Phillies 2024 Season Preview: RHP Orion Kerkering

Orion Kerkering is young and only appeared in a handful of games last season, but he's projected to be a big part of the Phillies' bullpen in 2024.
Philadelphia Phillies reliever Orion Kerkering
Philadelphia Phillies reliever Orion Kerkering / Sean M. Haffey/GettyImages

The next player in our Philadelphia Phillies 2024 Season Preview series is relief pitcher Orion Kerkering.

Previous season previews: José AlvaradoAndrew BellattiAlec BohmConnor BrogdonNick CastellanosRodolfo CastroKody ClemensJake Cave, Dylan Covey, Seranthony Domínguez, Kolby Allard, Bryce Harper, Jeff Hoffman

We'll start with a look at Kerkering's 2023 season and then evaluate projections for the 2024 season using the Steamer and ZiPS projection systems, which can be found on FanGraphs.

Orion Kerkering 2023 stats and 2024 projections

2023 Stats: 3 G, 3 IP, 1-0 record, 3.00 ERA, 1.26 FIP, 1.67 WHIP, 6 SO, 2 BB, 0.1 fWAR

2024 Steamer: 64 G, 64 IP, 3-3 record, 3.74 ERA, 3.92 FIP, 1.26 WHIP, 71 SO, 25 BB, 0.6 fWAR

2024 ZiPS DC: 64 G, 64 IP, 4-2 record, 3.90 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 1.18 WHIP, 70 SO, 17 BB, 0.4 fWAR

Orion Kerkering 2024 season preview

Both Steamer and ZiPS DC project Kerkering to be a major factor in the Phillies' 2024 bullpen. Each system predicts that the 22-year-old will appear in 64 games for the club next season. For reference, in 2023, the league leader in relief appearances was Matt Brash of the Seattle Mariners. He appeared in 78 games. The most appearances for the Phillies was Craig Kimbrel, who entered 71 games out of the bullpen last season.

For a young pitcher who only appeared in three regular season games and seven postseason games, eclipsing 60 relief appearances would be impressive. It's impossible to compare Kerkering's projections with his numbers last season due to the small sample size. If the right-hander can post numbers similar to his Steamer and ZiPS DC projections, the Phillies should be happy with his progression.

The main differences between the two projections are the predicted ERA and FIP. It's almost as if they mirror each other. While Steamer projects a lower ERA (3.74) than ZiPS DC (3.90), it also predicts Kerkering's FIP to be 3.92, which is higher than ZiPS DC's projection of 3.76 FIP.

Steamer and ZiPS DC still project Kerkering to accumulate strikeouts. Each one believes the 2022 fifth-round pick will strike out over a batter per inning. ZiPS DC, however, projects a much lower BB/9 rate (2.34) than Steamer (3.54). As was evident in the postseason, Kerkering will rely on his slider command. If he loses that, walks could become an issue.

Kerkering's role and usage in 2024

One interesting projection from both Steamer and ZiPS DC is the lower number of projected saves (four) that Kerkering is afforded. It appears the Phillies have plans for their young right-hander this season; however, he'll have to earn it in spring training.

Assuming he makes the Opening Day roster and the Phillies don't acquire a back-end-of-the-bullpen type arm, could Kerkering take on a late-inning role?

Without a bona fide closer, it's possible he will see some ninth-inning appearances this season. Per's Todd Zolecki, Rob Thomson likes him enough to comment on how he views his hard-throwing reliever: “He’s way up on my list as far as his talent level and where he stands in that bullpen."

Kerkering needs more confidence in his fastball

During his short time in the majors in the regular season, Kerkering threw his slider 85 percent of the time and his fastball just 15 percent of the time. While his slider can be devastating, his fastball is no slouch. The pitch averages just under 98 mph.

In the two games in which Kerkering struggled during the 2023 NLCS, he lost his feel for his slider. In Game 3, the right-hander didn't retire any of the three batters he faced. Each one reached base off his slider. Game 6 was similar. The California native allowed two hits and a run, both hits coming off his slider.

This isn't to say he should move away from the slider, but rather trust in his fastball, which is a plus-pitch. He seemed afraid to move away from his breaking ball once he lost the feel for it. As a two-pitch pitcher, he will need to learn to adapt and trust his stuff as he gains experience and matures.

The future looks to be bright for Kerkering. The team trusts him and values his abilities. He gained experience last season that he can use and build upon in 2024. He has a chance to be a big role player in the Phillies' bullpen for years to come.