In 2020, the Philadelphia Phillies bullpen had a 7.06 ERA, and in 2021, they had a league-leading 34 blown saves. A bad bullpen runs in the franchise and plugging leaking holes with players like Corey Knebel isn’t going to prevent the ship from sinking.
On top of a myriad of other flaws, the loss of Héctor Neris to free agency is a step backwards. Neris hasn’t exactly been a model of consistency, but he was the Phillies' longest-tenured player and all-time leader for reliever strikeouts.
The signing of Knebel, however, has moved the needle in the correct direction, but a more thorough revamp of the bullpen is necessary. The Phillies need to find talent from within, rather than continuing to dish out lavish contracts to top free agents, especially if they want to remain competitive under the luxury tax.
In the current state, Fangraphs ZiPS projections do think the Phillies will improve just by regression to the mean. In 2021, the Phillies entire bullpen was worth 1.1 fWAR, the 28th worst total in MLB, ahead of just the Washington Nationals and Arizona Diamondbacks.
ZiPS believes the Phillies bullpen in 2022 can be counted on for approximately 4.7 fWAR, a total which would have placed them eighth league wide in 2021. However, that is counting on steep improvement from players like Ryan Sherriff, Bailey Falter, and Seranthony Domínguez.
Sherriff does seem like a step in the right direction. Acquired off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays in November, Sherriff is a 32-year-old lefty with only 44.1 big league innings to his name. He’s never pitched even half a full season but his career numbers are promising: 3.65 ERA and 3.98 FIP. If the Phillies can somehow unlock that potential for an entire season, Sherriff would be a great lefty pairing with José Alvarado. Fangraphs projects Sherriff for 58 innings and a 4.13 ERA.
Falter also seems to be another bounce back candidate. His projection stats were elite, especially given a 5.61 ERA. Falter lost much of a promising 2021 due to a COVID infection mid-season, forcing him out of a potential starting role and into a hotel room for nearly a month.
His xERA last season was 3.60 and his FIP was 3.79. Fangraphs projects him to pitch 66 innings for a 3.89 ERA in 2022. These are the types of performances the Phillies need from depth players should they wish to compete in 2022.
Domínguez is a more interesting case. The Phillies will undoubtedly be happy to get any value out of a player who’s missed most of the last three seasons, but he was once the future of the Phillies bullpen. It’s almost impossible to predict how Domínguez will fare next year, but another full offseason to recover certainly shouldn’t hurt his potential to help the Phillies down the stretch.
Even with improvement from these three, the Phillies are still severely lacking in bullpen depth. Knebel seems to be the de facto closer at present, while Sherriff and Alvarado are lefty specialists. Domínguez, Coonrod, Falter, and Brogdon can all fill in with middle relief and setup but that’s numbers only seven out of eight potential bullpen roles.
Perhaps Hans Crouse can fill in at long relief, but like Sherriff and Domínguez, his value as a major leaguer is yet to be seen. Given the Phillies history of injuries to bullpen players it is more than fair to assume that there will be injuries and/or players stumbling off the starting block in April that need to be replaced.
Thus, the Phillies must improve their depth. Many solid relievers remain on the market that could fit the Phillies budget. As depth is vital at the present, players like Kenley Jansen, Ryan Tepera, and Andrew Chafin are probably poor investments.
The Phillies need cheap major league ready talent. Players like Brad Boxberger, Steve Cishek, Jake Diekman, Adam Ottavino and others are battle tested. Pitchers like these have proven they’ll eat innings at the major league level.
While the Phillies wait for depth to come through the minor leagues, these players and more can all be had for sub-$6 million contracts. The more players the Phillies bring through the system, the more likely they are to strike gold in pitchers like Ranger Suárez.
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