Jose Contreras completed back-to-back appearances for Class A Clearwater Thursday and Friday and could be activated soon, says Paul Hagen of MLB.com. Contreras, 40, threw in five games posting an 8.31 ERA striking out 7. Those numbers, no doubt, are a bit misleading. In his Thursday outing outing, Contreras ran into some trouble, giving up 3 hits while striking out 2 in a Clearwater loss. On Friday, Contreras threw a 1-2-3 inning with one K. Contreras was reportedly in Philadelphia as of this morning and speculation of his activation has ran rampant all day. Ryan Lawrence is reporting that Contreras will travel with the team on their West Coast swing and should be activated at some point today.
With a crowded bullpen, who stays and who goes? My answer may differ from who the Phils actually select.
Who Should Be Safe
Despite striking out both batters he faced, Antonio Bastardo has struggled to hit his spots and has lost a tiny bit of velocity on his pitches. His outing yesterday against the Mets was better, but until the Phillies are absolutely sure Bastardo is good to go, Joe Savery should be safe. Bastardo has actually contributed negatively (-.11) to the Phillies Win Probability Average this year although that stat is tough to use with relievers and only 4 appearances into the season. Savery’s WPA is -.03 for 2012. Both Bastardo and Savery have been placed in relatively low leverage situations which have kept those numbers close to league average (0). Savery’s only blip was allowing a HR to righty Omar Infante on Monday; if Savery is used right, as a lefty specialist, he could be a nice weapon out of the ‘pen. In my opinion, Bastardo, obviously, and Savery, possibly surprisingly, should be safe.
Who Shouldn’t Be Safe
There is something to be said about actually watching the games. Despite his successes, yesterday withstanding, the eye test shows that Mike Stutes isn’t the same pitcher that he was that wowed Phils fans upon his call-up last April. He may not even be the same pitcher that hit the wall in August. It took Stutes 30 pitches yesterday to fight through the Mets line-up yesterday in the 9th. Velocity isn’t Stutes’s problem: FanGraphs lists Stutes with around a 1.5 MPH gain on his FB and a .6 MPH gain on his slider. So what gives? Last year, Stutes threw 60.3% of his pitches for strikes. This year? 56.4%. It’s still early and it is too soon to tell but Stutes threw 59% strikes in his first 20 games last year and 59% from September 1 on last year. If the number creeps toward 50%, Stutes could become a liability with walks.
I’ll be honest, a lot of those numbers are based on very small sample sizes, and usually 3% this early into the season isn’t something to be particularly worried about unless the pitcher entering the season was a question mark for the DL (check), threw a career high in innings as a reliever at any level last year (check), and ran into some, albeit minor, dead arm issues last year (check). Sending Stutes to Triple-A to get his form and arm strength may be the optimal move for the Phils.
Who Probably Is Headed to Allentown
Despite his tremendous effort yesterday, David Herndon is probably the odd man out in the Phillies’ eyes. Herndon’s WPA is -0.35 but has been used in cumulatively higher leverage situations than Chad Qualls, Stutes, and Kyle Kendrick. Herndon is throwing 60% of his pitches for strikes and is getting 50% of his batters to hit ground balls. Herndon had a hiccup against Andrew McCutchen but he should not have been in there in the first place; that was Jonathan Papelbon‘s batter to face. The Herndog actually had the lowest ERA on the team among eligible relievers after his call-up last year (1.94 ERA in 46.1 IP) and seems to have improved his command of his already fantastic sinker.
With that said, I fully anticipate for the Phillies to send David Herndon down to make room for Contreras despite being slightly more effective than Stutes and showing the ability to get ground ball outs with his plus sinker. Your thoughts?