Despite a lack of depth at certain positions, including the starting rotation, closer Jonathan Papelbon does not think the bullpen will be a weakness. In fact, Papelbon not only thinks the bullpen will be a strength of the team but he believes the bullpen will be one of the top bullpens in Major League Baseball.
Papelbon told CSN Philly he would "be surprised if [they’re] not a top five bullpen in all of baseball. There’s way too much talent here. All we were waiting on was the experience and now these guys have it."
You might scoff at Papelbon at first but he is correct that the Phillies have put together some talent in their pen. They pose two big-time lefties with Jake Diekman and Antonio Bastardo. Diekman, 27, went 1-4 with a 2.58 ERA, 41 strikeouts and a 1.30 WHIP in 38.1 innings last season while hitting the upper-90s consistently on the radar gun. Diekman was locked-in in the second half of the season with a 1.64 ERA and 26 strikeouts after August 1st.
The 28-year-old Bastardo pitched well last season for the Phillies going 3-2 with a 2.32 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP in 48 relief appearances before having his season shutdown in early August due to a 50-game suspension for his link to Biogenesis and performance-enhancing drugs.
Papelbon reportedly taught B.J. Rosenberg how to throw a splitter which he can add to his repertoire. Rosenberg, 28, was 2-0 with a 4.58 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP with nine walks in 19.2 innings of work in 2013. He will need to improve his command to make the splitter effective.
All of this is all well and good but if Papelbon struggles this season, the Phillies bullpen is going to falter in a major way. The 33-year-old closer went 5-1 last season with a 2.92 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP with 29 saves marking the first time in his Major League career he was unable to post 30 or more saves in a season. What is more alarming is the lack of velocity on Papelbon's fastball as it hovered at 92 mph last season after consistently landing in the 94-95 mph in the years prior. It explains the dip in strikeouts from 92 in 70.0 innings in 2012 to 57 in 61.2 innings in 2013.
Papelbon dealt with hip issues last season which might explain the dip in velocity.
At the end of the day, if the bullpen stays healthy, Papelbon's prediction might not be too far off.
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