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Phillies Reload 2021’s Bullpen


By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

The 2020 pen of the Philadelphia Phillies appeared to continue 2019’s woes. However, injuries were more prevalent in ‘19, and the bullpen, rotation and offense were in the middle of the MLB pack. But last summer, the pandemic eliminated two hurlers, and injuries plus surgeries claimed four more. And healthy ineffectiveness?


Armed Fixing:

While many Phillies fans had demanded a relief-corps overhaul, some had anticipated failure, but Dave Dombrowski, president of baseball operations, spent wisely and surprised them. Eventually, the bullpen upgrades, though, could run $15 million for four back-end relievers.                    


“There are more teams looking for pitchers than there are pitchers. That's why it's pricey.” - Brian Cashman

In ‘19, eight relievers missed either months or nearly the entire season, and the only exceptions were Hector Neris and Jose Alvarez. Plus, unfortunately, two season-ending losses were David Robertson and Seranthony Dominguez. Therefore, the faithful saw too much of Neris due to the injury bug.   


2019 Phillies in the MLB:





Runs Scored



Total Pitching

4.53 ERA


Starting Staff

4.64 ERA


Relief Pitching

4.38 ERA


In ‘20, Robertson and Dominguez each were rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. But before Robertson, now a free agent, had a setback in Allentown, Dominguez had difficulty getting a second opinion and surgery due to coronavirus-affected restrictions. 

Although Ranger Suarez had recovered from COVID-19, he then struggled during his two disastrous opportunities. Additionally, Victor Arano’s velocity decline like many other pitchers was down without the adrenaline rush athletes experience from paying customers.    

Alvarez had pitched almost three weeks before finishing the campaign on August 20 due to a testicular contusion from a 105.3-mph comebacker, and Adam Morgan missed almost four weeks. In the offseason, he had elbow surgery.                           

Since the vaccine and other virus-related measures are providing optimism for limited spectators, some owners are open to increasing their payroll AAV-wise (average annual value). In fact, the Phils are closing in on the $210 million CBT (competitive-balance threshold) with their recent signings.  

Though the red pinstripes are at $201.7 million AAV with $8.3 million AAV remaining, Kintzler and lefty Tony Watson each have a $3 million guarantee by making the squad and another $1 million in performance bonuses. So, that would leave $2.3 million AAV before $2 million for incentives.   

To illustrate, Kintzler had 12 saves with a 2.22 ERA last summer and will likely have similar chances in ‘21. But if he unfortunately has an injury, the virus or ineffectiveness due to being 36 years old, he’s on a minor league deal and doesn’t have a 40-man spot. Overall, though, he can double the Miami Marlins’ offer of $2 million. 

Watson has the same deal as Kintzler and accepted the Fightins’ proposal because he also can match the $3 million he had received in 2020. Moreover, he can increase his tally to $4 million like Kintzler.          

Despite the fear of cost-cutting or its posturing, the Phillies will probably be at $207.9 million AAV following their $208.5 million AAV for 2020 before 37 percent prorating. But if they are in the hunt at the trading deadline, they will acquire the pieces needed to contend for the stretch drive and exceed 2021’s $210 million CBT.


New Phillies:

Picking up Archie Bradley for the pen gives manager Joe Girardi another stud to close and handle critical late-game innings. Despite, though, a 1.4-mph drop on his average four-seam fastball, it didn’t affect his ability to retire opponents. Plus others had velocity drops without the adrenaline rush from rooting supporters.

Archie Bradley, 28.5:

  • 2019: 66 Gms., 71 ⅔ Inn., a 3.52 ERA, 18 Saves, 7 Holds and a 1.2 fWAR.
  • 2020: 16 Gms., 18 ⅓ Inn., a 2.95 ERA, 6 Saves, 2 Holds and a 0.6 fWAR.
  • 2020: Four-seam Fastball high of 96.4 mph and average of 94.4 mph.
  • 2020: Four-seam Fastball at 56.5%, Curveball at 22.5%, Sinker at 11.6% and Changeup at 9.4%.

Brandon Kintzler, 36.5: 

  • 2019: 62 Gms., 57 Inn., a 2.68 ERA, 17 Holds, 1 Save and a 0.8 fWAR.
  • 2020: 24 Gms., 24 ⅓ Inn., a 2.22 ERA, 1 Hold, 12 Saves and a -0.2 fWAR.
  • 2020: Sinker high of 93.9 mph and average of 91.7 mph.
  • 2020: Sinker at 71.4%, Changeup at 13.1% and Slider at 10%.  

Dropping 1.1 mph on his sinker for the same reason as Bradley, Kintzler, a finesse hurler, had no difficulty adjusting without Miami’s spectators. No joke! Plus he also gives Girardi another ninth-frame option, and last season the skipper had only Neris. Realistically, the Marlins loss is the Phillies gain.  

Tony Watson, 35.5: 

  • 2019: 60 Gms., 54 Inn., a 4.17 ERA, 25 Holds and a -0.2 fWAR.
  • 2020: 21 Gms., 18 Inn., a 2.50 ERA, 10 Holds, 2 Saves and a 0.0 fWAR.
  • 2020: Four-seam Fastball high of 92.3 mph and average of 90.1 mph.
  • 2020: Changeup at 48.2%, Four-seam Fastball at 30%, Slider at 10.7% and a Sinker at 7.9%.  

Southpaw Watson provides the club with another strong left-side option for setup duties. And even though his average four-seam fastball dropped by 3 mph, it is only a secondary pitch to complement his changeup. Moreover, his previous eight campaigns through 2018 went from a 1.63 ERA to a 3.95 rookie ERA.   

In 2019, Jose Alvarado had a family issue and two non-surgical injuries. Plus elbow inflammation in ‘20 had stopped him, but he returned for the playoffs: He’s healthy. Basically, moundsmen are in the bullpen because they have control problems, and Alvarado did in his last October outing against the Houston Astros.    

Jose Alvarado, 25.5: 

  • 2018: 70 Gms., 64 Inn., a 2.39 ERA, 8 Saves, 32 Holds, 80 SO, 33 BB (4 IBB) and a 2.1 fWAR.
  • 2018: Sinker high of 101.1 mph and average of 98 mph.
  • 2018: Sinker at 57.3%, Slider at 18.1%, Four-seam Fastball at 13.1% and Curveball at 11.9%.

Hector Rondon, almost 33: 

  • 2019: 62 Gms., 60 ⅔ Inn., a 3.71 ERA, 19 Holds and a -0.3 fWAR.
  • 2020: 24 Gms., 20 Inn., a 7.65 ERA, 7 Holds and a -0.4 fWAR.
  • 2020: Four-seam Fastball high of 98.1 mph and average of 95.8 mph.
  • 2020: Four-seam Fastball at 49%, Slider at 36.9%, Sinker at 10.3% and Changeup at 3.9%. 

Hector Rondon is another reliever who had a difficult 2020 and is a non-roster invitee. Excluding his rookie campaign, though, he has recorded a 1.67 ERA to a 3.71 ERA in five of six years through ‘19. But although he had an average velocity drop of 1.1 mph, his ‘20 was probably due to a disruptive summer.                         

With three late-inning arms, locals won’t see Neris carrying the pen by himself. Therefore, they'll have only a third of the high-leverage frames to be nervous about. And Phils fans will hopefully realize he was the best --and unfortunately the only-- option in 2019 and 2020. 

With David Hale, contradiction reigns supreme. Presently, some believe the red pinstripes already have better pitchers, while they want Spencer Howard on the starting staff. But who handles the innings when Howard struggles? If you think it’s a long man, you know Hale’s role.    

Phillies Hurlers:

  • Rotation, 7: Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Zach Eflin, Matt Moore, Chase Anderson, Vince Velasquez and Howard.
  • Bullpen, 6: Bradley, Neris, Kintzler, Watson, Alvarado and Hale.

Barring any rule changes and/or unforeseen events, the 26-man roster only allows 13 pitchers. And if one slot is available, it could be a spring-training battle. So, southpaws Suarez and Jojo Romero would have an edge because they’re portsiders. And the right-handers are Connor Brogdon, Sam Coonrod and Rondon.        

In 2020, Romero had a good start and disappointing finish, but Brogdon rebounded from his first three appearances with a dominant six outings during his second call-up. And flamethrower Coonrod had recorded a solid ‘19 for the San Francisco Giants as a rookie, but he was ineffective in ‘20.               

Depending on usage, Bradley and Neris will probably toe the rubble in high-leverage situations from the seventh through the ninth innings, and Kintzler will likely face less stressful opportunities. Role-wise, Hale will be a long reliever, while Watson and Alvarado will be the left-handed setup men.   

Baseball men expect hurlers to have four acceptable outings out of five, but 75 percent is the basic floor over a full 162. However, some fans believe a reliever’s job is only to succeed, and 90 percent isn’t good enough especially if the pitcher has two or three clunkers during the season. Did you notice the difference?  

When you evaluate the revamped bullpen, you will reach a conclusion. Basically, an optimist will believe the offseason moves are satisfactory, while a pessimist will think the Phillies have unfinished business. Which one are you?   



2021’s Rotation Strategy




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