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David Phelps and the hybrid pitcher, part 2

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In part 2 we explore David Phelps and whether or not he is truly deserving of the hybrid label. We provide contextual and statistical perspectives to sort through his role as well as profile what his role means for the upcoming season.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks ago, I made the argument that certain pitchers are neither starters nor relievers. Normally this would cause onlookers to label them with the term "failed starter" and for some this label would be incredibly accurate. Pitchers that are effective in both roles and who consistently find themselves in these roles season after season can be referred to as hybrids.Who exactly would qualify as a true hybrid? Well over the past five seasons the following pitchers have adequately navigated both roles for multiple seasons:

Player Team YR W L SV G GS RAPP IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Alex Wood Braves 2014 11 11 0 35 24 11 171.2 8.91 2.36 0.84 .295 80.20% 45.90% 10.00% 2.78 3.25 3.19 2.5
Alex Wood Braves 2013 3 3 0 31 11 20 77.2 8.92 3.13 0.35 .333 75.20% 49.10% 5.10% 3.13 2.65 3.18 1.6
Total 14 14 0 66 35 31 248.4 8.92 2.75 0.60 .314 77.70% 47.50% 7.55% 2.96 2.95 3.19 2.1
Bruce Chen Royals 2013 9 4 0 34 15 19 121 5.80 2.68 0.97 .255 78.30% 27.70% 6.70% 3.27 4.12 4.93 1.4
Bruce Chen Royals 2010 12 7 1 33 23 10 140.1 6.29 3.66 1.09 .275 74.30% 33.90% 8.10% 4.17 4.54 4.79 1.2
Total 21 11 1 67 38 29 261.1 7.10 3.53 0.98 .324 71.23% 46.71% 10.87% 4.92 4.27 4.17 1.3
Carlos Villanueva Cubs 2013 7 8 0 47 15 32 128.2 7.20 2.80 0.98 .283 72.70% 40.00% 9.80% 4.06 3.86 3.97 0.9
Carlos Villanueva Blue Jays 2012 7 7 0 38 16 22 125.1 8.76 3.30 1.65 .275 79.40% 36.70% 15.20% 4.16 4.71 4.09 0.7
Carlos Villanueva Blue Jays 2011 6 4 0 33 13 20 107 5.72 2.69 0.93 .271 72.80% 35.60% 7.50% 4.04 4.10 4.48 1.3
Total 20 19 0 118 44 74 360.3 9.04 2.57 0.86 .318 73.61% 39.94% 9.97% 4.44 3.24 3.41 1.0
David Phelps Yankees 2013 6 5 0 22 12 10 86.2 8.20 3.63 0.83 .321 66.80% 42.50% 8.90% 4.98 3.81 4.03 1.1
David Phelps Yankees 2014 5 5 1 32 17 15 113 7.33 3.66 1.04 .301 70.80% 41.20% 10.80% 4.38 4.41 4.22 0.7
David Phelps Yankees 2012 4 4 0 33 11 22 99.2 8.67 3.43 1.26 .258 82.50% 42.90% 13.60% 3.34 4.32 4.01 0.7
Total 15 14 1 87 40 47 298.4 6.88 3.33 0.94 .301 71.60% 46.02% 11.17% 4.37 4.14 4.22 0.8
Kris Medlen Braves 2012 10 1 1 50 12 38 138 7.83 1.50 0.39 .261 85.00% 53.40% 5.70% 1.57 2.42 2.97 3.7
Kris Medlen Braves 2010 6 2 0 31 14 17 107.2 6.94 1.76 1.09 .299 73.80% 42.90% 11.50% 3.68 3.78 3.49 1.3
Total 16 3 1 81 26 55 245.2 7.09 4.32 0.76 .318 69.81% 40.67% 6.60% 4.92 4.21 4.76 2.5
Kyle Kendrick Phillies 2012 11 12 0 37 25 12 159.1 6.55 2.77 1.13 .278 73.60% 46.50% 11.40% 3.90 4.32 4.31 1.1
Kyle Kendrick Phillies 2011 8 6 0 34 15 19 114.2 4.63 2.35 1.10 .261 76.10% 45.30% 10.50% 3.22 4.55 4.42 0.0
Total 19 18 0 71 40 31 273.3 7.75 2.99 0.85 .287 74.15% 44.39% 8.62% 3.60 3.68 3.79 0.6

As you can see, the list of names is intriguing. There’s Alex Wood, the young semi-prospect who seems to constantly be waiting in the wings. Then you have Carlos Villanueva, the enigmatic starter/reliever with high-upside but endurance issues. Then there’s the lights out but fragile Braves pitcher in Kris Medlen. Throw in journeymen Bruce Chen and Kyle Kendrick and you have the making for an eclectic group. There is lots of potential but somehow they fail to put it all together. Whether by a fatal flaw or circumstance, these pitchers are denied spots in the rotation, banished to the purgatory that is the undefined role.

But what about David Phelps? Where does he fit into this list? After all, that’s who matters most. In order to determine if he even qualifies as a hybrid we must ask ourselves two questions.

1) Contextually, does he profile as a "failed starter" or a hybrid?

2) Statistically, is he effective in both roles?

Let’s examine the first question. As is common knowledge: In baseball, context is everything. A failed starter from a context based perspective would be someone who started the season in a starting role but due to poor performance lost their starting role. (I don’t believe a loss of role due to injury holds the same implication) Let’s examine Phelps’ game log over the course of the three seasons to see where his genesis as a starter began and ended.

2012

Phelps pitched primarily as a reliever that season making 12 starts in 33 appearances. His starts came in spurts with the longest stretch of consecutive starts stemming from a CC Sabathia trip to the DL. The series of starts began on August 13th and ended September 12th. In that time he posted a record of 2-1 with a 5.05 ERA , 7.8 K/9 and a 2.55 K/BB ratio. Not the numbers to hold a starting role but most certainly salvageable. Once Sabathia returned, Phelps only made two more starts down the stretch, both coming as a spot starter.

2013

The 2013 season profiles similarly for Phelps, who started the season in the role of late inning relief, but due to a nagging injury to Ivan Nova, took over the starters' role early. Over the course of 12 consecutive starts, Phelps posted a record of 5-4 with a 4.98 ERA, 7.3 K/9 and a 2.21 K/BB ratio. Phelps wouldn’t start another game as he went down with an arm injury. He made a return later that season but in his previous role as a middle and late reliever.

2014

This past season was Phelps’ strongest season as a starter. Once again Phelps began the season as a late reliever but soon found his way into the rotation due once again to injury. As a starter, Phelps made 17 consecutive starts before finally succumbing to his own injuries. During that time he pitched well enough to earn a .500 record (though most of the losses were due to a lack of run support from the Yankees anemic offense) with 4.67 ERA, 6.8 K/9 and a 2.21 K/BB ratio. Phelps came back from injury and finished the season in the bullpen before subsequently being traded to the Marlins.

At no point throughout David Phelps’ three seasons did he ever begin the season with a starters role and lose it. In fact, Phelps contributed adequately as a starter, improving in each subsequent season only to lose his role due to injury. In answering question one, I believe from a contextual perspective that David Phelps does not profile as a "failed starter". Whether or not he satisfies question number two remains to be seen.

Below are Phelps’ splits over the course of the three seasons


2012 Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/W BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
as Starter 11 241 210 24 49 7 1 8 3 1 23 54 2.4 .233 .322 .390 .713 82 4 5 2 1 0 1 .275 109 94
as Reliever 22 173 153 14 32 5 0 6 0 0 15 42 2.8 .209 .281 .359 .640 55 3 1 2 2 2 1 .243 87 83
2012 Split W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO HBP BK WP BF WHIP SO9 SO/W
as Starter 2 2 .500 3.77 11 11 0 0 0 0 57.1 49 24 24 8 23 0 54 5 1 1 241 1.256 8.5 2.4
as Reliever 2 2 .500 2.76 22 0 5 0 0 0 42.1 32 14 13 6 15 2 42 1 1 1 173 1.11 8.9 2.8
2013 Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/W BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
as Starter 12 283 253 37 69 14 1 6 3 2 24 53 2.2 .273 .340 .407 .748 103 7 3 1 2 1 1 .321 99 106
as Reliever 10 93 79 13 19 5 1 2 0 1 11 26 2.4 .241 .348 .405 .753 32 0 2 0 0 0 0 .333 101 118
2013 Split W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO HBP BK WP BF WHIP SO9 SO/W
as Starter 5 4 .556 4.93 12 12 0 0 0 0 65.2 69 37 36 6 24 1 53 3 0 2 283 1.416 7.3 2.2
as Reliever 1 1 .500 5.14 10 0 3 0 0 0 21.0 19 13 12 2 11 0 26 2 0 0 93 1.429 11.1 2.4
2014 Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/W BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
as Starter 17 420 377 51 101 13 5 10 6 6 33 73 2.2 .268 .336 .408 .744 154 7 6 3 1 1 6 .308 98 110
as Reliever 15 77 60 11 14 3 0 3 1 0 13 19 1.5 .233 .368 .433 .802 26 0 1 1 2 1 1 .275 113 135
2014 Split W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO HBP BK WP BF WHIP SO9 SO/W
as Starter 5 5 .500 4.28 17 17 0 1 0 0 96.2 101 51 46 10 33 1 73 6 1 0 420 1.386 6.8 2.2
as Reliever 0 0 4.96 15 0 5 0 0 1 16.1 14 11 9 3 13 1 19 1 0 2 77 1.653 10.5 1.5

As you can see, he is a much better reliever than starter, though he accomplishes both admirably. One thing can be said: from season to season, he seems to gradually improve in a starter role in almost all metrics. That being said, his propensity towards injury and a plethora of more appetizing talent have lead management to shift him back into the bullpen as the season concludes.

That brings us to this season. What do the Marlins have in store for David Phelps? He has performed extremely well in spring training, but as you know it is spring training.  Additionally, the Marlins have a bevy of choices for the fifth starter role and could benefit from adding depth to their bullpen with Phelps. Phelps is expected to make the club as a long reliever. One thing is certain: David Phelps will add valuable depth to the bullpen and rotation as needed. As a hybrid, it's a role he is well suited for.