How Dave Dombrowski Will Structure the Bullpen

Dave Dombrowski
Photo: Arturo Pardavilla III/Wikimedia Commons/Fair Use

The Phillies bullpen will always be a polarizing topic and for good reason. Corey Knebel and Jeurys Familia helped blow a two-run lead on Sunday against the Dodgers. 

There’s also the infamous Thursday night where James Norwood was a disaster against the Mets leading to a clearly not-ready Knebel, eventually blowing a six-run ninth-inning lead.  

However, there are a couple of clear themes the bullpen is going to have under President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski’s watch and not all of them are bad. 

Here are three important themes we can identify about how the Dombrowski is going to structure the bullpen. 

Velocity is Everything

Dombrowski has made it very clear through his actions that he loves power pitching. Even if he will trade for Ian Kennedy and sign Brad Hand every once in a while, most of his acquisitions have been to acquire power pitching. 

In December of 2020, Dombrowski traded for José Alvarado, one of the hardest-throwing lefties in the sport. 

To begin 2021 he acquires Sam Coonrod, another upper 90s arm. This off-season he added Jeurys Familia, Nick Nelson, and James Norwood who all throw more than 95 miles per hour. 

Phillies as an entire pen rank fourth in fastball velocity, only behind known power pitching teams like the Yankees, White Sox, and Royals. 

While they have sprinkled in a few guys with less velocity, Dombrowski wants to give his bullpen as much upside as possible. 

Since they haven’t shown a willingness to pay big money for a top closer, they will have to try and mold one themselves. Acquiring pitchers with velocity and hoping they mold into strike throwers isn’t a bad strategy at all. 

If none of the names I mentioned work out, he and the front office is probably going to try and find more high-velocity replacements.

All or Nothing

The phrase “All or Nothing” generally has one meaning. For the Phillies, it means reliever innings will go great or as poorly as possible. 

We can name all of the bad but there are some great moments too. On May 11 against the Mariners, the Phillies had mostly a bullpen game after Bailey Falter gave them a nice start. The bullpen came in and allowed only one earned run across four and a third innings. 

Some of the statistics can back this up as they rank sixth in baseball in strikeouts per nine at 9.89. They also rank second-worst in walks per nine at 4.70, only behind the Cincinnati Reds. 

A boom or bust strategy with the bullpen may not be bad. While the defense has been better than expected, the expectations were rock bottom. 

They rank fifth-worst in Outs Above Average and third-worst in Defensive Runs Saved. Even if you want to just stick to the eye test, they are starting Alec Bohm and Rhys Hoskins in the infield along with Nick Castellanos in the outfield. 

You probably want to strike guys out to limit any chance of the defense messing up like Kyle Schwarber did last night. 

Time will tell if this will work since they haven’t really been able to get a dominant reliever through this strategy but it has also given them some chances to win. 

Eventually, you would think one or more of these projects will work out. Sam Coonrod wasn’t great in 2021 but did improve from his time in San Francisco to have a 4.04 ERA and a 3.71 FIP. 

This season we have seen Nick Nelson take a leap with a 3.44 ERA and the lowest walk rate of his major league career. 

Again this might not work for everyone they acquire, Alvarado might be shown the door at the end of the season but there are going to be some hits with the misses. 

Take a lot of Shots on 1-year deals

It is pretty clear Dombrowski doesn’t want to commit long-term money to the bullpen, at least right now. 

At the deadline in 2021, he acquired Ian Kennedy in the final year of his contract and has stayed away from any multi-year commitments in free agency. Dombrowski even let Héctor Neris walk when he got a two-year deal from the Astros

Maybe that will change in a few years but right now Dombrowski is showing he doesn’t want to commit to relievers.

It may not be a bad thing entirely since the Phillies have made mistakes with relievers in free agency. 

In 2019 former General Manager Matt Klentak signed David Robertson to a two-year contract, only to make seven appearances for them. 

This could take them out of the running for a true closer but it allows them to structure the bullpen however they want. 

If Familia doesn’t work out for them, he can be released or just not brought back after the season. It gives the Phillies plenty of flexibility going forward.

Overall, it may take a lot of time for the Phillies to build a good bullpen but there are some interesting signs of things to come. Are all of these decisions the correct ones? Tough to say but at least there is a plan in place for how the bullpen will be structured.

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