Plan C: The Phillies Turn To Jose Contreras to Close Games
By Tommy Rancel //
Several major league teams have switched closers this season due to incumbents’ ineffectiveness. The Philadelphia Philies, on the other hand, have made multiple changes at the closer spot because they can’t find one player to remain healthy at the position. With Brad Lidge on the disabled list, again, the Phillies went looking for a new 9th-inning man.
Lidge started the season on the disabled list with an injured elbow. He was activated on April 30th and appeared in four games, recording one save. He felt some soreness earlier this week, and now finds himself back on the DL with inflammation of that same pitching elbow.
When Lidge started the season on the shelf, the Phils turned the ball over to his set-up man Ryan Madson. To the naked eye, it appeared Madson struggled in the role with a 7.00 ERA. But much of that gaudy ERA stemmed from bad luck, as Madson allowed two home runs in just nine innings of work. Looking at his expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP), a metric that looks at walks and strikeouts along with a neutralized home run rate, Madson’s xFIP was a sparkling 2.79.
In his time as closer, Madson notched four saves. However, he had two blown saves in six chances. The latter of the two came against the San Francisco Giants. Madson was so frustrated after the game that he kicked a metal chair, injuring his toe. Madson needed surgery on the toe and currently sits on the 60-day DL.
With Lidge on the DL again, and Madson already there, the Phillies have turned to former starting pitcher Jose Contreras to close games – at least for now. Contreras has spent the bulk of his career in major league rotations. Of his 206 career appearances, 175 of them have come in the form of starts. The 15 appearances out of the Phillies pen this year represent nearly half of his 31 career relief outings.
Contreras spent most of 2009 as a starter, splitting time between the Chicago White Sox and the Colorado Rockies. He made 21 starts for Chicago before being traded to Colorado later on in the season. He made two starts for the Rockies before moving to the team’s bullpen. In recent seasons, Contreras was barely average as a starting pitcher. He battled injuries and ineffectiveness for the better part of the last few years.
However, at his listed age of 38, Contreras has re-invented himself as a very good relief pitcher. Since moving to the bullpen, Contreras has seen his strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) jump. Career wise, his K/9 of 6.70 is unspectacular, However, out of the bullpen, he has struck out more than a batter per inning.
This season, Contreras has 18 Ks in 13.1 innings; a K/9 of 12.15. While the strikeouts have increased, the walks have declined. Contreras has shown decent control in his career with a walks per nine (BB/9) of 3.25. With just two walks in 2010, his BB/9 sits at 1.35 in the early stage of this season.
In fact, Contreras is the only relief pitcher to have an ERA below 1.00 and a K/9 above 12.0 so far this season. (min 10 IP)
One potential reason for the increase in strikes is an increase in velocity. As a starting pitcher, a player must condition himself to conserve enough velocity and energy to throw upwards of 100 pitches on his day. As a relief pitcher, he can fire away as his workload goes down to around 15-20 pitches per night. In his career, Contreras has averaged 91.7 mph on the fastball. In 2010, he is throwing almost three miles per hour more at 94.6. He is also getting more swings and misses than ever, with a swing strike percentage of 14.8% compared to 9.3% in his career.
On Saturday, his 206th career appearance, Contreras did something he had never done in the major leagues; he saved a game. With Madson and Lidge unavailable, it appears that Charlie Manuel will give Ol’ Jose a chance to pad that career save total of one.
Given Contreras’ improved skills and the Phillies winning wins, the Cuban righty is worth grabbing in all formats. If you have a free agent bidding budget, invest the extra buck to get him.
For more on Jose Contreras and fill-in closers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.