UPDATED: I transposed a number in the Brewers K/9. Convinced I have mild dyslexia when it comes to numbers. Brewers are last in NL at 5.62 K/9. Phils second-to-last at 6.20.
A pretty obvious truth has emerged over the first couple weeks of this season, and you have to expect that that the Phillies will acknowledge it at some point in the near future.
Every team needs a Kyle Kendrick, or a David Herndon or a Danys Baez, a guy to eat up low-leverage innings during blowouts or after rain delays, a guy who is expected to throw strikes and let his defense do the work.
But a team does not need three of those guys, and, right now, that is what the Phillies have.
All of what you are about to read comes attached with the usual caveats: it's early, the sample size is small, yadda, yadda, yadda.
But the numbers are disconcerting, especially when you consider the track records of some of the players in question.
1) Phillies relievers are averaging just 6.2 strikeouts-per-nine innings, an abysmal rate for a position whose specializiation is supposed to include throwing hard and making people miss. The only NL team with a lower K/9 ratio is the Brewers, who check in at 5.62. Where do some of the other contenders rank? Atlanta is third at 9.0 K/9, CIncinnati is fourth at 8.84 K/9, and San Francisco is seventh at 8.27.
2) Phillies relievers have the worst strikeout-to-walk ratio in the NL at 1.35. The two main jobs of a reliever: get people out and don't put people on.
3) What does all of that mean in real-life terms? Take the seventh inning last night, Charlie Manuel removed Roy Halladay from a 4-0 game with two men on and two out. Out in the bullpen, Manuel's top two swing-and-miss options were set-up man Ryan Madson and closer Jose Contreras, both of whom had pitched heavily over the previous few days. The third option would have been lefty Antonio Bastardo, but the Brewers had a right-handed power hitter at the plate in Casey McGehee. Aside from Madson and Contreras, here were Manuel's options, along with their strikeout rates over the last five seasons: Danys Baez (5.0 K/9), David Herndon (4.7 K/9) and Kyle Kendrick (4.0 K/9). The Phillies simply do not have a right-handed swing-and-miss pitcher for the middle innings. So Manuel went with Herndon, hoping for an inning ground ball. Instead, he got a three-run home run that effectively ended any chance of a Phillies comeback (although you could argue that chance had ended once the line-up stepped onto the field).
4) One of the marks of a good reliever is his ability to clean up other peoples' messes. Last night, Herndon allowed both of the runners he inherited to score. On the season, Phillies relievers have allowed 8 of 18 inherited runners to score. That's a 56 percent success rate, the worst mark in the National League. Remove Bastardo, who has stranded five of seven inherited runners, from the equation and the rest of the Phillies bullpen has allowed 6 of 13 baserunners to score.
5) As we noted earlier, Herndon, Kendrick and Baez have all posted middling strikeout numbers over their last five seasons (or, in Herndon's case, his last one-plus). As of today, all three are on pace to make at least 40 relief appearances.
Since 2000, only one major league team has finished a season with three relievers with at least 40 appearances and a strikeout rate of less than 5.1 K/9. That was the 2006 Orioles, who featured LaTroy Hawkins, Sendy Rleal and Todd Williams.
Last season, in the entire major leagues, there were only 19 relievers who logged at least 30 innings with a strikeout rate of less than 5.1-per-nine. Nobody in the National League had more than one of those players.
6) More real-life application: The Phillies lost the NLCS last season for two reasons: they could not hit, and they gave away a lead in a pivotal Game 4 in San Francisco. One of the reasons they could not hit was the performance of the Giants bullpen, which featured a number of strikeout pitchers. Brian Wilson (11.2 K/9), Sergio Romo (10.2 K/9), Santiago Casilla (9.1 K/9), Denny Bautista (11.8 K/9), Dan Runzler (10.2 K/9).
When the Phillies went to the World Series in 2009, they had Brad Lidge (9.4), Chan Ho Park (7.9), Ryan Madson (9.1) and Chad Durbin (8.0), all guys who could miss bats in crucial situations. In 2008, you could add J.C. Romero (7.9 K/9) and Scott Eyre (11.3) to that bunch.
The Phillies made something of a curious decision in promoting Mike Zagurski to take the roster spot vacated by J.C. Romero's trip to the DL. Zagurski has pitched well since the start of spring training, and he has big league experience, and he does give the team a second lefty. But the Phils are finishing off a series against the Brewers, a team that features one prominent left-handed hitter in Prince Fielder, and then are headed to San Diego to face a Padres offense that is devoid of talent on that side of the plate (With apologies to Brad Hawpe and Will Venable).
Righthander Mike Stutes, meanwhile, pitched another scoreless 1 1/3 inning last night, striking out a batter and allowing no base-runners. He showed his mettle in big league spring training, he has a tremendous mound presence, he has struck out 12 batters in eight innings at Triple-A this season and he is 24 years old. Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard were both 24 when they made their debuts for the Red Sox. David Robertson was 24 when he averaged 13 strikeouts-per-nine for the Yankees in 2009. In fact, that Yankees bullpen also featured 23-year-old Phil Hughes, who struck out 10 batters-per-nine in 51 appearances.
When you have invested close to $170 million in payroll, you should always have one eye on the playoffs, because just getting there is not enough. Losing in the first round or even the NLCS will be considered a failure. And as the Phillies saw last season, big arms in the front of the bullpen can play a critical role. Nobody knows if a guy like Stutes will be able to fill such a role. But it's early in a season, and the Phillies have a great starting rotation providing a solid safety net -- wouldn't now be a good time to throw kids like Antonio Bastardo and Mike Stutes into the fire to see if they can surprise people and give you some weapons that you sorely need? Adam Wainwright was 24 when he helped pitch the Cardinals to the World Series in 2006. Bobby Jenks was 24 when he did the same for the White Sox in 2005.
Stutes might not be on their level. But you never know until you give a guy a chance. And the earlier in the season you give it to him, the more time you have to look for other options if he fails.
We won't get into all the other stuff right now. Like how the $5 million the Phillies are paying Kendrick and Baez is about six times what the Indians are paying Chad Durbin this season. Or that $5 million could go a long way toward securing a bat at the trade deadline. Baez and Kendrick's salaries are guaranteed. Kendrick and Herndon have options and can be sent to the minors without being exposed to waivers. Somehow, the Phillies need to find a way to get a right-handed arm with strikeout potential in front of Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras.
I'll also throw Vance Worley's name out there, since I've been throwing it out there since the start of spring training, and since he logged his third straight quality start last night, striking out six and walking none in six innings. I think he projects better as a reliever than Kendrick does. More swing-and-miss potential.
But that's just my $.02. Feel free to throw it in a fountain.