By Connor Thomas
As we draw closer to Thursday and the Opening Day of the 2021 MLB season, the Phillies’ 26 man roster is getting closer and closer to taking full shape. While there is still some shaking out to do for the position players, it appears that the pitching rotation and bullpen staff are all but set for the start of the season. The starting rotation has their work cut out for them, but not as much as the bullpen, who will attempt to bounce back from one of the worst seasons in the history of baseball. I previously wrote about the bullpen acquisitions from this offseason and why I do believe that they will be a significantly improved unit, but the names that have been penciled in as part of the 8 man opening day pen have one troubling trend. See if you can pick it out:
Archie Bradley – Right Handed Pitcher
Hector Neris – Right Handed Pitcher
Connor Brogdon – Right Handed Pitcher
Sam Coonrod – Right Handed Pitcher
David Hale – Right Handed Pitcher
Vince Velasquez – Right Handed Pitcher
Brandon Kintzler – Right Handed Pitcher
Jose Alvarado – Lefty
That’s right, the Phillies are entering the 2021 MLB season with only one left-handed reliever. I like each of the individual pitchers; there is both more promise and more proven presence in this year’s group when compared to the historically bad 2020 pen. The issue is that the unit as a whole only has one fireman who is able to gain the touted lefty on lefty advantage in the later innings. It’s not a sure thing that this will be an issue, but it’s a dangerous game to play for a bullpen that was snake bitten last year. It becomes increasingly more dangerous when you look at the bevy of strong left handed batters that make their home in the NL East. Just take a look:
Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies (S), Francisco Lindor (S), Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, Juan Soto, Josh Bell (S), Kyle Schwarber
Each team besides the Miami Marlins, who have the Phillies’ number anyway, have multiple lefties in their lineup that should make any manager nervous. With only one left handed bullpen member to counter those strong bats, Philadelphia is setting themselves up for trouble if Jose Alvarado – the lone lefty – doesn’t end up working out as planned. And for all of his velocity that he’s brought this spring, he did have a 6.00 ERA in a short season last year. To be fair, I could understand this strategy if you were heavy on left handed starting pitchers and were attempting to balance out the rotation with an opposite-armed bullpen. But the Phillies only have one left handed starting pitcher as well, that being newcomer Matt Moore.
It just seems strange that the often coveted southpaw has seemingly become an afterthought when it comes to this year’s 13 Major League arms. I decided to see if this is something that is actually more common than it seems across the MLB. To make some long research short, it isn’t. In the 2020 season, there was not a single bullpen in the majors that finished the season with only 1 left handed reliever having been used. There were a pair of teams that only used 2 lefties out of the pen: the New York Mets and Colorado Rockies. Both of those teams joined the Phillies in the bottom 3rd of the league in team ERA. This does not bode well for the strategy that Joe Girardi and company are seemingly employing heading into this season. Now I’m sure that the Phillies will have multiple left handed call ups throughout the season that will even out the splits in the bullpen. They’re going to have to. Because they are playing with fire in the bullpen construction once again, and the team can ill afford to be burned as bad as they were by their relievers last year.