Bullpen Banter: Phillies Closer Battle: Andrew Bailey, David Hernandez Or A Sleeper?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

For a rebuilding team it made sense to see the Phillies jettison closer Ken Giles for a king’s ransom in the offseason. The question now facing them, though, is who can actually rise up and seize the role? There was a clear leader, assuming he’s healthy, but that doesn’t necessarily make him the best option or the solution for all of 2016 (or even the front runner at this point). Let’s take a look at all of the options, including a dark horse candidate:

David Hernandez
The initial odds on favorite to open the season with the job has been limited with a triceps injury this spring, but there’s no reason for alarm at this point. While his 4.28 ERA over 33.2 IP in ’15, after missing all of ’14, is unimpressive the underlying numbers bring hope:

  • 19.1% line drive rate
  • 8.82 K/9 (10.2% SwStr%)
  • 2.94 BB/9

The biggest issue was home runs, with a 1.60 HR/9. While it wasn’t good on the road (1.20), getting out of Arizona could help (1.93). We also have to remember that it wasn’t long ago that he was viewed as one of the better setup men in the league (2.50 ERA, 12.91 K/9 in ’12) and the upside is there.

Ernesto Frieri
Just look at the numbers he’s put together over the past two years:

  • 2014 (41.2 IP) – 7.34 ERA
  • 2015 (23.1 IP) – 4.63 ERA

His strikeouts plummeted last season, with a 7.33 K/9, as he started throwing his fastball less (54.0%) and his velocity dropped significantly (94.4 mph in ’13 to 91.4 mph in ’15). Throw in consistent issues with his control (4.16 BB/9 for his career) and home runs (1.28 HR/9 for his career) and it’s impossible to think that the job will be his.

Luis Garcia
He’s an interesting candidate in that he showed in ’15 that he can generate strikeouts (8.51 K/9) and a ton of groundballs (63.0%) over 66.2 IP in the Majors. The problem was awful control, with a 5.00 BB/9. He was better in the first half, though that doesn’t say much:

  • First Half – 4.43
  • Second Half – 5.88

He was also better than that coming up through the minors, with a 3.6 mark overall and a 3.1 over 57.2 IP at Triple-A. That gives a bit of hope that he can figure it out and while he doesn’t have the same type of peripherals, the groundball rate and 12.1% SwStr% brings thoughts of Zach Britton.

If he can cut the walks down into the 3.5 range he will be a successful option and he will ascend to the role before long. It’s definitely worth watching.

Andrew Bailey
Are we really going back down this road? Sure he was a very good closer from 2009-2011, but he’s thrown 52.2 IP in the Majors over the past four seasons and hasn’t been impressive at that (6.23 K/9, 5.19 BB/9 over 8.2 IP for the Yankees in ’15). Sure he looked better than that in the minors, but at this point it’s impossible to expect the team to get anything from him.  That said he is having a strong spring, making him impossible to ignore.  He needs to be on radars at this point, but if given the opportunity he likely won’t last long.

Edward Mujica
He brings pinpoint control, but lacks strikeout stuff (5.70 K/9 in ’15, 6.96 for his career) and had home run issues (including a 1.90 HR/9 in ’15). If he gets a shot at closing you know how desperate the team has become.

Deep Sleeper – Hector Neris
Over 40.1 IP with the Phillies he showed strikeouts (9.15 K/9) and control (2.23 BB/9), though a 1.79 HR/9 is obviously a significant concern. You have to love the strikeout upside (14.1% SwStr%), but if he can’t keep the ball in the ballpark he isn’t going to succeed. He’s worth monitoring, thanks to having better control than Garcia and the other lackluster options the team has, but there’s also significant risk.

Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Reference

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