Whichever general manager the Phillies end up hiring this offseason has plenty to work with, but also has plenty to work on. At or near the top of that to-do list is improving the bullpen, one that was among the worst in major league history.
As the front office scans possibilities to rebuild the relievers, one central theme should be on every mind and every tongue:
Heat. Velocity. Gas.
It’s a simple equation. Faster pitches give hitters less time to locate, identify, and square up a baseball.
Major League Baseball is a game of trends, and as it goes forward, more and more teams offer a parade of bullpen arms that bring serious velocity.
While the 2020 Phillies bullpen seriously lacked players who could get batters out consistently, it also lacked arms that delivered high-end velocity. They had one pitcher – rookie JoJo Romero – whose fastball averaged better than 95 mph, according to MLB Statcast.
Looking at the eight MLB teams that advanced to the Division Series round of the 2020 postseason, six of them have multiple relievers that throw 95 mph or harder. Four of them – the Rays, Yankees, Dodgers and Padres – each have four relievers who top 95 on the radar gun.
Free agency will certainly be an option. But a look to the minor leagues could offer some help 2021 and beyond. Two mid-season callups, Romero and Connor Brogdon, showed flashes and brought high 90s on a regular basis.
Three more youngsters could be on the way next spring. Lefthander Damon Jones is 26, regularly hits 96 mph with his fastball, and averaged 12.0 K/9 IP at three levels as a starter in 2019. 24-year-old Mauricio Llovera has hit 97 on the gun, could be in the mix next season as well; and there's lefty Cristopher Sanchez, an acquisition from the Rays in late 2019, who stands 6-5 and can get to 98 mph with his fastball.
However they add arms to their disgraceful bullpen, from within or without, speed is what they need to succeed.