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David Phelps Trade Photo Review

Ellen Adair’s Photo Review on the trade of David Phelps to the Phillies also looks at trades of Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree, and David Hale.

David Phelps by Marianne O’Leary is licensed under CC BY 2.0

David Phelps Trade Photo Review


Estimated Reading Time: 8 Minutes

The Phillies trading for David Phelps to bolster their bullpen was not the talk of the trade deadline day, with the Padres doing their best to make the rest of Major League Baseball citizens of Slam Diego, the Marlins signifying that they are ready to win this year by acquiring Starling Marte by sending another good pitcher to the Diamondbacks, and the Blue Jays getting almost an entirely new rotation.

However, I consider that my life partner, the Phillies, is the only team under my photo review purview. (If you’re confused, see my photo reviews on this site on Didi Gregorius, Jay Bruce and Jason Vargas, which are a continuation of this tradition on my Instagram, started with a very grumpy Clay Buchholz acquisition photo.)

But it must be said that I failed to photographically review the Phillies trade with the Red Sox for Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree, giving up Connor Seabold and Nick Pivetta. Probably because I had been crying from too many games surrendered by the bullpen*, and did not feel that my face was fit for public viewing.

*You may think I am using a dramatic turn of phrase here, but this is a true, journalistic account, delivered from the harrowing, war-torn** country of my apartment.

**My husband is a Mets fan.

Workman and Hembree on the Phillies

But also, my overall feelings about the trade were complex enough as to be difficult to express in a photo. There are times when a picture is not, in fact, worth a thousand words.

I deeply appreciated the Phillies’ front office took action well before the trade deadline, and it paid dividends. Since these former Red Sox joined the Phillies on August 23rd, the Phillies have been 6-1. Obviously, this constitutes an improvement over their 2-5 record over the previous seven games. If they had continued to lose at that clip, they would be out of playoff contention in this sprint of a season. Moving early was necessary. (Moving in the offseason might have been better, but here we are.)

I continue to see Workman and Hembree as improvements to the bullpen-that-was, which, as I wrote, had the worst bullpen ERA since the creation of the earned run. However, with Red Sox fandom high on my flowchart of baseball allegiances, I had watched enough Red Sox games to have the realistic expectations about the contributions of Workman and Hembree.

These are tiny samples, so this is not meant to be representative of who I believe Hembree and Workman to be, as players. This is merely a numerical statement of what has occurred in their appearances in a Phillies uniform so far:

NameInnings PitchedEarned Run AverageWHIPStrikeouts/9Walks/9
Heath Hembree4.18.312.0810.386.23
Brandon Workman5.05.402.2010.805.40

And here’s the thing: they’re better than what the Phillies had before. The bullpen has improved its likelihood of hanging on to a lead from “this was loss foreseen by an ancient prophecy” to “roll of unloaded dice.” And I’m glad to have them.

Nick Pivetta

Meanwhile, it’s the end of an era with the Phillies’ hopes for Nick Pivetta, which somehow feel longer than the three and a half seasons the era actually comprised. Pivetta was even less effective out of the bullpen for the Phillies this season than he was in their starting rotation in 2019.

His peripherals outperformed his ERA for two years–an ERA in 2017 of 6.02 was backed by a 4.99 xERA and 4.87 FIP, and 2018 saw his 4.77 ERA show an even more promising 3.48 xERA and 3.80 FIP–but nothing materialized. He continues to have an excellent fastball and good curveball, but the 2.80 BB/9 in 2018 promised control that hasn’t been seen again. Neutrally, there could have been more to discover from Pivetta under longer tutelage from Phillies’ new pitching coach Bryan Price, but as a trade chip for a desperate need, I understood the move.

I am very hopeful for both his sake, and for the sake of the Red Sox, that they can unlock something that the Phillies could not. I will not insult your intelligence, dear reader, by asserting that the Red Sox need starting pitching; it’s a fact well-known even by babies who are still in the womb. Not younger than third trimester, though. That would be absurd.

Connor Seabold and Addison Russ

The loss of Connor Seabold may or may not cause future Phillies fans the most pain, just as the Red Sox’ excellent Josh Taylor does, today. In 56.1 innings last year, Seabold had a 2.26 ERA with a 1.01 WHIP, striking out 58. But he hadn’t pitched above AA and seemed unlikely to help the Phillies this year.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Phillies also acquired David Hale from the Yankees for Addison Russ. Russ (and his great changeup) also looked promising, with a 2.54 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 81 strikeouts (!) over 56.2 innings last year, but likewise capped at AA.

I fear the future for this trade, as well, given that: 1. I assume the Yankees will always win a trade; and 2. I suspect Yankees devil magic in the fact that Hale has a 3.12 ERA with the Yankees, despite having a 12.00 ERA in brief innings with the Twins, 13.50 with the Rockies, and 16.20 with the Phillies. Perhaps the villain Small Sample Size is responsible here. But I have my eye on this. At the time, however, I filed it under “They’re Trying, Which is Nice.”

David Phelps

However, we finally have a trade for which I feel legitimate excitement. And here, at last is your photo review:

David Phelps, I am smiling about your .186 expected-batting-average-against.

Kindly note that I am frequently wrong about things, but I have been a fan of Phelps since watching him, probably, carve up the Phillies in 2016. He was superb, it being the first year that he really began mixing in his cutter, along with an excellent fastball, a flummoxing curveball, a slider, sinker, and changeup to lefties. For any kind of pitcher, it’s an astonishing arsenal, but for a relief pitcher, it was mind-boggling. He rode this arsenal to a 2.28 ERA with a 1.14 WHIP, while being towards the top 4% of the league in K% and the top 6% or better in all of the stats based upon quality of contact–expected batting average, slugging, and weighted on-base.

And in 2020, he’s been even better.

Phelps was forced to miss the 2018 season with Tommy John surgery. But he bounced back well with the Cubs and Blue Jays last year, and has been phenomenal with the Brewers this season. Let’s take a look at some of these very beautiful numbers:

  • 2.77 ERA (backed up by a 2.75 FIP and a 2.81 xERA)
  • He has a 0.69 WHIP. Which is fantastically diminutive. And also: NICE.
  • Phelps’ 41.7% K-rate is in the top 2% of the league
  • A solid 52% ground ball rate (comparable to deGrom, Bieber, NOLA); a very good combo with the above
  • Excellent at limiting exit velocity; his 80.4 mph mark is in top 1% of league and 24.0 hard hit rate is in top 5%
  • Phelps’ pitching mix has changed, but he still has four pitches that he throws around 20% of the time or more
  • His fastball and his curveball have been excellent, with a 60.0 Whiff% on his fastball (that is CRAZY!) and 34.5 Whiff% on his curveball
  • I am psyched. That’s not a number, I just am.

The Brewers’ Return

To acquire Phelps, the Phillies shipped three prospects to the Brewers, though none of them can technically be named in the trade because they’re not on the Phillies’ 60-man roster.

 However, reports have named Brandon RameyIsrael Puello and Juan Geraldo, all right-handers, as the Brewers’ eventual return. I confess that all three were not on my radar, as none had pitched above Rookie A-ball, and are all 19 or 20 years old. They could have spectacular careers, but projecting that at this point is far beyond my ability, and they certainly weren’t going to help the Phillies anytime soon. The Brewers’ own thought process, as a team barely further out of the playoffs than the Phillies are, is mysterious to me. But this is exactly the kind of trade that makes sense to address the needs, with an offense that has been clicking, and improved starting pitcher.

Another Takeaway

Now that the Diamondbacks have given up their league-leading number of Martes, it’s nice to note that the Phillies have quite possibly cornered the market on former Yankees relievers named David who used to play with Joe Girardi.

  • David Phelps
  • David Hale
  • aaand David Robertson (we may not see an inning from him, but they’ve stillll got him)

Let me know if I’ve forgotten about someone. Phillies are looking to be the new House of David team.

Ellen Adair is an actor, probably best known as Janet Bayne in “Homeland,” Bess McTeer in “The Sinner,” and Bridget Saltire in “The Slap,” but has been in a lot of other TV shows, films, and theater that the truly curious can investigate at www.ellenadair.com. As a human being, she is best known for her unhealthy love of baseball. It says so on her business cards. She loves baseball in general, but the Phillies are her life partner. She is the author of "Curtain Speech," from Pen & Anvil Press, and is working on bringing to life a TV series about baseball writers. Connect with her on Twitter at @ellen_adair or Instagram at @ellenadairg.

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