Phillies 2023 report cards: Grading the bullpen

For what has been a rocky unit for most of the last decade, the 2023 Phillies flipped the script and had one of the best arm barns in the league.

Colorado Rockies v Philadelphia Phillies
Colorado Rockies v Philadelphia Phillies / Rich Schultz/GettyImages
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What seems always to be a question mark for the Philadelphia Phillies almost every year is the relievers. Over the past few years, Phillies fans have endured some of the worst bullpens ever in baseball (no exaggeration). The past two seasons, however, have played a bit of a different tune.

In 2023, manager Rob Thomson and the coaching staff adopted more of a matchup-based system where he used his best relievers against the heart of the other team's lineup, regardless of the inning. Thomson had who he believed were his high-leverage guys and unleashed them when he thought he could take advantage of a matchup instead of the typical seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-inning guys.

This led to great success throughout the season, switching looks and keeping the opponent and the opposing manager on their toes.

The Phillies ended the regular season with the seventh-best bullpen ERA (3.58) and the third-best WAR (6.8), behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles, two 100-plus win teams. They stepped it up to another level in the postseason, posting the second-lowest ERA (2.23) and pitching 44 1/3 innings, trailing just the Houston Astros and the two World Series participants.

What guys stepped up? Who outperformed their expectations? And who has earned a spot going forward?

Craig Kimbrel

Let's get this one out of the way early.

Throughout parts of the regular season, Craig Kimbrel was as dominant as his old self. From June 11 to July 18, the future Hall of Famer didn't allow a single earned run over 16 appearances. From the middle of May to the beginning of August, he allowed only six earned runs and dropped his ERA from 8.25 down to 3.06 while also collecting his 400th career save.

The 35-year-old ended the season with a 3.26 ERA and 23 saves for the team while striking out 94 over 69 innings. It was a very solid season for Kimbrel, but there were signs of fatigue.

Towards the latter half of the season and into the postseason, Kimbrel's velocity began dropping, and his infamous knuckle curveball wasn't as sharp. While he may not have always been the most pinpoint-accurate pitcher, he started losing almost all control down the stretch.

This was evident in the NLCS versus the Arizona Diamondbacks, as in his four appearances, he walked four and allowed four earned runs. Kimbrel was the man who gave up the game-winning hit in Game 3, as well as the eventual game-winning run in Game 4, after allowing three in the eighth.

Kimbrel's very solid regular season was tainted by the ending. Although he was lights out at times, he was a major reason the Phillies didn't reach the World Series.

Grade: B-