Phillies Should Not Anoint Hector Neris Closer…Yet
The Jeanmar Gomez of 2017 so far is not close to the Jeanmar Gomez of 2016. In Gomez's three appearances over three innings he has allowed five earned runs. The struggles have led Phillies manager Pete Mackanin to consider removing fGomez from the closer's role. The eighth inning role currently belongs to reliever Hector Neris. But putting Neris into the closer's role now might not be the best plan...yet.
First, it's important to acknowledge Neris has been a very effective reliever for the Phillies since joining the bullpen permanently at the start of the 2016 season. The most impressive stat about the 2016 season Neris put together is that he struck out 11.4 batters per nine innings. With the high strikeout rate and a mid- to upper 90s fastball, Neris has the tools one has come to expect in a closer.
Neris allowed 6.6 walks per nine innings and 3.4 walks per nine innings, leading to a WHIP of 1.108. The number is impressive; it shows that Neris does not allow too many base runners, also good for a closer.
However, the Phillies probably are not ready to make any long-term decisions on the closer position.
The worst thing that could happen to Neris would be to have the Phillies elevate Neris prematurely and he fail. While Neris has shown he is an effective reliever, history shows that not all relievers have had an appropriate temperament for the ninth inning. Neris has fared well in a couple save opportunities thus far, but it is a very small sample size.
The Phillies are spending 2017 trying to figure out their future. If Neris has time to grow behind a veteran such as Joaquin Benoit, the Phillies might feel more comfortable that they have a long-term solution. Benoit could take the role until he is traded or leaves the Phillies at year's end, and the Phillies will have a larger sample size than just 2016.
If Neris were given the job and he struggled, the 2017 would not be one in which they find solutions; instead the Phillies might feel more uncertain about the future than ever before.
There are other potential closer candidates on the Phillies. If Vince Velasquez shows he cannot be efficient with his pitches (and he did not help his cause with his start on Friday), he could find himself at the back end of the bullpen with his electric arm. Edubray Ramos also has some tools a closer might have, not to mention Alberto Tirado who may quickly rise through the Phillies system.
Should Neris get the closer's job and lose it to Velasquez or Tirado, would that do more harm than it helps for 2017?
Further, there may be higher salary demands in arbitration for a closer. If Neris is only marginal, the arbitration process might demand a much higher salary than an eighth-inning reliever. The Phillies could be stuck with a higher salary, deserved or not.
So while the Phillies would be very justified in replacing Gomez, whose control seems to be lost, putting Neris into that position would appear to give the impression that he is the long-term solution at the position. While Neris is very talented and very well may be the long-term solution, that is a decision that could be made later. Benoit would do just fine for now.