hector Neris has a better ERA than Sean Doolittle, more saves than Ken Giles, and a lower WHIP than Aroldis Chapman, yet I’m here to tell you that he is in fact not a serviceable closing pitcher.

After Thursday’s game against the Reds, Hector’s 2019 stats round out to an ERA of 3.03, a WHIP of 0.99, 78 strikeouts, and a save total of 23. On face value, those stats look really good.

Given how flat out awful the Phillies bullpen has been this season (ninth-worst in the entire MLB), it’s relatively easy for fans to consider him a bright spot to the Philadelphia pitching staff. Throw in trends like the one shown below, and the narrative that Neris is an above-average closer in the MLB seemingly continues to look stronger and stronger.

However, there’s a catch. A massive catch. A catch so fatal to a team’s success that I am willing to go as far as saying Neris is not even an average closer but in fact a below-average closer.

Neris really struggles in high-pressure situations, whether it’s simple save opportunities or just close games against important rivals, Neris’ abilities as a textbook closing pitcher seem to vanish.

For example, Neris has pitched against the Los Angeles Dodgers three times in 2019. In those three appearances, he’s allowed a whopping five runs in just 1.2 innings of work. That puts him at an absurd ERA of 27.00 against the Phillies’ top competition in the National League.

Neris also has a 7.94 ERA against the Atlanta Braves this season, a 5.14 ERA against the New York Mets, and all five of his losses this season have come against teams in the National League (Marlins, Dodgers, Braves, Nationals, and Pirates).

This is not an isolated issue, the nickname “Nervous Neris” wasn’t coined out of thin air. The notion that Hector loses a degree of composure in high-stress scenarios is one heavily backed by statistics, both against specific teams but also in just everyday save opportunities.

Neris’s save percentage ranks 22nd in the MLB at the moment I’m writing this (79.3%), a stat that shouldn’t surprise anyone after seeing the numbers I just laid out for you. Neris has been phenomenal this season against below-average baseball teams specifically in non-save environments, so good that it’s led to his ERA/WHIP being skewed to appear elite.

This is yet again proven when looking at closers around the league who have higher ERAs than Neris yet better save percentages. Iglesias, Diaz, and Doolittle have all seemingly “struggled” this season with ERAs north of 4.00, yet all three will give you a better chance at securing a save than Neris (according to save %).

A common notion I’ve heard this season surrounding the 2019 Phillies is that they “have nobody better to run at closer”, and I don’t inherently disagree with that statement. Given that they have had one of the worst bullpens in all of baseball this year and have been ravaged by injuries, using Neris as the default closer was about the only choice Gabe had.

With that said, Neris is a 30-year-old who’s been hanging in mediocre limbo for a few years now. If this Phillies team ever wants to be competitive, they have to find a way to improve upon this position.

When thinking about 2020, ESPN.com lists Jose Alvarez as the Phils second-best closer option in their “Fantasy Baseball Closer Depth Chart” article, and someone like Ranger Suarez has shown signs of closer potential working out of the bullpen this year. Seranthony Dominguez showed promise last season, but his numbers dropped off this year before suffering an elbow injury.

A few big names, including six-time All-Star Aroldis Chapman, could be set to hit the market this winter and the possibility for an upgrade via trade is always in play.

To conclude, I actually do like Neris as a person and even overall as a relief pitcher. He has a fiery attitude and a splitter that is almost unhittable at times, he could (and should) absolutely excel as a seventh/eighth inning type reliever. However, despite common belief, he’s just simply not a good closing pitcher and someone the team needs to move out of that role for the foreseeable future.

Next: How much will roster expansion help Phillies?

~all stats via MLB.com, ESPN.com, and baseball-reference.com~

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