Anchored by an elite closer in Jonathan Papelbon, the Phillies’ 2012 ‘pen will include an even spread of rising young talent, dependable swing men and dynamic former starters.
Beerleaguer: Credit consistency in the bullpen as one of the main reasons for the Phillies’ sustained success since 2008, with Brad Lidge’s disastrous 2009 as the only real hiccup. In Papelbon, one of the game’s elite stoppers, the Phils have added the ninth inning to the load-bearing support system that also includes the front side of the rotation. And why not? If you’re going to do it, do it right. The Phils can’t bang out crooked numbers like they used to, so holding leads and pitching big innings is everything.
The Phils have relied on creativity and a keen eye for talent to take care of the rest. Last season marked a real triumph for the club’s development staff, including breakout seasons from former starters Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes, representing the best home-grown relievers to emerge since Ryan Madson. The Phils have become quite gifted in spotting relief talent early. In fact, bullpen depth can now be considered the organization’s deepest area. Phillippe Aumont has the system's best two-pitch combination, a plus-plus fastball and curve, according to Baseball America, and is now seen as a potential big league closer. Justin DeFratus has been compared to Brad Lidge because of his fastball-slider and is considered a set-up man in the making. Others, like Michael Schwimer and Joe Savery, bear watching. David Herndon, a Rule 5 guy, already has 92 big league innings under his belt and a passing grade-point average (105 ERA+).
The Phils are hoping to make Dontrelle Willis their latest failed-starter reclamation project the way they extended Jose Contreras’ career and Chan Ho Park the year before that. It’s become a better strategy for the Phils than signing free agent middle men, like Danys Baez. And as longmen go, Kyle Kendrick, who showed dramatic improvement against left-handed hitters, might have been the game's most useful and balanced swing man (3.22 ERA total, 3.14 ERA as starter, .731 OPS against, 3.41 ERA as reliever, .734 OPS against).