The bullpen has become the most sought-after area for contending teams to upgrade. With increased reliance on the bullpen, the tiered playoff system and specialization, no team can expect to make the playoffs without a deep bullpen. The cost of these arms has grown exponentially in recent years, and while teams are seeking big names to dominate in the late innings and would prefer to get long-term control, especially with the asking prices as hefty as they are, there is still a place for the specialists who are on short-term contracts.
One who will almost assuredly be traded in the next two weeks is Philadelphia Phillies reliever Pat Neshek.
The side-arming veteran with a motion that is a combination softball pitcher and bocce enthusiast is a two-time All-Star and one of the few bright spots on a dreadful Phillies team. A free agent at season’s end, he is heavily in demand by multiple contenders.
However, there could be a perception of disparity between his brilliant surface numbers and his peripherals that might worry some prospective suitors. His ERA is 1.27, but his FIP is precisely one full run higher; his xFIP is 3.50. His ERA+ is right up there with the best relievers in baseball. His BAbip is .284.
So, which numbers to judge?
The problem with there being so many different methods to assess production is that whatever is being sought can be found. In other words, if you’re looking for a reason why the person is undateable, you’ll find it. What this does, though, is eliminate otherwise viable acquisitions for reasons other than the price tag and realistic concerns.
With Neshek, it goes beyond the numbers. It must also be pointed out that the Phillies are the worst team in baseball. Their defense is mediocre at best, and they play their home games in a hitter-friendly park.
So, should Neshek be analyzed on his advanced numbers, or are those numbers a product of overthinking?
The numbers he has accrued could be categorized differently and hinge on whether a team is looking for reasons to steer clear of him or give up what it will take to get him. Neshek is a pitcher the Phillies have no alternative but to trade, and anything they can do to raise the price will benefit them. They’re not making a qualifying offer, and he’s not going to be back in 2018. Although he’ll be 37 years old, a good team will give him a decent two-year contract.
This is a case in which the acquiring team could say that Neshek is not as good as his basic numbers and they don’t want to pay the asking price. But his ancillary numbers have been consistently good for his whole career, even if they’re not on a level of a superstar reliever – something no one has ever claimed he is.
The apparent concern over this split is that it will eventually self-correct and his numbers will fall into the more pedestrian category. No one wants to overpay for someone who is not as good as advertised. The problem with this is comparing a situational reliever like Neshek with a true star reliever.
In fact, the separation between Neshek’s ERA, FIP and xFIP is precariously close to the same separation for Kenley Jansen. Should Jansen be diminished, too? Craig Kimbrel’s numbers show that his FIP is lower than his ERA and his xFIP is nearly equal.
No one would do that because Neshek is not a star closer, as Kimbrel and Jansen are. The price for him will not be what a team with relievers such as Jansen or Kimbrel would ask. It won’t be what the Yankees got for Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller one year ago, and should not be calculated in that way.
Barring an extra-inning epic or unusual circumstance, the World Series winner will not have Neshek on the mound for the final out, and he should not be viewed through that prism. Even with that, he could be a key piece to a team getting to that World Series for what he does: display a funky motion that hitters are not accustomed to, keep the ball in the park and throw strikes.
If teams are looking for reasons to avoid him, they can easily point to cherrypicked numbers. Or, they can use them to try to get the price down. Teams can also accept what he’s been his entire career and trade for him because he’s been a consistently good arm out of the pen.
The combination of the Phillies needing to trade Neshek and the number of teams who will still value a worst-case scenario performance from him in the context of those advanced stats will spark a trade. His numbers – basic, advanced or whatever – will not change that.
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