The 2019 Philadelphia Phillies bullpen ended up as the worst of any team hoping to contend and was a major reason they didn’t. Veterans Tommy Hunter, David Robertson, and Pat Neshek were supposed to stabilize the unit, but injuries kept them to just 23.1 combined innings. The bad breaks didn’t stop there, as injuries rattled through the rest of the ‘pen throughout the year. In particular, 2018 out-of-nowhere standout Seranthony Dominguez and hard-throwing lefty Adam Morgan each succumbed to injuries in their throwing elbows and missed substantial time.
In some sense the bullpen embodied the entire Phillies season: A rash of injuries led to the team leaning on stopgaps who weren’t quite up to the task; talent wasn’t maximized and disappointment ensued. A clean bill of health and a step forward from any of the young relievers in tow would do wonders for the team’s 2020 outlook.
|Héctor Neris||Seranthony Dominguez||Adam Morgan||José Álvarez||Nick Pivetta||Ranger Suárez|
Closer – Héctor Neris
Only 30 relievers registered double-digit saves last year, as the number seems to go down each year while the volatility of the position goes up. Héctor Neris was one of just 14 to tally 28 or more. For as frustrating as he can be, he’s also been relatively steady, having registered at least one fWAR in three of the last four seasons. While WAR isn’t a stat we chase in fantasy baseball, it does speak to the amount of opportunity a player gets.
Neris does it with an overwhelming amount of splitters—more than 65% of his offerings last year —and then a four-seamer (~27%) and a sinker (~8%). No one threw the splitter more than him; not even Kirby Yates. He got whiffs with it 22% of the time, better than the league average for the pitch by four percentage points. It’s a fickle pitch, and relievers are fickle by nature, but there’s something to a guy who’s grown into his role by giving hitters an uncommon look. It helped him generate the sixth-best of all qualified relievers in baseball with it. He’s gone off the board as the 16th reliever and will probably carry more value than a couple of the guys ahead of him just by nature of having that opportunity at the end of games for a Phillies team that should be competitive.
Setup – Seranthony Dominguez
Seranthony Dominguez burst onto the scene in 2018 with much fanfare. His upper-90s fastball paired with a slider that had nasty bite to give him a classic power-reliever profile. He tallied 16 saves while striking out nearly a third of all batters he faced across 58 innings. When 2019 started he wasn’t quite right. His fastball velo was down a little bit, and his release point on his slider had slunk inward, each of which can be an indicator of injury. He was eventually diagnosed in early June with a small tear in his UCL but, to this point, has not needed Tommy John surgery. Instead, he received a platelet-rich plasma injection.
Dominguez didn’t throw the rest of the year, and GM Matt Klentak has said he’ll be ready for the start of spring training 2020. If the UCL holds up and the stuff is back, he’ll be a dynamic late-inning option for the Phillies and might pilfer some saves or even take the role. Otherwise, he’ll be in line to snap up holds. He’s a solid late-round flier.
Setup – Adam Morgan
Adam Morgan was another Phillies reliever whose 2019 season was abbreviated by injury that was tipped off by sapped velocity. The lefty sat 94+ in each of the two previous seasons but was down to 92.8 mph last year. Morgan didn’t appear in a game again after July and was diagnosed in early August with a flexor strain in his throwing elbow. He generates a league-average whiff rate while throwing the kitchen sink, including a slider, sinker, changeup, and curveball. Each pitch is distinct. The velo gap between his fastball and changeup sits around 10-11 mph, which is enormous, and it helps the change generate whiffs at a clip five percentage points better than average. As is, he’s a setup man coming off injury for a bullpen that hasn’t given you reason to believe in it yet, and you can pass him by.
Middle – José Álvarez
José Álvarez is another lefty reliever out of the pen for the Phillies but, unlike Morgan, his raw stuff doesn’t offer as much intrigue. His velo tops out in the low 90s. He gets whiffs at a rate a few ticks below league average. To his credit he also walks less than league average. Each of these traits has held true throughout Álvarez’s major league career.
He throws a sinker, changeup, slider, and four-seamer enough that batters have to account for each. He favors them in that order. Last year he threw the most changeups since his 38-inning big league debut in 2013 with the Tigers. Given the noise that can come up in reliever sample sizes, and how hard it could be to have the feel for four distinct pitches in such a short outing, it’s fair to wonder if less might be more for Álvarez or if his low velo means he needs a ton of looks. Whether we find that out or not, he’s probably not on the fantasy radar.
Middle – Nick Pivetta
2020 will only be Nick Pivetta‘s age-27 season, but it feels as though the pitcher has been around a while. He’s yo-yo’d between the rotation and bullpen while offering a mid- to high-90s fastball, a curveball that falls off the table, and a complementary slider. The fastball-curveball combo is alluring because the pitches are good, and in tandem are designed to keep batters’ swings on a plane that makes it harder for them to create damage. His success has also come as much as it’s gone, providing sleeper hype for fantasy players in each of the last two years but coming up short in year-end value.
The Phillies will be on their third pitching coach in three seasons when 2020 rolls around. That, combined with how Pivetta has had trouble wrangling his stuff, makes him another interesting possibility of less being more. Being able to focus only on his most dynamic offerings in the bullpen could help him provide value. If he comes out of the gate balling, he might eventually find himself in line for end of game opportunities. Until that happens, he’s a late-round flier.
Middle – Ranger Suárez
Ranger Suárez, 24, is the third lefty out of the Phillies bullpen as constituted. He works around 93 mph and throws a four-seamer, sinker, changeup, and slider each at least 20% of the time. He added horizontal movement to his arm side on all his pitches in 2019 while vertical movement mostly held steady. He added velo overall and especially on the slider, where he added three ticks to have it come in at 85 mph. The velo gap between his fastball and changeup is solid at eight mph, and the movement profile suggests they work well together. That said, he’s rarely struck out more than a batter an inning and is going undrafted.
The Other Guys
Victor Arano, Cole Irvin
Victor Arano had his elbow scoped in May and threw only 4.2 innings all year. He managed slightly above-average whiffs in nearly 60 innings in 2018 while walking less than average. He primarily offers a tightly shaped slider and complements it with a four-seamer and two-seamer. The heat comes in at around 94 mph. Cole Irvin is a crafty lefty who barely breaks 90 but has always managed to get outs through the minors despite an inability to generate whiffs. When he debuted last year he had the highest walk rate of his pro career but was still above-average in that regard. He likely won’t have fantasy relevance.
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)