Assuming the 2020 Major League Baseball regular season does start at some point, Joe Girardi has already stated that Hector Neris will begin the season as his closer. How comfortable do Phillies fans feel about that?
Well, there were times a few years ago when Neris would come into games and, more often than not, that splitter would dart and dive and batters would swing and miss and all was good and we all felt quite comfortable with Hector Neris as the closer. But that was in the past.
That version of Hector Neris appears to no longer exist. Sure, there are times when the splitter is still fooling hitters, making them sitting ducks. That is especially so when those opposing hitters were sitting at 1-2 and 0-2 in the count. But his inconsistency in throwing strikes during the past two seasons has driven us all mad.
Although Neris has a 12.8 K/9 rate, his walks come in at an alarming 3.3/9 rate. You cannot walk that many batters when coming in to close a game. You just cannot do it.
In addition, Neris has a .293 batted balls in play average. Again, as a closer you have to focus on getting guys out. That starts with throwing strikes, and Neris just didn’t do it enough last season.
His other numbers are also curious and not what you expect from a reliable closer: 3.48 ERA, 51 hits allowed in 64 IP, and here’s the kicker, 10 home runs allowed in those 64 innings pitched. None of that is close to being good enough to be considered as an elite closer. Planning to contend now and into the future, that is what the Phillies need. Especially so not that the hoped-for setup man, Seranthony Dominguez, will most likely not be available at all due to his elbow situation.
The other factor that must be taken into consideration in evaluating Neris would be the way that he was being tutored by Phillies pitching coach Chris Young last season. Did that philosophy of pitching have something to do with turning Neris into a mediocre closer? Possibly.
Will new pitching coach Bryan Price find a way to fully maximize the Neris arsenal of an above-average fastball and devastating splitter? If Price can unlock that talent, Hector Neris could become more consistent and turn out to be exactly what the Phillies need at the crucial back-end of the bullpen.