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Evan Phillips is Your Midseason Source of Holds

Evan Phillips is now a high-leverage bullpen arm for the Dodgers.

The Dodgers have a good bullpen, but they have been disappointing for fantasy managers, regardless of league format. However, amidst this disappointment, there may be an emerging name; a source for holds that’s only rostered in 5% of FanTrax leagues. His name is Evan Phillips.

However, before addressing him and how he’s come out of nowhere to take on a very important role in the Dodgers bullpen, let’s first address the shortcomings of the ‘pen from an individual standpoint. The bullpen as a whole has still managed pretty good numbers:

 

Right before the season started, the Dodgers flipped AJ Pollock for Craig Kimbrel in a rather surprising development. This trade indicated two things: First, that the organization was willing to play Gavin Lux every day, and second, it ended any speculation about what sort of role Blake Treinen would have in 2022. Instead of closing, the Dodgers intended for Treinen to remain in his usual high-leverage role.

Kimbrel’s value soared in saves-only leagues, as the All-Star closer found himself in the best possible situation as the defined closer for a contender, and Treinen remained an elite option for SVHLD leagues, given his track record. After breakout seasons in 2021, there was an expectation that both Alex Vesia and Phil Bickford would continue to take steps forward, and further solidify themselves as late-inning options. Brusdar Graterol remained a very intriguing option with his natural stuff and the hope was he’d eventually figure out a way to translate that into on-field results. Finally, the organization brought in another veteran in Daniel Hudson to fill in for Corey Knebel and Joe Kelly, who left in the offseason. Both of them served LAD well at one point or another over the last two years, even if their impact was limited by injuries.

Out of that group of names, the only one who’s managed to meet and even exceed expectations is Daniel Hudson, who is, at this point, the most important reliever on the team.

Craig Kimbrel is 12 for 13 in save opportunities, and may not have cost the Dodgers many games, but his season has been shaky, with the worst ratios of his career (if you discount those horrible 20 innings in 2019 with the Cubs). Blake Treinen was dealing with shoulder discomfort early in the season, and being very cautious, understanding that his value is enormous in the stretch run, the Dodgers shut him down after only three innings. Although the former Athletic is making progress, the organization doesn’t expect him back until after the All-Star break, at least.

Phil Bickford also got a late start to the season and has taken a step back, especially in the strikeouts department. A 29.5 percent mark in 2021 has plummeted to 18.9 percent in 2022. Vesia is doing okay, but not as well as in 2021, and is used more as a lefty specialist due to his poor numbers against righties. Lastly, Graterol continues to be rather pedestrian with his production and might be the single best example of a lack of production to match the eye test.

Daniel Hudson has virtually taken the role of Blake Treinen when it was originally expected that he’d provide support for the latter, and looking beyond Hudson, one name emerges as the most intriguing reliever in this Dodgers ‘pen: Evan Phillips.

There’s a level of intrigue when the Rays pick up a pitcher that was discarded by another organization. The same can’t be said for when a team picks up someone that the Rays let go. The Dodgers claimed Evan Phillips from the Tampa in the middle of last season, and the right-hander held his own, albeit in a small sample size.

It was a mediocre showing from someone who came in without any expectations, but that K-BB percentage, combined with the lack of a successful track record, didn’t provide a lot of confidence.

How did that stat line turn into this one?

Phillips made a few tweaks that have led to this new form. The former Ray has shelved the changeup in place of a cutter, and the fastball is playing differently with the slider as the feature pitch.

Take a look at a heatmap from Phillips’ four-seamer in 2021 and 2022:

 

Fewer heaters in the heart of the zone, a higher spin rate on the fastball, and more sliders heave led to the following improvements.

Phillips is getting significantly fewer swings on the fastball, which leads to more called strikes, and when batters do in fact swing at heaters in the zone, they’re making contact at a below league-average rate.

The former Ray reliever may not have the counting stats quite yet, but that’s mainly because he came into the season as an unknown and was significantly down in the bullpen depth chart. However, Phillips already has 12 appearances when the Dodgers are within two runs of the opposition, half of his total appearances.

Phillips is only rostered in 5 percent of all FanTrax leagues at the moment, but that number was at just 1 percent as of a couple of weeks ago, He should be added in SVHLD leagues, especially at a time when the majority of breakout candidates have already been scooped up. Blake Treinen doesn’t seem to be coming back soon, and with the current outlook of the Dodgers’ pen, Phillips should get more and more holds opportunities.

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