Phillies: It’s time for Hector Neris to take that next step
Phillies reliever Hector Neris had a rollercoaster of a 2019 season; with aspirations of a playoff berth in 2020, he needs to improve quickly.
On paper, Phillies relief pitcher Hector Neris had a pretty good year in 2019. His ERA sat just below a 3.00, his WHIP was a career-low 1.020, and his save total hit a career-high at 28. When looking at these commonly used baseball metrics, there is no reason to believe Neris isn’t a serviceable closer in today’s game.
This is where the debate begins. Despite having an abundance of statistics to back his play, the general vibe around Neris following the conclusion of last season was that he just wasn’t a very good closer. Things got so bad at one point that I even wrote an article labeled “Why Hector Neris is actually a below-average closer” back in September.
The story highlighted Neris’ frequent poor performances against rival opponents like the Nationals, Braves, and Mets. It also shined some light on the alarming difference between Neris’ numbers in a “save situation” versus a “non-save situation.”
A majority of these concepts remain true heading into the 2020 season. Once nicknamed “Nervous Neris” by the fans, Hector regularly struggles in high-pressure situations. Of relief pitchers with 20 or more save situations, Neris ranked 20th in terms of save percentage (that’s not good!).
Many fans expected the Phillies front office to heavily address the bullpen this offseason, overhauling it to a point where Neris could slide out of the closer role and into a better suited 7th/8th inning role. With guys like Dellin Betances, Will Smith, and Will Harris all available, this was a very real possibility.
However, all of those previously mentioned guys now sit at rival NL East clubs, and the Phillies are once again in a position where Neris is their best option at closer.
Joe Girardi and the Phillies need Neris to be special this season. If they want any chance to compete for a playoff spot, they can’t continue to throw away wins late in ballgames, especially if their starting pitchers can provide quality starts. The Phillies blew 21 saves in just 57 opportunities last year.
With the arrival of highly acclaimed pitching coach Bryan Price, the Phillies appear to be banking on him to contribute to some serious upgrades all over the bullpen. Neris is no exception.
Neris relied heavily on his split-fingered fastball (splitter) last season, and at points, it was truly effective. However, when teams figured it out, they figured it out hard. Price will most likely emphasize the growth and development of Neris’ four-seam fastball this year. Having that reliable second pitch could be the missing key to Neris becoming borderline elite.
Neris is not a “bad” relief pitcher, he’s a pretty good one. He strikes out a lot of batters and rarely allows extra baserunners. His use of a splitter as his main pitch throws hitters off and accounts for a few extra strikeouts. However, Neris’ struggles as a classic “closer” can’t just be ignored. Unless the Phillies pull a wildcard out and use someone else as their 9th inning guy, Neris is going to have to finally take that step and perform at an elite level if the Phils want to be playing in October this year.