Zac Curtis Optioned To AAA: Phillies lack lefty depth in bullpen

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On May 10, the Phillies announced that the team had optioned left handed reliever Zac Curtis to AAA Lehigh Valley. In a concurrent roster move, the team recalled Jake Thompson to the Majoe League roster.

Curtis made four appearances during this short stint with the big league club, one that lasted just ten days. The lefty was unscathed through his first three appearances, tossing 3.1 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits while striking out three. But the consistency issue reared its ugly head with Curtis, who struggled with command. Curtis walked three over two innings of work against the Washington Nationals on May 4, one against the San Francisco Giants in just 0.1 inning of work, and another three against the Giants two days later over two innings. Over the former two outings, Curtis was able to tight rope his way out of danger without surrendering a run despite the three walks. He wasn’t so fortunate in his final appearance Wednesday night, as the three walks he surrendered led to two earned runs. While the Phillies held a commanding 11-1 lead when Curtis entered the ballgame, the two runs he allowed were enough to lose his spot in the bullpen in favor of Jake Thompson.

The demotion makes sense from a performance standpoint. The Phillies can little afford to have a liability in the bullpen who is going to put runners on for free. But what doesn’t make a ton of sense is the timing of it. For a manager like Gabe Kapler, who follows analytics to the letter, doesn’t it seem odd that the Phillies would go without a lefty in their bullpen? Hoby Milner was sent to AAA after his horrendous start to the 2018 campaign. He pitched in ten games, throwing just 4.2 innings, allowing four runs. That comes out to a 7.71 ERA, which, quite bluntly, is not going to get it done. To put his horrendous start into perspective, Milner allowed seven runs over 31.1 innings last season. The demotion was certainly justifiable.

But where does it leave the Phillies bullpen late in games, as Milner and Curtis have yet to pan out in 2018? Who does Gabe Kapler hand the ball to when a left handed hitter comes to the plate with Adam Morgan remaining on the disabled list with a back strain? Well, being the stats connoisseur, or nerd, depending on how you view it, that I am, I dug into the bullpen stats strictly against left handed hitters this season. And with a bullpen full of right handed pitchers, the name that I’ve come up with is Edubray Ramos.

In 17 outings, Ramos has faved 19 left handed hitters. He’s allowed just four hits, one of which was an extra base hit, and struckout eight. He’s walked two hitters, which has led to an opposing on base percentage of .286, a very respectable number for a reliever facing an opposite handed hitter.

But what makes Ramos the ideal candidate is the percentage of swing throughs he is generating. Ramos has thrown 93 pitches to left handed hitters this season. Of those 93 pitches, 74 have either been sliders or fastballs. With that in mind, we’ll focus primarily on those two pitches. 41 of those pitches have been sliders, of which, Ramos has generated an astounding 17 percent whiff percentage. While the small sample size leads to seven swing throughs, which doesn’t sound as amazing as the percentage indicates, the inflation of those numbers across a 162 game schedule would indicate Ramos has garnered an innate ability to bury his slider off the shins of left handed hitters. While the slider won’t run away from a lefty as it would a righty, Ramos has seemingly figured out how to throw the pitch so that it topples off the table as it enters the strikezone. Hitters are connecting with the slider just 2.44 percent of the time, which, when taken in context of the 41 pitches, comes out to just one pitch put in play.

Now, let’s take a look at his fastball. Ramos has thrown 33 fastballs to left handed hitters. He’s not had the burying ability with the fastball as he has with the slider, but that plays more into the nature of the pitch than Ramos’ abilities. Ramos has induced swinging strikes on just 6 percent of those pitches, but he has generated “out” contact on a much higher percentage of his fastballs. Of the balls put in play off Ramos’ fastball, which is 21 percent of his fastballs thrown, just three percent, or exactly one pitch, have gone for extra bases, a recent homerun surrendered to a pinch hitting Pablo Sandoval on May 8.

With no left handed pitcher immediately available in the bullpen, I’d turn to Edubray Ramos to battle against left handed hitters late in ballgames. When Adam Morgan returns to the bullpen, a move that will likely return Seranthony Dominguez back to AAA, Edubray Ramos should get the first chance to attack left handed hitters.

 

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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