A bullpen can make or break a team's chances at World Series glory. We saw it up close in 2008, as Brad Lidge converted every save opportunity that came his way, anchoring the Philadelphia Phillies to their first title in 28 years. They are vital to a team's success, but it's not always the closer that gets the girl, so to speak.
Wade Davis, middle reliever for Kansas City, became the first pitcher in baseball history with a sub-1.00 ERA over the span of two seasons (2014-15). Davis and Kelvin Herrerra, in 2014, became the first teammates to pitch at least 70 innings each without surrendering a home run since Lefty Williams and Reb Russell of the White Sox matched the feat back in 1918. Neither player was ever the primary closer, but they sure played a huge role in delivering KC consecutive league titles, culminating in a World Series championship last season.
By comparison, this Phillies bullpen is not that young, and not that promising. Truth be told, a lot has to go right to consider it respectable. Young, talented arms are coming up that could, someday, make this group dominant.
As for now, it's a work in progress, and that work in progress is previewed in part four of our "Phillies Season Outlook" series.
Dalier Hinojosa (RHP)- As a 29-year-old rookie in 2015, Hinohosa dazzled in a brief, 24.2-inning debut spent mostly with Philadelphia (0.73 ERA, 23 K). His ERA this spring spiked to 4.50, but he surrendered just a single walk in eight innings pitched. The Cuban native should get a shot at closer.
David Hernandez (RHP)- Manager Pete Mackanin recently indicated a closer-by-committee scenario, and Hernandez is most likely to join Hinojosa at the head of the class. The 30-year-old right-hander has had some success, most notably in 2012, registering the third-best K/9 ratio of any pitcher in baseball (12.91). Tommy John surgery in 2014 has knocked him back a few pegs, but he's the most experienced of this group.
Jeanmar Gomez (RHP)- Gomez is nothing like the aforementioned right-handers in this group. He's been productive in recent seasons, but never spectacular. His command is a plus, but his career batting average against (.277) is woefully above the MLB average in 2015 (.254). Still, Gomez has compiled just a 3.19 ERA over the past three seasons. Smoke and mirrors? His 3.01 ERA in 2015 was the lowest of his career, but, according to pitchFX, he lost 2.8 MPH off his fastball from 2014 (91.5 to 88.7).
Brett Oberholtzer (LHP)- Oberholtzer is going to be huge. Listed at a generously-low 225 pounds, that's a given. All but three of his 45 career games have been starts in the majors, so Oberholtzer is a bit of an unknown out of the bullpen. He's an imposing figure on the mound, but looks can be deceiving. He barely touches 90 MPH with his fastball, and his career K/9 is surprisingly low (5.9), considering his body type. Over the past two seasons with Houston, Oberholtzer walked just 2.2 batters per nine innings, and he'll have to keep it up in 2016. With a 4.40 ERA over the same span, the 26-year old has very little room for error.
Daniel Stumpf (LHP)- Stumpf, a hard-throwing rookie lefty, will be an interesting study. As a Rule-5 pick, he'll have to stick with the Major League club all season to avoid losing his first-refusal rights to Kansas City. Stumpf has enticing stats, but he's unproven. His 10.9 K/9 rate during the Spring (10.1 IP) is great for a lefty. If he can approach that in the bigs, while maintaining his reputation for control (3.1 BB/9, 311.1 minor league innings), he'll be a great resource out of the bullpen.
James Russell (LHP)- Russell is not spectacular, but he is predictable. He controls the strike zone reasonably well, and has been tough enough against left-handers over his six-year career (.685 OPS against) to warrant a shot as the Phils' resident lefty specialist.
Potential Breakout Performer: Jimmy Cordero or Luis Garcia
In its current form, the Phillies' bullpen is unlikely to surprise. As such, the most likely breakout performers are slummin' it in the Minors... but maybe not for long. 24-year old Jimmy Cordero, the 101+ MPH flamethrower, has battled injuries all Spring, forcing the club's hand to start his season in Double-A. He's got, arguably, the most dominant stuff of any pitcher in the organization, save for 29-year old Luis Garcia, who throws pitches with whiffle ball movement, but with very little control. Quote Larry Anderson on Garcia during an outing last week: "If he could command it... He could be a closer in the big leagues." Garcia will start the season in Triple-A.
Potential Letdown: Jeamar Gomez
Gomez has improved his ERA every season since 2012. Even though he pitched a personal-best 3.01 ERA in 2015, he allowed a startlingly-high .278 batting average against. For perspective, the Phillies, as a team, batted .249 last season. Gomez has lost velocity and isn't missing bats-- that's a recipe for disaster.
Phillies Season Outlook Part I: The Starting Lineup
Phillies Season Outlook Part II: The Bench
Phillies Season Outlook Part III: The Starting Rotation
Kevin Reavy is a contributor to Philliedelphia.com. His latest book, "Incredible Baseball Stats" is available now on Amazon, and hits book stores in May.