It would have been a surprise a month ago to hear the Phillies didn't get either lefty reliever they were pursuing, but the addition of top-notch right-hander David Robertson made it more palatable.
Robertson isn't just usable against lefties, he's fantastic. Since 2011, Robertson has held left-handed hitters to a batting average between .140 and .176 in six of eight seasons. He allowed just 17 home runs in 1,039 plate appearances vs. lefties over that span.
Lefties really struggle to hit Robertson's cutter and curveball, two pitches that break in toward them. He threw one of those two pitches to a lefty 97 percent of the time last season, with great success.
Not another Hunter
How many times in 2018 did we hear Gabe Kapler say that he liked how "Tommy Hunter's cutter profiled against a lefty?" That was a major reason why the Phillies gave Hunter his two-year, $18 million contract. Hunter was coming off a 2017 season in which he held lefties to a .170/.240/.261 batting line. That was just the clear outlier in his career, as lefties have hit .285 off him in Hunter's other 10 seasons in the majors.
Hunter allowed 16 extra-base hits to lefties in 2018 after allowing 18 total the previous three seasons.
Robertson is just on a completely different level, which makes it hard to believe he's making only $1.5 million more per year than Hunter.
Keep in mind also that the NL East has lost or will lose some tough left-handed hitters. Bryce Harper is probably leaving the division unless the Phillies sign him. The Nationals' payroll situation is so bloated now — and moving forward with deferrals — that it's still hard to envision that reunion.
Daniel Murphy is now in Colorado. Nick Markakis is a free agent.
It would leave Freddie Freeman and new Met Robinson Cano as the only left-handed hitters in the division to plan a game around. And the Phillies are hoping they've put together a bullpen that allows them to use only a starting pitcher, lefty specialist or high-quality righty (Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez, perhaps Pat Neshek) vs. those two.
The Mets, by the way, are heavy with left-handed hitters. Their top three hitters — Cano, Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo — all hit from the left side, which was another reason why the Wilson Ramos signing was so important for them.
The Phillies' actual lefties
Carrying eight relievers would leave the Phillies a four-man bench. We'll see them shift between a four- and five-man bench throughout the season, especially after extra-inning games or during stretches when the bullpen is taxed.
In terms of the opening day roster, the Phils right now have 11 main candidates for those eight jobs, barring a trade or injury.
Shoe-ins, if not traded or injured:
• David Robertson
• Seranthony Dominguez
• Pat Neshek
• Tommy Hunter
• Hector Neris
• Victor Arano
• James Pazos
• Jose Alvarez
• Adam Morgan
Others on the bubble:
• Edubray Ramos
• Juan Nicasio
• Jerad Eickhoff
You see why a trade of Neshek or Hunter is probably necessary. In a perfect world, the Phils shed Hunter's $9 million salary and replace him with the more effective Ramos, who makes about one-sixteenth as much money. But what team out there, during an offseason with many available relievers, is jumping at the chance to acquire Hunter, who has underperformed his contract? Neshek would be easier to trade, but he's so much better (when he can actually pitch).
Nicasio was terrible last season with the Mariners, but the Phillies assumed his nonsensical $9 million salary in the Jean Segura trade to make the money work better as they shipped out Carlos Santana. The Phils could still part ways with Nicasio and eat the sunk cost, in which case it would be the same as paying $9 million of Santana's salary in 2019. Getting Nicasio instead of simply eating some of Santana's money gave the Phils one more option in the bullpen. If Nicasio looks great in spring training, maybe he wins a job.
It will be interesting to see what happens with Eickhoff. The two likeliest scenarios seem to be long reliever in the majors or starter at Triple A to begin the year. That second option would make more sense from an overall roster standpoint as it would prepare Eickhoff for spot-start duty when the inevitable rotation injury occurs.
And then there are the three lefty specialists, two of which will probably be on the opening day roster. Spring training will play a role in that. If you're going by how these pitchers performed the last two seasons, Adam Morgan would be the odd man out.
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