Phillies fans can count on an elite, top-ranked bullpen again after years of struggle

FanGraphs projects the Phillies' bullpen to be the best in the league. It's been years in the making, so how did we get here, and what makes the relief corps so good?
Philadelphia Phillies reliever José Alvarado leads the top-ranked bullpen going into the 2024 season
Philadelphia Phillies reliever José Alvarado leads the top-ranked bullpen going into the 2024 season / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

The Phillies and their fans are, in the best way possible, in unfamiliar territory going into 2024. After countless years in which the bullpen was the team's glaring weakness,, with the help of FanGraphs, projects the Phillies bullpen to be the best in the league in 2024.

Yes, you read that correct.

The Phillies bullpen is projected to stand atop the league with a 4.8 fWAR, beating out the Atlanta Braves' projected fWAR of 4.2.

The Phillies come into this season with a solid foundation that they have been building for a couple of years. José Alvarado, Jeff Hoffman, Seranthony Domínguez, Gregory Soto, Matt Strahm, and rookie Orion Kerkering are the quality types of relievers the Phillies have been missing during the down years.

In 2023, the Phillies ranked third in relief with a 6.8 fWAR just behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Baltimore Orioles. They finished sixth with a 9.77 K/9 rate and seventh with a 3.58 ERA.

The Phillies bullpen has made big strides in recent years

2022 and 2023 were the first years in a long time in which the Phillies bullpen was not one of the worst in the league. In 2019, the bullpen ranked 23rd with a 0.8 fWAR; in 2020, it ranked 28th with a -1.0 fWAR; and in 2021, it finished 28th again but with a 1.0 fWAR. Needless to say, the Phillies and the fans have witnessed some less-than-stellar bullpens recently and a ton of blown opportunities.

According to FanGraphs, in 2023, the bullpen's fastball averaged 95 mph, which ranked seventh in the entire league. Cutters ranked fourth at 91.4 mph, sliders ranked fifth at 85.6 mph, and sinkers ranked the best in MLB, averaging 97 mph. This has been an intentional strategy by the Phillies front office, as reported by The Athletic's Matt Gelb. They have sought out hard-throwing relief pitchers and have had them work with pitching coach Caleb Cotham and his staff on refining their repertoire and pitching to high velocities.

In 2024, the Phillies finally have the bullpen depth and talent to hold leads and close out games. They also have the middle relief talent to keep deficits small and give the offense a chance to claw their way back into games, which was a huge part of the Phillies' success last season. They accumulated 44 come-from-behind wins and had eight ninth-inning comebacks. Their ninth-inning comebacks led the league, and the 44 total comebacks were good for third in the league.

Rob Thomson still opting for a closer-by-committee

The most interesting part of the 2024 version of the Phillies bullpen is that they do not have a named closer like many other highly successful bullpens. Rob Thomson has been masterful at using a closer-by-committee strategy while having his high-leverage relievers available to put out fires whenever they may arise during the game.

While Alvarado and Hoffman are the expected favorites to come into the ninth inning to shut the door, don’t be surprised to see either run in from the bullpen in the seventh or eighth if it’s a close game and the opposing team's scariest hitters are due up. Thomson and the Phillies coaching staff have a ton of faith in each reliever, and we could easily see the rookie Kerkering, the newly extended Strahm, or the veteran Domínguez close games.

It’s a long season, and these are merely projections, but it’s always a great sign to see the bullpen ranked atop the leaderboard. It’s a welcome change of pace that has been a long time coming for the Phillies organization and the fans.