Philadelphia Phillies: Can the bullpen be fixed?

Following the 2011 season the Philadelphia Phillies looked to be set at the bullpen.  Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes both had breakout years and the team brought in Johnathan Papelbon, making him the highest paid reliever in history.  That was not the case though as the bullpen has been one of the biggest holes on the team the last two years.  Whether it is Chad Qualls or Chad Durbin, nobody that the team brings in seems to work.  In 2012 the bullpen was ranked 21st in the league, and then dropped to 27th in the league last season.  If  the team hopes to get back into contention, the bullpen cannot rank in the bottom half of the league as it has the past two years.

Papelbon's first two years with the team could not be more different.  (Drew Hallowell/Getty Images North America)

Papelbon’s first two years with the team could not be more different. (Drew Hallowell/Getty Images North America)

It all starts at the back of the bullpen with Papelbon.  It does not matter how good the rest of a team’s bullpen is if they do not have someone who can close out games.  Following 2013 there are quite a few issues with Papelbon, but most importantly he had one of his worst seasons statistically.  He finished 2013 with the lowest total of saves and strikeouts of his closing career, a year after having a career high in strikeouts.  He also had the second highest blown saves of his career as well as giving up the second most earned runs in his career.  His time in Philadelphia may be coming to an end soon as the team attempted to trade him this past offseason.  Still, Papelbon offers stability at the very least.

The last few years the setup man has been Antonio Bastardo, who had a stellar 2011 season.  At one point he pitched a 17-inning scoreless streak, which lowered his ERA to 0.78 at the time.  He finished the season with a 6-1 record and a 2.64 ERA.  However, he regressed in the 2012 season, often failing to hold the lead.  Bastardo finished the season with a 2-5 record and a 4.33 ERA, appearing in just as many games as he did in his 2011 season.  He seemed to begin to turn things around last season, but his season was cut short in August by a 50 game suspension for being part of the Biogenesis basebal scandal.  At the time of his suspension, Bastardo was 3-2 with a 2.32 ERA, but the numbers are questionable considering the reason for Bastardo’s suspension.  It could be assumed that Bastardo will not get the chance to be the setup man again once his suspension ends, but depending on how much the Phillies are in need, he could find himself there again.

Adams 2013 season was cut short by injury, and he may not return to form.  (Hunter Martin/Getty Images North America)

Adams 2013 season was cut short by injury, and he may not return to form. (Hunter Martin/Getty Images North America)

Mike Adams was brought in last season to help stabilize the bullpen.  Before coming to the Phillies, Adams was one of the top setup men in the league, but he was recovering from a procedure to treat Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.  However, there was some doubt as to whether or not he could recover and pitch the way he could before due to the rare condition that affected him.  Adams first year with the team did not last long, as he only appeared in 28 games before being sidelined with right bicep tendinitis.  His final stats for the season were a 1-4 record with a 3.96 ERA.  If he can return healthy for the 2014 season and pitch the way he did before coming to Philadelphia, then the bullpen begins to look more concrete.  However, fans should not hold their breath for Adams to once again be one of the league’s best.

Jake Diekman offers hope for a bullpen fix.

Jake Diekman offers hope for a bullpen fix.

The team had to rely some of its younger arms to help carry the bullpen, in particular Justin De Fratus and Jake Diekman.  De Fratus appeared in 58 games for the Phils, second only to Papelbon.  He finished the season with a 3.86 ERA and 42 strikeouts.  De Fratus at the very least offers a steady bullpen arm, and could pitch in the sixth or seventh inning.  Meanwhile, Diekman provided some hope for the future of the bullpen with his 2013 performance.  Although his 1-4 record does not look too good, Diekman had a 2.58 ERA and held opponents to a .234 average.  The lefty could develop into a key left-handed specialist for a bullpen in need of one.

Other young arms in the system, such as Phillippe Aumont and Etan Martin will get the opportunities to make the team as bullpen arms.  Miguel González may find himself in the bullpen as well if he loses the competition for a spot in the starting rotation.