The Phillies were supposed to have a top-flight bullpen this season, but they once again need to markedly improve this offseason.
Over the last two offseasons, the Phillies largely ignored starting pitching in favor of revamping their bullpen. Two years ago, they signed Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter to two-year deals then added David Robertson to his own two-year deal last offseason. These three, as well as other complementary pieces, were supposed to form a fearsome bullpen this season to lessen the load on the starters.
That plan failed miserably as the Phillies have one of the worst bullpens in the league. They rank 27th out of all 30 teams in relievers Fangraphs wins above replacement. The only teams worse, the Orioles, Rockies, and Marlins, are all among the worst teams in baseball.
Injuries were the main culprit as six of the eight Opening Day relievers were or are on the injured list. Robertson, Hunter, and Neshek pitched just 32 games combined this year. Seranthony Dominguez, the anchor of the 2018 bullpen, didn’t make it past the first week of June.
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The relievers who have managed to stay healthy have done little to fan the flames. 30 players have pitched in relief for Philadelphia this season; only nine are even above replacement. Hector Neris is the only one with an ERA below 3.00, but he still remains inconsistent as a closer.
How the 2020 bullpen will look is anyone’s guess. Neris will be back to lead the group, but things quickly get murky from there. Dominguez, Victor Arano, and Adam Morgan should return but will be rehabbing injuries all season long. Robertson won’t be able to pitch until 2021 and it’s unlikely the team picks up his 2021 option after missing almost two whole seasons.
The worst part about all this is that there really aren’t many resources available to improve the bullpen. Starting pitching has gotten far more attention and will likely receive the most significant upgrades during the offseason. That will leave the bullpen left to scrape things together between returning players and converted starters.
Once again, the Phillies have to find a way to improve the bullpen. Unfortunately, they probably will have to do it from within this time around.