Jonathan Papelbon announced, "If we're not the top bullpen in Major League Baseball, we'll definitely be the top in the National League." Uhhh...what? The Phillies 3.94 bullpen ERA last season ranked 10th in the NL and without Papelbon that ERA balloons to 4.24. But what else would you expect from a guy with an alter ego named Cinco Ocho?
Pappy might have gone a little too far here, but it seemed reasonable entering this season to expect a solid Phillies bullpen. Amaro added possibly the best setup man in the league in Mike Adams in front of one of the best closers in Papelbon, to go along with a veteran like Durbin and a bunch of quality young arms. In theory the Phillies' relievers could be a strength of the ball club.
Nothing like a combined 15.42 ERA from Durbin, Horst, and Valdes to alter your expectations.
But what has really changed with the bullpen?
One obvious change is the eighth inning. The Phillies 4.89 ERA in the eighth inning last year ranked second worst in all of baseball and they blew 13 eighth inning leads. Ruben replaced that with Adams' career 2.28 ERA, 1.056 WHIP, 6.9 H/9, 2.6 BB/9, and 9.0 SO/9. In his last four seasons before last, the 34-year-old posted ERA's of 2.48, 0.73, 1.76, and 1.47 with an average of 59 appearances per season which came almost exclusively in the eighth inning.
But what about the innings leading up to the eighth?
I, for one, was disillusioned by their 2.34 ERA in September and October last season and a stockpile of good young arms. Aumont, Diekman, Stutes, and De Fratus have a chance to be great pitchers. Unfortunately, only one of those names (Aumont) is even on the roster. Horst and Valdes, although serviceable, don't exact fit the mold of quality young arms.
The bullpen as it is currently assembled is surrounded by a cloud of uncertainty. It is a cast of characters with plenty of concerns.
Jeremy Horst has only 49 innings of Major League experience and throws in the upper eighties without the benefit of a nasty secondary pitch.
Raul Valdes ranges in the mid-80's and has a career 4.44 ERA. Valdes might be acceptable as a long man, but certainly not if he will be utilized in big situations.
Chad Durbin was decent in his first tenure with the Phillies and had a 3.10 ERA last year with Atlanta, but he is 36-years-old and has a 4.35 ERA after 2008.
Antonio Bastardo has great career strikeout numbers (11.5 K/9), but a high walk rate (4.2 BB/9), and finished with a 4.33 ERA last season.
Phillippe Aumont belongs on this roster and has big arm potential, but his command (5.7 BB/9 in the majors and 5.0 BB/9 in the minors) must improve for him to be effective.
A couple bad outings do not make a season, but we have every right to be concerned at this point. The Phillies may have solved their eighth inning problem, but I wonder if that problem has just moved up a couple innings. The Phillies have already blown one sixth inning lead and Mike Adams has yet to pitch with a lead.
Maybe the better focus surrounds the bullpen arms at Lehigh Valley. Can Stutes or De Fratus steal Valdes' job? Can Diekman steal Horst's job? Until then, I'm not so sure Papelbon had this roster in mind when he called this the best bullpen in baseball.
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