Think Philadelphia Phillies Bullpen Will Ruin Postseason? Think Again

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Think Philadelphia Phillies Bullpen Will Ruin Postseason? Think Again
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Let’s face it, we’ve all had those moments during the 2010 Phillies season.

Charlie Manuel casually strolls to the mound, head down, and then signals to the bullpen to send some relief for his reliever.

As we watch another bullpen arm head for the dugout, we reiterate that nobody in the Phillies front office listened to our concerns about relief pitching at the trade deadline and beyond.

The most recent of those “Do they still make Rolaids?“ moments came during Tuesday’s night’s debacle against the Dodgers. The Phillies were in the midst of one of those drubbings that happen only a few times each major league season (or more than a few if you’re the Pirates, Royals, or Orioles).

On that night, nothing positive was delivered by any Phillie who toed the rubber, and consequently nothing positive came from the reactions of people who follow the team and plan on watching baseball around Halloween.

Wednesday’s sports radio and message board discussions repeatedly pointed out that the 2.5 Million Dollar Man (Danys Baez) and Mr. Rule 5 (David Herndon) are awful. This assessment usually transitioned to the one in which everyone identified J.C. Romero as a complete disaster, Ryan Madson as maddeningly inconsistent, and Brad Lidge as washed up.

Not many of the above evaluations would land anyone an analyst’s job with the MLB Network. Just about everyone’s belief is that the Phillies’ offense will get healthy in time to overtake the Braves. Their starting pitching will make the Phillies a threat in any postseason series. Then, if their bullpen appears in the playoffs as presently constructed, it will be the team’s undoing.

To be sure, the Phillies bullpen is not very good as playoff contenders go. They are currently ranked tenth in the National League and are the worst of all of the NL playoff contenders (and the second worst of all MLB playoff contenders, ahead of only the Angels).

What everyone fails to acknowledge is that the Phillies 2010 pitching situation may be just as good if not better than that of the 2009 Phillies who came within two wins of a World Series title.

Let’s start with those who start.

Everyone agrees that this year’s starting rotation is better than last year’s, but just how much better is it? Before we get to the statistics, just consider that this year’s playoff starts will be handled almost exclusively by Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and the 2010 version of Cole Hamels. Last year’s rotation was headlined by Cliff Lee, the 2009 version of Cole Hamels, and a three headed monster of Pedro Martinez, J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton.

So, essentially the Phillies have gone from a 2009 rotation that went one-deep to one that goes three-deep with elite starters.

A deeper look at those starting rotations reveals a few main themes.

First, in the 2009 playoffs, Phillies starters not named Cliff Lee averaged only 5 innings pitched during their ten starts. Next, Cole Hamels was particularly awful in the 2009 postseason. He started four games, averaged 4.2 innings per start, and posted an ERA of 7.58. Lastly, Cliff Lee was clearly as dominant a starter as a team could wish for in the playoffs. He averaged 8.0 innings pitched during his five playoff starts, with a ridiculous ERA of 1.56.

In summary, due to the short outings of their starters during the 2009 playoffs, the Phillies bullpen was responsible for an average of four full innings per game in the ten games not started by Cliff Lee. However, even with a struggling Brad Lidge, an inconsistent Ryan Madson, and only two reliable left-handers in J.C. Romero and Scott Eyre (Antonio Bastardo made minimal contributions), the Phillies came within two wins of a second straight World Series title. .

If the Phillies make a deep postseason run again this year, it is quite possible that only two or three playoff games will be started by a pitcher other than Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt or Cole Hamels. Based on their regular season numbers, this Phillies big three are averaging just under seven full innings per start.

Therefore, if the Phillies get the performance they are paying for from their big-name starters, they could realistically be looking for just about two innings per night from their bullpen, as opposed to the four innings they were sweating out during many of last year‘s playoff games.

The reality is that a set of only five or six relievers will be counted on to get six or seven outs to secure playoff wins. The right-handed options will include Chad Durbin, Jose Contreras, Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge. The more nerveracking at-bats will be contested by lefties J.C. Romero and Antonio Bastardo, unless the team acquires another arm via a waiver deal. That leaves Joe Blanton or Kyle Kendrick for long relief, similar to the roles assumed by Blanton and Happ last season.

Now, clearly this analysis is oversimplifying what it takes to get six outs at the end of a major league baseball playoff game. However, it provides a little perspective to the panic we have all been having over some of the bad relief appearances we have seen from the 2010 Phillies.

So, despite the contempt that exists for Baez and Herndon, the Phillies will make us tolerate them for another regular season. The team’s financial situation will prevent them from paying Baez to pitch somewhere else and also from paying someone else far more than David Herndon to pitch here.

The consolation is that neither Baez nor Herndon will find themselves on the roster for any the team’s postseason series.

The Phillies still have question marks surrounding their closer and left-handed relieving corps. However, they have a group of starters that is light years ahead of last year’s, which will make the relievers responsible for fewer outs than either the 2008 or 2009 bullpens .

Take a deep breath, Phillies fans.

Welcome back Victorino, then Howard, then Utley.

Then, let this team make the bullpen look good.

 

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