The curious case of Phillies Reliever Brad Hand

MLB: JUN 11 Diamondbacks at Phillies
PHILADELPHIA, PA – JUNE 11: Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Brad Hand (52) pitches the ball during a regular season game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies on June 11, 2022, at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire)

For a span of 5 years, Brad Hand was heralded as one of the premier relievers in baseball. Between stops in San Diego and Cleveland, Hand compiled a 2.70 ERA with 104 saves. His 1.066 WHIP limited baserunners and his 12.2 K/9 shredded maple.

He made three straight All-Star games from 2017-2019. The last time he was considered elite was the COVID-shortened 2020. Hand was perfect in 16 save opportunities and posted a 2.07 ERA. He walked just 4 batters in 22 IP.

His 2021 season rotated between 3 teams: the Nationals, the Blue Jays, and the Mets. Up until his last 4 appearances for the Nats, Hand was excellent with 20 saves and a 2.54 ERA.

His last 4 games he had a 14.73 ERA. He was subsequently traded to the Jays where he never righted the ship. He had a 7.27 ERA North of the border. He was waived and claimed by the Mets. He rebounded in Flushing with a 2.70 ERA.

Hand in 2022 with the Phillies

In the offseason, the Phillies signed Brad Hand to a 1-year $6 million contract.

On the surface, the signing has seemed like a good one. He has a 2.21 ERA in 20.1 IP so far. He’s played a key role in the Phillies’ bullpen. He has 2 saves…but one memorable blown one.

Hand has earned runs on his ledger from just four of 28 appearances.

All 4 of those appearances have a common thread. Hand has been ineffective with runners on base and, most surprisingly, against lefties.

With the bases clean, Hand has been excellent. He has a .147 batting average against and hasn’t allowed an extra-base hit. With runners on, it’s a .282 BAA and a .783 OPS. With runners in scoring positon, it’s a .321 BAA and an .890 OPS.

Now to the lefty issue

For the first time as a reliever, Hand astoundingly has reverse splits. He’s been uber effective against righties and he’s struggled against lefties. Righties are hitting .167 against him with 0 extra-base hits. Lefties are hitting .290 with a .400 OBP.

The lefty issue has come from the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of Hand’s fastball. Fifty Percent of the time, Hand has used his 4-seam fastball or sinker against lefties. The 4-seamer is being put in play for a hit 30% of the time. The expected slugging % (XSLG) on his 4-seamer against lefties is an astounding .794. In reality, his slugging % against is .400, perhaps an effect of the deadened baseball.

Now to the sinker against lefties.

Left-handed opponents are hitting .500 with a .750 slugging %. It’s a pitch in a situation that has done nothing but hurt Hand.

Let’s look at some of Hand’s failures again with what we know now. Most recently in Washington, Hand came in with a 1-run lead in the 9th inning. His first opponent was lefty Juan Soto who leads the league in walks and that’s precisely what he did. The lefty led to men on, a precarious situation for Hand. The save was blown.

On May 4th, Hand entered the game in the 10th inning with the ghost runner on 2nd. He walks Mitch Garver and it’s the lefty Brad Miller who does the damage, leading to the Phillies loss.

Hand going forward

As his ERA shows, Hand can be a very effective pitcher. At the moment, there are certain situations where Hand should not be used.

The left hander can most certainly be a key to the Phillies bullpen, but facing lefties in big spots should not be where he’s featured. At the trade deadline, the Phillies will most certainly need a lefty specialist.

For now, Hand should only be used to start innings if possible. If he’s used correctly, Hand can still show glimmers of 2017-2020.

That’s up to Rob Thomson and JT Realmuto.

Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire