Every day this month, we here at Philthy Stuff will be counting down the New Year's resolutions of each member on the Phillies, and what they can do to guide this team back to October. Next up, Michael Stutes.
In late April, the Phillies were in need of some bullpen help. Despite the fact that their rotation was one of the best in history, they were dealt some early blows in the late innings when then-closer Jose Contreras went down with a shoulder injury, which further depleted an already-thin relief corps.
Enter Michael Stutes. The rookie right-hander, who earned his keep as a late-inning relief solution in the minor leagues, where he struck out 8.5 per nine innings to the tune of a 3.31 ERA in 301 innings pitched over the last four seasons.
His addition to the Phillies 'pen was a shot of youthful exuberance, as well as an additional late-inning weapon to go along with Ryan Madson and the up-and-coming Antonio Bastardo. In his first 27 games, he struck out 26 over 25.2 innings, while holding opposing hitters to a .571 OPS.
Although he wore down in the later months of the season -- he had an ERA of 4.44 in the season's final two months -- Stutes proved to be an effective addition to one of the best bullpens in the National League.
But, if the 25-year-old wants to continue to be a late-inning threat for the Phillies in 2012, there are a few things that he has to do.
Keep Control: The biggest flaw to Stutes' game in 2011 was his ability -- or perhaps inability -- to keep the ball over the plate. Although he had a very respectable strikeout rate of 8.4 per nine innings, he also walked more than four batters over that same span. Despite the fact that control issues can be mitigated by one's ability to get a key strikeout, it's a frustrating experience to see a reliever come in and walk the first batter he faces. For Stutes to continue to be an effective reliever, he needs to reel in his control issues.
Stay Grounded: One of the more widely used statistics in the Sabermetric community -- that is, stats that are predicative and attempt to more accurately assess a pitcher -- is xFIP, or Expected Fielding Independent Pitching. In a nutshell, it tells you what a pitcher's ERA be, as opposed to what it actually is. Because, after all, much of a pitcher's ERA is based on his defense and not on how well he actually performs. For instance, a pitcher would have a great ERA if all the line drives and fly balls he gave up were hit directly at fielders, but a pitcher with great control and strikeout rates would be stuck with a bad ERA if all of the weakly hit grounders found their way through the infield. It's not a perfect metric, but it works.
The reason I provided this slight dissertation on advanced metrics is because Stutes was one pitcher whose xFIP (4.23) was higher than his ERA (3.63). One of the reasons for this is because Stutes has a propensity to give up fly balls, and in 2011, he did that nearly 50 percent of the time. And when you give up that many fly balls, the odds of giving up home runs (and thus, more runs) increases, which is why it's crucial for Stutes to keep the ball on the ground.