Poll: The Phillies’ Closer

Posted: April 10, 2017 in Uncategorized
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After Jeanmar Gomez suffered his second blown save of the season, the Phillies are already considering a change in the ninth inning, manager Pete Mackanin told reporters last night. To those who haven’t followed the situation closely, it may seem like a short leash for a player that save 37 games last season. But Gomez’s troubles date back considerably further than 2017 Opening Day; Gomez posted a dreadful 8.33 ERA following the All-Star break last season — including an even more unsightly 22 earned runs in his final 15 innings. Even when he was pitching effectively prior to that, the now-29-year-old Gomez’s 5.6 K/9 rate and 91.5 mph fastball weren’t the typical numbers one would expect from a high-leverage reliever.

Of course, it should be noted that in spite of those numbers, Gomez was a plenty serviceable ninth-inning option for the rebuilding Phillies in the first half last year. In 41 2/3 innings, he pitched to a 2.59 ERA, walked just 2.2 hitters per nine innings and logged a strong 53.1 percent ground-ball rate. And from 2013-15, Gomez posted a very nice 3.19 ERA in 217 1/3 innings in 143 appearances for the Phillies (including eight starts). Clearly, there’s a track record of success here, but the recent results are understandably concerning for the Phils.

If the Phillies do make a change, there are three reasonable alternatives already in the bullpen: right-handers Joaquin Benoit, Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos.

The 39-year-old Benoit has some experience pitching in the ninth, having collected 38 saves since the 2013 season began. Benoit has turned in six sub-3.00 ERA seasons in the past seven years while averaging an even 10 strikeouts per nine innings pitched in that time. Utilizing Benoit in the ninth inning would keep both Neris and Ramos from accruing saves early in their career as well, which could help to keep down their arbitration price tags. While it’s unlikely that that would be the sole factor in deciding to go with the most experienced option of the bunch, it could be perceived as an ancillary benefit for Phils decision-makers. Benoit is signed to a one-year deal, so the Phillies could use him in the ninth while a younger option gains a bit more experience, then look to trade Benoit this summer.

Neris might be the most logical option of the bunch, given his excellence in each of the past two seasons while serving in a late-inning role under Mackanin. The 27-year-old Neris has tallied 125 big league innings in his career to date, logging a collective 2.88 ERA with 10.7 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and a 40.6 percent ground-ball rate. His 11.4 K/9 rate and average 94.1 mph fastball from 2016 were both career-bests, and last year’s 16.3 percent swinging-strike rate checked in at a solid 33rd out of 180 qualified relievers (h/t: Fangraphs). Neris has yet to even reach two years of big league service time, so if he steps into the ninth inning successfully, he could theoretically be locking down games for the Phillies through 2021.

Ramos, too, could be a long-term option for the Phils, though he comes with far and away the least experience of the bunch. The 24-year-old has just 43 2/3 innings of Major League work under his belt to date, during which he’s logged a 3.50 ERA with a 44-to-12 K/BB ratio. Ramos, who has averaged 95.1 mph on his heater in his young career, was even more dominant in the minors last season, recording a 1.16 ERA with a 41-to-4 K/BB ratio in 38 2/3 frames between Double-A and Triple-A. He’s controllable through the 2022 campaign, so like Neris, he could be viewed as a long-term closing option for the rebuilding Phillies, even if he admittedly seems like a long shot at present.

Even if nothing transpires today, a move seems very possible in the near future, barring a very quick turnaround from Gomez. All of that said, I’ll turn it over to everyone to weigh in (link to poll for Trade Rumors mobile app users)…

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