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The Phillies could have a difficult time fixing their bullpen | Extra Innings

The sooner the Phillies replace general manager Matt Klentak, the faster they can consider solutions to their bullpen problem.

Phillies managing partner John Middleton needs a new general manager and an improved bullpen.
Phillies managing partner John Middleton needs a new general manager and an improved bullpen.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

And so the search for the Phillies’ next general manager is on. Or maybe it’s on hold. Phillies managing partner John Middleton left the issue hanging during his Saturday news conference that accompanied the announcement that Matt Klentak has “stepped down” as GM. Ned Rice was installed as the interim GM, and the Phillies have chosen to remain silent since Saturday.

“We don’t really have a firm timetable” for hiring the next GM, Middleton said. “I think one of the things that’s really going to potentially play havoc with this offseason is COVID. Right now, our offices aren’t even open. So if you had somebody new today, they can’t go into the office to work. They can’t meet people. They can’t work with people. It’s hard. Holding Zoom meetings only goes so far, particularly when you’re establishing relationships.”

COVID-19 should not be an excuse moving forward. The sooner Middleton gets a new team of decision makers in place, the better.

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How difficult is it to fix a bullpen?

It’s not at all an exaggeration to say that if the Phillies' horrible 2020 bullpen had simply been as mediocre as the Phillies' 2019 bullpen, they would have been one of the 16 teams in the postseason. They probably wouldn’t have made a long playoff run, but their starting pitching was good enough — the the rotation’s 4.08 ERA ranked 10th in baseball and sixth in the National League — and their offense was more than good enough — the Phillies' 5.1 runs per game ranked fifth in baseball and fourth in the NL — that they at least would have been a dangerous team.

But when you have a bullpen as bad as the Phillies had, it negates everything else.

Several things about the Phillies' bullpen have already been well documented. The 7.06 ERA was the worst in baseball and the worst since the 1930 Phillies checked out of the season with a 7.69 ERA. In fairness to the 1930 club, nobody knew about FIP — fielding independent pitching — back then and the bullpen’s FIP that year was only 5.42, which ranked ninth among baseball’s 16 teams. The 2020 Phillies had a 5.56 FIP, tied for third worst in baseball.

The Phillies' bullpen ERA had the highest jump in baseball from 2019 to 2020, rising to 7.06 from 4.38. The team also fell from 16th to 30th in bullpen ERA.

Only three other teams in baseball — Boston, Seattle and Colorado — were more than a run worse in 2020 than they had been in 2019. The Red Sox bullpen ERA rose from 4.40 to 5.79, the Mariners rose from 4.77 to 5.92, and the Rockies rose from 5.18 to 6.77.

Anyway, what’s done is done and it now needs to be undone.

How difficult will it be to fix the bullpen? Perhaps more than you think.

Six of the top 10 teams in ERA in 2019 were also among the top 10 in 2020, and seven of the teams in the bottom 10 in 2019 were also among the bottom 10 in 2020.

Only two of the four new teams in the top 10 this season made sizable improvements from 2019. Atlanta climbed from 11th to fourth, improving from 4.21 to 3.50, and the Chicago White Sox moved from 14th to seventh, improving from 4.33 to 3.76. The two teams that made huge jumps were Kansas City and Baltimore. The Royals went from 27th in 2019 with a 5.07 ERA to eighth this season at 3.84. Baltimore went from the worst bullpen in baseball last season with a 5.79 ERA to ninth this season with a 3.90 ERA.

So maybe there is hope.

With David Robertson’s contract coming off the books, the Phillies should have some money to spend on at least one veteran arm, but Bryce Harper’s suggestion that the bullpen needs to be built from within the organization is not a bad one.

The rundown

Columnist David Murphy has a long list of reasons that the Phillies' problems go well beyond Klentak. He believes the solution could come by hiring someone with ties to the Dodgers, Rays or Cubs.

Hindsight is 20-20, and knowing now that the Phillies might not be able to retain the services of catcher J.T. Realmuto, Middleton says it might not have been wise to trade stud pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez to the Miami Marlins.

Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins did not waste any time getting surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow, and it’s possible he will be back for opening day in 2021.

Middleton replaced Klentak on an interim basis with 37-year-old Rice. Matt Breen explains why that’s like keeping Klentak in place.

Scott Lauber has a list of candidates to take over as the Phillies' next general manager.

Former Phillies assistant general manager and scouting director Mike Arbuckle believes Cherry Hill native J.J. Picollo, currently an assistant GM in Kansas City, should be a strong candidate for the Phillies' GM job.

And, finally, give the Extra Innings podcast a listen. Breen, Lauber and Bob Brookover discuss the Klentak decision and what lies ahead for the Phillies this offseason.

Important dates

Today: The two division series in each league continue.

Sunday: Game 1 of American League championship series.

Monday: Game 1 of the National League championship series.

Oct. 20: Game 1 of the World Series in Arlington, Texas.

April 1, 2021: No fooling. Season opener vs. Atlanta at Citizens Bank Park.

Stat of the day

On this date in 1915, the Phillies beat the Boston Red Sox, 3-1, for their first World Series victory in franchise history. Future Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander earned the win by holding Boston to one run on eight hits. He also got a 20-year-old rookie by the name of Babe Ruth to ground out as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning. That was the first of 167 World Series plate appearances for Ruth.

The Phillies went on to lose the final four games of the series to the Red Sox, all by one run, and would have to wait 35 years for their next World Series appearance — a four-game sweep by the New York Yankees — and 65 years for another World Series win, which came in Game 1 of the 1980 World Series when they beat the Kansas City Royals, 7-6.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.

Answer: That’s a great question, SwamiLee, because the outfield is an area the Phillies must address this offseason. Harper, as you say, is in place for the long haul, and we should be able to all agree that’s a good thing. Andrew McCutchen is also going to be back because he is in the last year of his contract at a hefty $20 million. He had respectable offensive numbers, but the ACL surgery on his left knee clearly hindered his ability to play left field and 16 of his 52 starts came as a designated hitter, which was the most by anybody on the team.

FanGraphs WAR for the Phillies in left field was -0.7, which was tied with Miami for the second worst in baseball. Only Texas was worse. More conventional stats were much kinder. The Phillies' left fielders finished 17th in batting average (.238), 23rd in on-base percentage (.308), 20th in OPS (.712), 10th in home runs (16), and sixth in RBIs (64).

Roman Quinn (28 starts), Adam Haseley (19) and Scott Kingery (9) shared center-field duties, and the Phillies, according to FanGraphs, had a 0.0 WAR at the position, which ranked 24th in baseball. If you like more conventional stats, you’re going to dislike the Phillies' center-field situation even more. Their center fielders finished 17th in batting average (.237), 22nd in on-base percentage (.294), 26th in OPS (.619), tied for last in RBIs (20), and last in home runs (2).

Exactly what the Phillies do to address the outfield situation will depend on whether they can retain their two biggest free agents: Realmuto and Didi Gregorius. Those two played a huge role in the Phillies' finishing fifth in baseball in runs per game, and if they lose one or both, they could end up filling the offensive holes with outfielders.

The premier center fielder who could be on the market is Houston’s George Springer, but he’s going to be expensive. It should be fascinating to see how the Phillies address their outfield and designated-hitter situations.