Wednesday was closer discussion day at Philthy Stuff as we looked at the different approaches the team might use to fill the role should Ryan Madson wind up somewhere else next season.
Those discussions touched on the rest of the bullpen, but we didn't spend much time talking about the makeup of the entire relief corps. There is a correlation, because the guy doing the closing will obviously get more opportunities if the pitchers in front of him are able to protect leads long enough to get him into the game.
The Phillies have a couple of strong relievers in Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes, but short relievers have a habit of fluctuating a good deal from year to year so it makes sense to have as many options as possible in the bullpen. One option the Phillies shouldn't overlook is Kyle Kendrick.
Kendrick has never been a superstar during his five seasons with the Phillies, but he's been a useful piece to fill holes here and there over the years. During the second half of the 2011 season, though, he showed signs that he might be capable of more. In 12 games (eight starts), Kendrick posted a 2.82 ERA while striking out 5.3 batters per nine innings. That's not such an impressive number, but it is better than anything Kendrick mustered in a full season up to this point in his career.
What accounts for such a big change in results? A post at The Good Phight offers some thoughts centered on pitch selection. As the year moved on, Kendrick started to use his cutter more and saw positive results after making the move. It is a very small sample size, but it does lead us to wonder if honing the new pitch might make Kendrick a successful reliever next season.
Starters need to throw several pitchers in order to get through the same hitters several times in the same game, but a reliever can come in and use a simpler array of pitches to get through an inning at a time. The cutter has been a particularly effective pitch for that cause, making you think Kendrick would be a better fit in the mix of pitchers trying to set up Closer X than he would be as a spot starter and long reliever.
There's certainly a chance that Kendrick regresses next season. Opponents had an unusually low batting average on balls in play in the second half, something that could come back to haunt him next season. He's certainly worth a look in a role for a team that needs to be open to every possibility when it comes to the 2012 bullpen.