Phillies Mailbag: Hamels, Velasquez, and the Closer’s Role
We are back once again with the 97.3 ESPN Phillies mailbag. Each week we take your questions and answer them on the air on the Sports Bash with Mike Gill. Catch us each Tuesday afternoon to listen to the response to your question!
Thoughts on if the Phils should be looking into a reunion with Cole Hamels sooner rather than later for an experienced veteran arm, and more importantly a clubhouse leader who knows what it takes to win in Philly?
This is a question that comes up frequently. Cole Hamels is a Phillies hero, remains unsigned after last season, and it was an ongoing dream that Hamels will return to Phillies pinstripes before he retires. But don't get your hopes up.
Hamels spent 2020 battling a shoulder injury.
In traditional Spring Training, we learned Hamels was injured and would miss the start of the season with the Atlanta Braves, with whom he signed a one-year, $18 million contract for 2020. Then came Summer Camp, and Hamels was dealing with shoulder tendinitis.
Hamels made one forgettable, 3 1/3 inning start for the Braves. Then he returned to the injured list with more left shoulder issues.
So we might gather from Amaro's comments that Hamels is still not recovered from this shoulder injury. If the Phillies are looking for stability, that might be it.
Our friend Paul Bowman chimed in with a similar question, but added the names Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello, both of whom remain unsigned. The Phillies went to see Sanchez throw a couple of weeks ago, so it looks like the Phillies are considering all possibilities. It just does not sound like Hamels would be able to give them anything they can count on.
Is Vince Velasquez the redemption hero Philadelphians are starved for?
The Phillies turned to Vince Velasquez after the pitchers they hoped would replace him were unable to. So far Velasquez has been better than expected. Velasquez has given the Phillies four starts in a row, pitching 4 innings, 4 1/3, 6 innings and 5 1/3 innings, in that order.
Velasquez has allowed 2 earned runs, 3\ earned runs, 1 and 1, respectively in those starts. That's helpful at the back end, for now.
I would not call him a "redemption hero", however. Chances are the Phillies will do their best to try to do better than Velasquez. I think we know who Velasquez is at this point, and having him come in and pitch as he has is a boost to a team that hit near-desperation.
But I think they'll try to acquire a more reliable starter as time goes on. Dave Dombrowski seemed to prioritize depth. And between Spencer Howard not being ready to claim a rotation spot and Matt Moore hitting the COVID list and struggling, they're already out of depth.
Hector Neris. Would they be better served with Jose Alvarado or Sam Coonrod or Archie Bradley as a closer? Or, do the stats say Neris and our eyes deceive us?
I think that the backup plan to Hector Neris was Archie Bradley. Bradley looked good out of the gate and promptly got injured. Hopefully he can help the Phillies bullpen soon. And, the Phillies did turn to Jose Alvarado and Sam Coonrod for back-to-back saves recently. But I think Neris is the best option for right now.
Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer made a good point today. Neris has converted a good number of his saves since becoming closer in 2017:
But for all of the leadoff singles and two-out walks, Neris has converted 81.7% of his save chances since 2017, a rate that’s in line with Josh Hader (82.1%) and Mark Melancon (81.4%).
One other thing to consider, too: Neris has been healthy.
The only Injured list stint of his career came prior to the 2020 season when it is believed he was dealing with COVID protocols of one sort of another. So he was not really "injured". And he's been the most steady arm they've had.
Even if Neris wasn't closer, he would have to pitch high-leverage innings in other innings. Moving Alvarado to closer takes away your one dominant bullpen lefty.
Meanwhile, Coonrod's track record in a very limited capacity isn't good serving as closer; his last two appearances in 2020 were blown saves that may have been the difference in the Giants making the playoffs playoffs. Coonrod has been one of the more reliable relievers for the Phillies, but he is not an established entity just yet.
Connor Brogdon could be an option someday, but for now has had his hiccups.
So at the end of the day, it's reasonable to think that Neris will continue to save games at that 81.7% clip. That's about one blown save a month. Like it or not, that's not among the worst. It's not Mariano Rivera, but he will do for now.