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A closer look at Phillies reliever Tommy Hunter’s season so far | Extra Innings

In 25 appearances this season, Tommy Hunter has a 4.79 ERA, hardly what the Phillies expected when they signed him to a two-year, $18 million contract.

Phillies pitcher Tommy Hunter wipes his face after giving up two runs to the Milwaukee Brewers in the ninth-inning on Saturday, June 9, 2018 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Phillies pitcher Tommy Hunter wipes his face after giving up two runs to the Milwaukee Brewers in the ninth-inning on Saturday, June 9, 2018 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff PhotographerRead moreYong Kim/Staff Photographer

Another game, another bullpen drama. This time, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler took a conventional approach to deploying his relievers. He used setup man Tommy Hunter in the seventh inning and saved relief ace Seranthony Dominguez for the ninth. But both pitchers blew up anyway Tuesday night in a 7-6 loss to the Cardinals. The bullpen has a 6.17 ERA in June with 10 games coming up against the Nationals and Yankees. Cover your eyes in the late innings, Phillies fans.

But that wasn't the worst news for the Phillies. J.P. Crawford fractured his left wrist when he got hit by a 94-mph fastball and will miss the next 4-6 weeks. So much for the Phillies getting an extended look at their longtime top prospect on the left side of the infield. Instead, third baseman Maikel Franco will get another chance to prove he can be part of the mix going forward.

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Hunting for perspective on Tommy Hunter

Last week, during a conversation about his philosophy for how best to use a bullpen, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler digressed to praise the performance of veteran reliever Tommy Hunter.

"Nobody's going to look at Tommy Hunter and say, 'Wow, he's having such a great year,'" Kapler said. "He's actually having a better year than he had last year. Look at his underlying numbers — his strikeout numbers, his walk numbers, his FIP [fielding-independent pitching], his xFIP. The ERA might not be better, but those other numbers are better."

Klentak's timing was unfortunate. A few hours later, Hunter faced five batters and gave up three hits and four runs in the seventh inning against the Cardinals, turning a 4-2 lead into a 6-4 deficit.

In 25 appearances this season, Hunter has a 4.79 ERA, hardly what the Phillies expected when they signed him to a two-year, $18 million contract. But Kapler and Klentak believe a deeper dive is required for an accurate picture. Let's take that plunge.

Start with Hunter's strikeout and walk rates. Last season, when he achieved a career-best 2.61 ERA in 61 games for the Rays, Hunter recorded 9.8 strikeouts and 2.1 walks per nine innings. This year: 9.1 strikeouts and 1.3 walks per nine innings.

Kapler also cited Hunter's FIP, a statistic that isolates the outcomes that are solely within a pitcher's control (home runs, walks, hit by pitches, strikeouts). In some instances, a pitcher's FIP is consistent with his ERA. Other times, not so much. Last year, Hunter had a 3.07 FIP and a 2.61 ERA, an indication that he benefited greatly from his defense. His FIP entering Tuesday night was 2.34, considerably better than his ERA and 12th-best among NL relievers.

Of course, none of that changes the fact that Hunter has allowed 26 hits in only 20 2/3 innings, or that he has put at least one runner on base in 16 of his 25 appearances. Last season, he gave up fewer hits (43) than innings pitched (58 2/3) and posted far more clean innings.

It would seem the Phillies need more of that from Hunter, regardless of how kind the advanced metrics appear.

The rundown

Woe is Gabe Kapler. Even when he deploys the Phillies' relievers in conventional roles, it doesn't seem to work out. Tommy Hunter and Seranthony Dominguez were the latest to falter.

J.P. Crawford had a .425 on-base percentage over his last 13 games. The Phillies wanted to see more of that. Tough time for Crawford to break his hand.

T-minus six weeks before the trade deadline. Phillies GM Matt Klentak is on the clock. He explains why the next two weeks will inform how aggressively he pursues upgrades to the roster.

In our daily minor league roundup, pitching prospect Adonis Medina had a big night for high-A Clearwater, while double-A Reading swept a doubleheader.

Important dates

Today: Jake Arrieta vs. Michael Wacha in Phillies-Cardinals finale, 1:05 p.m.
No game; Phillies Phestival to benefit ALS research, 4-6 p.m.
Phillies open a three-game series at Washington, 7:05 p.m.
Aaron Nola Day. The ace is slated to face the Nationals, 4:05 p.m.
Phillies make their return to ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, 8:05 p.m.

Stat of the day

The four fastest pitches in baseball so far this season were thrown by the same pitcher to the same hitter within one at-bat.


Not quite, said Cardinals rookie reliever Jordan Hicks, who smiled this week at the recollection of that showdown with Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera. It happened in the ninth inning May 20 in St. Louis. Hicks unleashed four consecutive sinkers that lit up the Busch Stadium radar gun with readings of 104.2, 105, 104.3 and 105.1 mph. Herrera actually fouled off the last two pitches before swinging through a 103.7 mph sinker to end his 45-game on-base streak.

But the streak didn't have much to do with Hicks' need for speed against Herrera.

"It just happened to be [against] the guy that takes the longest to get in the box. It's kind of annoying," Hicks said. "I just brought it. I don't know. Adrenaline or something."

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.

Question: Right now, my biggest concern is the catching. [Jorge] Alfaro's rocket arm aside, he is not a sound defensive catcher. Nor is [Andrew] Knapp. How is it possible that both catchers have such woeful fundamentals? Do you think the team will look to add a veteran catcher before the trade deadline? — Martin T., e-mail

Answer: Thanks, Martin, for the question and for reading. Catching fundamentals has been a point of emphasis for the Phillies. Last winter, they hired reputed catching coach Craig Driver to focus on pitch framing and gave additional responsibilities to bullpen catcher Bob Stumpo. The fact remains, though, that the Phillies have two young big-league catchers, so there is some element of on-the-job training happening here. I have spoken with more than a few scouts from other teams who believe that Knapp would benefit from playing every day in triple-A. Perhaps that's the case. But with needs in other areas of the roster (the middle of the order, the bullpen, etc.), I doubt that finding a veteran catcher will top GM Matt Klentak's pre-July 31 to-do list.