Arguments for and against Phillies' top 4 closer candidates

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Our March to Opening Day series continues today with a look at the Phillies’ options in the ninth inning.

Joe Girardi has said this spring that he wants to officially name a closer, as opposed to the last several seasons of Phillies baseball when Hector Neris has been the main guy in the ninth inning without being formally handed the title.

They have at least four options in Archie Bradley, Neris, Jose Alvarado and Connor Brogdon. Let’s run through those top closing candidates, examining why they'd make sense in that role for the 2021 Phillies and why they would not.

Archie Bradley

Why he should close:

Bradley is the Phillies’ most expensive reliever ($6M) and someone they brought in to pitch at the end of games. Bradley has said time and again that he doesn’t care if he’s pitching the eighth or ninth. He’s had experience doing both. He saved 18 games in 2019 for the D-backs after taking over for Greg Holland a couple of months into the season, but the bulk of his Arizona tenure was spent as the setup man. He's had success in either role.

Why he shouldn’t:

Bradley’s best value could be facing the meat of a team’s order, whether that’s in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning. It’s also worth mentioning that his velocity has been down a bit this spring. His fastball sat at 92-93 mph in his most recent appearance Monday compared to 94 mph last season and closer to 96 in 2019. It would be more worrisome if this is still the case in two weeks.

Hector Neris

Why he should close:

Neris is underrated here because he’s gone through low lows in addition to high highs, and the Phillies haven’t won enough during his seven-year career. If he pitched these last seven seasons for another team and came over to the Phillies this offseason, many of us would look at his career 3.38 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and rate of 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings and see a very good reliever. A lot of times, you take for granted what is in front of your face. 

Neris could close for some teams, and his trademark splitter should continue to keep him effective for stretches. It also is a pitch that can keep left-handed hitters at bay. The last two seasons, lefties are 29 for 148 against Neris, hitting .196.

Why he shouldn’t:

When Neris struggles, it is usually because his splitter flattens out and loses its vertical drop. He also does not have a huge fastball. The velocity is decent at a 94 mph average but it’s been a hittable pitch. Since 2017, Neris’ opponents have hit .274 against the fastball with a .481 slugging percentage. In that span, he’s allowed 32 extra-base hits on 1,594 fastballs compared to 26 extra-base hits on 1,950 splitters.

Jose Alvarado

Why he should close:

Armed with a 100 mph sinker with top-shelf movement and a nasty slider, Alvarado has the best stuff of any reliever in this bullpen. He is an uncomfortable at-bat for both lefties and righties and has a .212 career opponents’ batting average. 

Alvarado has allowed an extra-base hit in just 5.02% of plate appearances for his career. To put that in perspective, it's an even lower rate than Aroldis Chapman (5.13%) over the same span. Alvarado's rate is also well below those of Brad Hand, Josh Hader, Kenley Jansen and pretty much every big-league reliever during that four-year run.

He saved eight games in 2018 and seven in 2019 for the Rays.

Why he shouldn’t close:

Alvarado has had trouble throwing consistent strikes during his four-year career, walking 71 batters in 132⅔ career innings. The last thing you want in the ninth inning is a leadoff walk. Alvarado has thrown strikes throughout spring training but will need to show he’s turned a corner when the games count. 

Another reason not to name Alvarado the closer would be to save him for the most crucial strikeout situation. Girardi has spoken about his comfort level with Alvarado facing both lefties and righties, which is more important than ever given MLB’s three-batter rule forcing relievers to face at least three batters unless the inning ends first.

Connor Brogdon

Why he should close:

Jim Salisbury brought this up with Larry Bowa last week on the Phillies Talk podcast and it’s an interesting idea, potentially letting the 26-year-old Brogdon begin the season as a closer with a few high-quality setup men ahead of him. 

Brogdon definitely has the stuff. He has a power fastball that averages 96 and a plus changeup that is about 12 mph slower. We saw late last season just how good this kid can be when he allowed one hit and no runs over his final 8⅔ innings with 14 strikeouts.

Why he shouldn’t close:

What happens if he stumbles early? Could it affect his mindset if he’s then moved into another role? 

We haven’t yet seen a sustained run of excellence from Brogdon to know that he’d hold up in that high-pressure role for six months or more. Last year was his rookie year and he made just nine appearances. Four of those appearances lasted longer than an inning, which is another reason his availability earlier in games could be more beneficial for the 2021 Phils.

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