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April 24, 2023

Is the Phillies' bullpen finally improving?

Winning definitely cures everything, and the Phillies are a game away from being back at .500 after a putrid start to the season.

But even winning three-of-four against the Rockies can't sweep under the rug the issue that has plagued them for the last four seasons. They can't get good pitching out of the bullpen on a consistent (and winning) basis.

Against Colorado, the pen was solid and posted two saves in the three wins. They did not allow a run in the final three games of the series (9.2 innings in total) which is extremely impressive for this set of pitchers which has been god awful in most of Philly's games prior.

Has this unit finally turned a corner?

In addition, the pen provided a season highlight in Chicago last week when they retired 12 consecutive batters in a win. But that has been the exception not the rule so far. 

After making it all the way to the World Series last fall, the front office overhauled the bullpen, turning over more than half of the relief pitchers on the major league roster. It hasn't done too much to improve things in the early going. Some of their numbers are just plain frustrating — and these below stats include the three scoreless games from last weekend:

CategoryStatMLB Rank
Inherited runners scoring59%30th
Outs recorded per app3.027th
Bullpen ERA5.2726th
Walks issued4429th
Batting average against.26125th

Through 23 games the Phillies have had 80 relief appearances — third most in baseball. It's resulted in 80.1 innings pitched — 17th in baseball. There have been so many bad instances that they have one of the fewest outs recorded per reliever in the league.

They also have one of the worst strikeout-to-walk ratios and WHIP in MLB. They actually do not allow many home runs — but they allow a ton of baserunners and it's hard to win ballgames that way.

They also just don't retire hitters as much as other pens do. The unit as a whole has churned through 12 different relievers, including Josh Harrison who is an infielder who has pitched twice.

The rule of large numbers and the proven track record of hurlers like Craig Kimbrel, Gregory Soto and even homegrown Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado suggests this could be a blip. So does the recent trend. But there is also a chance that the Phillies just have a cursed bullpen that will never be a good unit again.

The last few seasons:

SeasonBullpen ERARank

We checked — the last time the Phillies bullpen had an ERA under 4.00 was 2015. And the last time it was in the top 10 was back in 2011, when it was 8th in ERA and the team was setting franchise records in wins. They also had four aces that regular season, which tends to help, of course.

Phillies relief pitchers are painfully unreliable and have been for a decade. Perhaps they've reached the other side finally?

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