Before arriving in Philadelphia, the trio of James Norwood, Andrew Bellatti and Nick Nelson has 88.2 career innings to their names. Now just five weeks in the 2022 season, they've accumulated 38.1 innings, or 43% of their career total.
The Philadelphia Phillies have leaned heavily on their front-end of the bullpen trio, especially Nelson, who's thrown more innings than any other Phillie reliever.
The three have averaged a 4.72 ERA, not ideal in a year where the median bullpen ERA is 3.70. But ERA is not a great predictor of future success, especially in small sample size.
FIP is a far better indicator of how a player will continue to perform, removing batted ball luck and poor defensive play. Norwood in particular has been betrayed by his advanced stats.
His FIP is 3.09, compared to an ERA of 8.44. His worst outing, the 7-1 collapse against the New York Mets still haunts his image as a reliable player. But Baseball Savant's xERA agree with FIP, Norwood's been unlucky. His xERA is 3.01.
Theoretically, if Norwood continues to pitch as he has, limiting hard contact, walking few and striking out batters at a consistent rate, he should be one of the Phillies' more effective bullpen arms.
Norwood has more movement on his four-seam fastball than almost any other pitcher, let alone reliever, in baseball. He has 11.9 inches of horizontal break, 66% more than average. If Norwood can harness his command of the pitch, the Phillies may have a diamond in the rough.
It was a shock to many to see Andrew Bellatti make the Phillies Opening Day roster out of spring training above names like Connor Brogdon. But he's impressed in limited action out of the bullpen.
With only 9.1 innings under his belt, it's difficult to pass judgement on the 30-year-old righty. His ERA (2.89) has been good and his FIP (2.88) agrees with that diagnosis.
But his walk-rate has been high. Bellatti's walked five batters in just 9.1 innings. Granted, he's made up for that with 15 strikeouts, but it doesn't seem like either of those numbers are sustainable.
In the 26.2 innings, Bellatti pitched in the majors before 2022, he had a K/9 of 7.4, in 2022 it's nearly doubled to 14.5.
He relies on a high-spin rate fastball which he's focus on less heavily this year, so his slider has been responsible for his higher percentage of whiffs. That slider, however, is mediocre.
Both it's vertical and horizontal movement are well below-average. Bellatti locates it well, but once hitters have a deeper scouting report and know when it's coming, it will be markedly less effective.
Bellatti is due for some regression from a 2.89 ERA, but he's still valuable as an innings eater at the front-end of the bullpen, he probably won't win the Phillies any games, but he likely won't lose them either.
Nick Nelson has been one of the Phillies' most valuable players in 2022 for his ability to eat innings. The innings he pitches may not be high-leverage, but the fact that he pitches then means that the Phillies don't have to waste their back-end arms in meaningless spots.
And in those spots, Nelson has done an impressive job. With a larger sample size than any other Phillie reliever, it's easier to evaluate his success and shortcoming. His ERA and FIP are both solid, 3.44 and 3.64 respectively. His BB/9 and K/9 both seem sustainable, unlike Bellatti, there are no outliers.
All of his pitches break downwards, his fastball has one of baseball's lowest spin-rates and his changeup is used almost half the time. So it's strange that he's sporting a groundball-rate of only 34.0%.
Batters have been working to get underneath his pitches and are hitting them for an average launch angle of 15.7 degrees. This in-turn, has kept hitters from barreling the ball, Nelson has only allowed two such instances in 2022.
He's not working to an especially high chase-rate or low average exit velocity either. What Nelson has done well is avoid especially hard contact, and it's worked to his benefit.
In higher leverage spots, he likely won't be as effective at facing more adept hitters. But Nick Nelson doesn't need to be perfect, he is with the club to mop up in tough spots and his brand of baseball has been exactly what the Phillies bullpen has needed.
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